Aliens: The Female War (Steve Perry and Stephani Perry)
The Female War, the final book in a trilogy focusing on the saga of well known Aliens characters Newt and Hicks (renamed here as Billie and Wilks,) attempts to finish off a series that has been extremely inconsistent and more often than not simply boring on a relative high note. This won't be easy, however, because the underlying premise of this particular installment is incredibly shaky. Stranger things, including but not limited to this series' perplexing focus on sexuality, have happened.
In The Female War, the long standing battle for Earth finally comes to a conclusion. Series protagonists Billie and Wilks have teamed up with Ellen Ripley, the iconic face of the Aliens franchise, and are doing research for a dangerous mission that could put an end to the conflict once and for all. This mission is unauthorized by the commanders of the Earth's army, so they are forced to rely on a ragtag squad of well meaning soldiers and whatever ships and equipment they can salvage along the way. Their plan takes them to yet another abandoned planet, in preparation for a daring raid on Earth itself. Along the way they battle rising tensions among the group, hordes of aliens, and the enormous and extremely powerful queen.
Most of the book is somewhere in the average to good range. The sequence where our heroes find the queen is absolutely fantastic, but other than that there isn't a lot that sticks out. Authors Steve and Stephani Perry spend an awful lot of time constructing meaningless dream sequences that plague most of the crew on the mission. We spend a lot of time watching these characters combat intense nightmares, especially prior to the initial showdown with the queen, but it never really goes anywhere. There's also a lot of downtime where all they do is remark about how little chance they have of succeeding and all the trouble they are sure to be in once they are found out. Things finally come to a head when the team makes it back to Earth and tries to end this conflict in typically grandiose fashion: by dropping off the alien queen near the site of an enormous nuclear weapon. The queen's arrival on Earth makes all of the drones flock to her location, for reasons unknown, and it is here that the queen moves from cunning matriarch to idiotic animal. If she can get so deep inside the minds of the crew that she can implant realistic memories and even attempt mind control, she should be able to sniff out at least some inkling of their plan, which doesn't actually go into effect for several months after they've initialized the process. There's really no way that she should fall for this, even if she were to simply rely on natural cunning.
The conclusion is overly convenient and relies quite a bit on the aliens doing exactly what was asked of them. There is also yet another extremely tiresome throwback to Aliens, as Billie and Ripley go hunting for a child based on nothing more than misplaced maternal instinct. This throwback is as contrived and "Hollywood" as you could possibly imagine, and absolutely cringe inducing to read. This may not be the first time in this series that the writers have run out of ideas and just started stumbling their way through any given segment, but it is arguably the most obvious example. With the exception of one strong sequence, this book falls well short of the lofty standards of the material on which it is based.
Ripley, making a feature appearance here, is utilized in an extremely strange way. The only explanation I can come up with for the awful dramatic twist that changes the complexion of her character halfway through the events of the novel is that the writing team were informed of the ending to Aliens 3 and didn't have enough time to go back and remove Ripley from the book. Instead, we are left with a moping Ripley that spends some of the most pivotal moments in the entire story huddled in her cabin feeling sorry for herself. This character was an utter disaster and her inclusion completely fails to energize this dull series.
Everyone else isn't much better. The supporting characters are like those we've seen a thousand times before, even in this series, and are mostly ignored. Billie and Wilks are the only characters left, and they certainly take an odd turn in this book. Billie's entire motivation to undergo a daring mission to alien-infested Earth is to save a girl she has never even spoken to, a girl that may or may not already be dead. In introducing this angle the authors are clearly trying to play off of Ripley's character in Aliens, a fact that becomes even more obvious when she accompanies Billie during the conclusion, but it lacks the impact of its more famous counterpart due to just how contrived it feels, plus the fact that damsel-in-distress Amy is nowhere near as adorable as Newt. Wilks also changes as a result of his experiences in this book. His first change is a totally cliche transformation from laid back follower to take charge leader. I'm not really sure why this was portrayed as a major change as he has been calling the shots for most of the series, but nonetheless we get a few scenes about how much he has changed in this regard. The other change is really creepy and details his growing romantic affection for Billie, despite being something like double her age. This kind of ties in to this series' penchant for sex scenes and lewd content, so it doesn't feel out of place, but that doesn't make it feel any less bizarre.
Like the previous books in this series, the writing is clear and inoffensive, but also mostly dull. There are a few noteworthy sequences, like the first time our heroes encounter aliens. This scene draws from an excellent bit of atmospheric tension and more foreign environment than the typical sterilized corridors and military installations to create one of the few moments of the book worthy of repeating. Here our heroes genuinely feel overwhelmed, while the aliens seem like the all encompassing, terrifying threat they are supposed to be. Outside of this, there isn't a lot to be happy about. The dialogue is extremely repetitive, which doesn't do anything for the already thin characterization of the supporting characters. They are virtually indistinguishable in this department, and frequent references to the "queen bitch" come across as immature and end up being extremely annoying. The world building suffers quite a bit in this installment as well. We don't get much of an idea of what the rest of humanity is up to, or what their plans for liberating Earth are, they are just kind of hanging around in space waiting for something to happen. Additionally, the situation of the survivors could make for a potentially fascinating read: viewing the downfall of humanity in what is essentially a post-apocalyptic setting is something that never fails to entertain. Instead the survivors are only brought up when convenient. Overall there aren't many really bad things, but there's also hardly anything of note.
One of the weirder elements of this book is the sexual themes that pop up far too often. Aliens has never struck me as a series designed around that well worn cliché that sex sells, so it is kind of surprising to see the books take that approach. There is even a somewhat explicit sex scene in this book, as there has been in previous volumes, and it is quite honestly baffling to see the franchise take this direction. This Aliens trilogy is one of the few examples I can recall of a tie-in novel being so overt with sexuality, which makes sense given the fact that children and younger readers will be more drawn to them, and while I'm certainly no prude, the abundance of sex in this book is distracting and largely irrelevant, not to mention totally at odds with what the Aliens universe is at its core.
Although this book has moments of enjoyable fluff, too much of it is just repeating the same themes as the films. Ripley's inclusion in this book fizzles, and her tie to Billie via their overactive maternal instincts felt incredibly forced. When it isn't being repetitive and bland, it is being downright weird, and as a result we have to sit through unacceptable amounts of pillow talk and an uncomfortable sex scene. Experimentation could've done this series a world of good, as this particularly story told through a different lens could've been a fun and compelling one, but instead we are left with a mostly disappointing finale to a trilogy that balanced utter blandness with unequivocal oddity to create a truly forgettable work of fiction.