Well, it’s been a while since I last read an “Aliens” novel. And, since I wanted a fairly quick and relaxing novel, I decided to take a look at one of the second-hand “Aliens” novels that I bought several weeks earlier, namely S.D.Perry’s 2008 novel “Aliens: Criminal Enterprise”.
Interestingly, you can probably also enjoy this novel if you haven’t seen any of the “Alien” films. Although knowing a few basic things about the franchise’s famous monsters will probably make this novel slightly more enjoyable, they aren’t really the main focus of the story in the way that they are in most of the other “Aliens” novels that I’ve read.
So, let’s take a look at “Aliens: Criminal Enterprise”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.
The novel begins with a man called Tommy Chase awakening from cryo-sleep after dreaming about his unhappy childhood. Tommy is a professional pilot who has agreed to run one job for a group of drug smugglers in order to help out his delinquent brother, Pete, who has got into trouble with them. Whilst Pete awakens from cryo-sleep, two of the crew members, Lee and Moby, want Tommy to land the ship quickly.
The ship lands on Fantasia, an illegally-terraformed planet owned by a drug baron called Msomi and run by one of his lieutenants called Trace. The planet is mostly used as a manufacturing facility and somewhere for wanted members of the gang to hide out until the heat dies down. As an added security measure, all of the areas outside of the main facility are swarming with vicious alien creatures that Msomi has imported onto the planet.
Meanwhile, on the surface, a man called Ray is lying in wait with a team of henchmen. Ray and Trace have fallen out in the past, and he plans to get even by downing the next outgoing cargo ship with an EMP, stealing the contents and framing Trace for the theft.
Whilst all of this is going on, a ship owned by the Neo-Pharm corporation is lurking near Fantasia. Msomi’s operation has been skimming or diverting chemicals from them. So, a team of mercenaries, led by an ex-military ex-cop called Kaye are preparing for a combat raid on the planet….
One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that the second half of it is better than the first half. In other words, whilst this novel does become really gripping, it takes a while to set everything up. Although this is a short novel, there are three plot threads and at least 10-20 characters. But, if you stick with this book during the earlier parts, then there is a really good payoff.
Interestingly, unlike several of the other “Aliens” novels that I’ve read, this novel is more of a crime thriller novel than a sci-fi or horror novel. Although there is some sci-fi stuff here (eg: illegal terraforming, futuristic drugs, spaceships, EMP weapons etc..) and there are a few horror elements (eg: the alien monsters, some gory moments etc..), the emphasis is firmly on the story’s crime and thriller elements.
In other words, whilst the aliens are a threatening background detail (and something for the characters to fight or avoid sometimes), they aren’t really the main focus of this story. This is more of a story about what happens when two rival groups of criminals and a band of corporate mercenaries collide with each other. Still, this makes a refreshing change from the usual “evil scientists and their research projects” plots that turn up in quite a few of the “Aliens” novels.
And, as a thriller, this novel works reasonably well. Whilst I found that the novel only really started to get gripping a little under halfway through, there’s a good mixture of drama, suspense and fast-paced action scenes. Likewise, thanks to the fact that nothing quite goes to plan for any of the characters, there’s a real sense of tension about who will survive and who won’t.
This novel also uses the technique (which I’ve also seen in Jonathan Maberry’s “Fall Of Night“) of adding impact to various scenes by showing the same events multiple times from the “perspective” of different characters. Surprisingly, this works really well and – since the novel uses a third-person perspective throughout – it doesn’t really get confusing or annoying either.
In terms of the characters, they’re fairly well-written. But, whilst several of the characters get a decent amount of backstory and/or characterisation and many of them have realistic motivations and flaws, one of the problems with this story is that there are too many characters. Although the story mostly focuses on a few characters, the time spent introducing all of the characters can slow down the earlier parts of the story slightly. Even so, many of the background characters are well-written enough to make you care about them.
As for the writing, the novel’s third-person narration is pretty standard gritty sci-fi thriller stuff. In other words, the narration uses a rather “matter of fact” style that is fairly readable. Although the narration in this novel doesn’t flow quite as quickly as it does in Perry’s awesome “Resident Evil” novels, it still works well.
In terms of length and pacing, this novel is a bit of a mixed bag. At a gloriously efficient 222 pages in length, this story doesn’t feel too long. However, for a thriller novel, it takes quite a while to really get started. Yes, the earlier parts of the story build suspense and introduce both the premise and the large cast of characters, but the story doesn’t really turn into a truly gripping fast-paced action-packed thriller novel until a little under halfway through.
All in all, this is a fairly decent sci-fi crime thriller novel. Even though I found the second half of it to be more gripping than the first half, it is still a fairly enjoyable novel. But, if you’re looking for a thrilling “Aliens” novel with a bit more horror, then check out Perry’s “Aliens: The Labyrinth” instead.
If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get about a four.