ALIEN: RIVER OF PAIN is the third book in the new Titan Books trilogy billed as canonical companion pieces to the movies. Written by Christopher Golden, a dab hand at the ol’ franchise tie-ins, it tells the story of the fall of LV-426 (aka Acheron aka Hadley’s Hope). For those a little rusty with the franchise, that’s the moon where we first met a facehugger back in 1979’s ALIEN and then, 57 in-movie (and 7 actual) years later in ALIENS, it was the terraforming colony upon which Ripley and the Colonial Marines dropshipped their asses after receiving a distress call. Of course, they were too late. Acheron had already fallen, its people, save one little girl called Newt, either dead or impregnated with chestbusters-in-waiting. RIVER OF PAIN tells the story of what went down.
It’s not the first attempt to fill in this blank. Back in the 90s, Dark Horse Comics released a GN entitled NEWT’sTALE and, like that book, Golden tells his story partly from the POV of Newt. But there are other characters, too, including the science team, the colonial marines employed to protect them, and the everyday colonists – the men, women and children who have made this place their home.
For the most part, it’s a solid story, very much maintaining the feel of the second movie. Golden has been careful to reference events through a series of flashbacks to the movies, in order to correspond with the timeline established within the ALIEN franchise. It makes the book feel all the more genuine in terms of continuity. If I have any criticism, it’s perhaps the leisurely pace employed. Golden invests a lot of time in developing the characters, most of whom, it’s fair to say, quickly devolve to “red shirts” when we get to the business end of this book. When things do heat up, the pace becomes frenetic with all the blood and acid and plasma fire you would expect from an Alien book but, for the less patient reader, it may not come soon enough.
That said, as a fan of the movies, I did find this book hugely enjoyable and, like its predecessor, ALIEN: SEA OF SORROWS, it feels a lot more true to the movies than some of the earlier tie-in novels. What more can you ask for?
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