Wednesday, June 14

Alien Inferno's Fall Review

Written by Philippa Ballantine
Published by Titan Books, London (2022)
ISBN: 1789099943

"The monster's blood splashed on Meryx's upper body, burning flesh and bone. With their skin gone, a spread of red muscle and white sinew was exposed. They fell to the ground, silenced with their lower jaw and throat completely gone."

Inferno’s Fall breaks away from the standard formula of a story set in the Alien(s) universe; as such, this book is a refreshing change of pace. We get a story set during the Frontier War. This is a significant point in the Alien timeline but also one that is rarely brought up. Eight years after the Alien 3 film, the Frontier War saw all three major governments almost end up in a galactic war. Luckily this was avoided, but not without several colonies being wholly destroyed. General Vaughn of the United States Colonial Marine Corps and the shadow organisation Deep Void were orchestrating attacks on Union of Progressive Peoples (UPP) colonies, framing the United Americas (UA), and then attacking UA planets and framing the UPP.

Inferno’s Fall follows two major groups. The first is a family of indentured miners living and working in a UPP colony. The head of this family is the matriarch Toru McLintock-Riley, either mother or grandmother to the family. This family is known as the Knot. They live and work in the UPP world of Shānmén in the Svarog mine. This is the group we spend the majority of our time with. I think this was a fascinating idea because we rarely get any stories told from outside of the United Americas. By spending much time with the Knot and Toru, we learn more about life within the UPP. The second group we spend time with are the Jackals. This military unit operates outside of all three governments but is supported secretly by all three. They exist to fight against the Xenomopth threat posed to all of humanity. Zula Hendricks, a recurring character in the series, runs this unit. It’s not too important to know her entire backstory, but if you do, then it’s nice seeing her story continue. The Jackals play a much smaller role than the Knot, but they get the most time towards the third act. I think Author Philippa Ballantine balances the attention these two groups get perfectly.

"The Knot tightens under pressure."

Every story has both a text and a subtext. The text is the literal things within the story that expands on the fictional world, lore and the characters therein. The subtext is the themes and concepts that are prevalent in a story. The text here is the horrific acts of bio-terrorism carried out during the Frontier War. This is a fascinating part of the Alien universe that had only really been mentioned during the game Aliens Fireteam Elite and then expanded on in the Alien tabletop RPG. Both left us needing more detail retaining this important historical event in the universe. One thing I’ve enjoyed a lot about the 2022-2023 TitanBooks Alien stories is how much the Fronter War has been expanded on. 

The subtext of this story is family. The Knot is a literal family made up of Children, Grandchildren, Neeces and so on. We learn how much this family can pull together and help each other during the most traumatic event of their lives. Toru has three daughters with her on Shānmén, Jīn Huā Deng, Lena Waipapa-Riley, and Bianca Ting-Riley. Jīn Huā is adopted, Bianca is Toru’s daughter-in-law, and Lena is her biological daughter. The family connection is deeper than blood to the Knot, so Toru treats all three women as equals. I love seeing this; it endears the Knot to me. This theme of non-traditional families is mirrored within the Jackals. The entire unit is one big military family bonded and united by shared past trauma from run-ins with the Xenomorpth XX121. Zula Hendricks reflects this theme due to her relationship with a synthetic named Davis in her past stories. By the events of Inferno’s Fall, Davis has sadly passed on, but it’s made clear in past stories and this one that Zula and Davis did love each other. This non-traditional love between the two spurred Davis to create Mae, a synthetic daughter. Mae was created to share both Davis and Zula's personality traits, similar to what biological children do with their parents. We see Zula struggle to deal with both the loss of Davis and the creation of Mae throughout this story. But Zula accepts that while Mae may be a very non-traditional daughter, she is her daughter, which is very touching.

"You're my daughter, and I'll protect you at all costs."

The pacing of this story will feel familiar to fans of the original 1979 film Alien as the action and inciting event take quite a while to occur. I wouldn’t call the first act boring because, like the film, it lets the reader become comfortable with the characters and learn about life within the UPP as an indentured worker. From the beginning of the second act, the pacing picks up with events happening rather quickly. Although the presence of the aliens is constantly felt from the second act onward, it’s rare for them to make an appearance. When they do, it’s inevitable that at least someone will die, which dials up the danger these things present to the characters, both primary and supporting. I also love that this is a story set in the Alien universe that doesn’t feature Xenomorph XX121. Inferno’s Fall features Neomorphs* spawned from the various colonists and wildlife on Shānmén.

Inferno’s Fall is a fantastic Alien story that does a lot to mix up the tropes that are far too common within the series. We have the Neomorphs expanded on, life under the UPP is fleshed out, and Zula Hendrick’s story is continued satisfyingly. Most of all, though, we get to see what living through the Frontier War was like for both the soldiers fighting it and the civilians attacked. An excellent read for any fans of the Alien(s) extended universe!


*The Neomorphs are the aliens featured in the film Alien Covenant and are spawned from the black goo pathogen featured in both the movies Prometheus and Alien Covenant.

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