In the intervening years between Prometheus and Alien: Covenant, 20th Century Fox commissioned an Alien “bible.” “Bible” is an industrial term, mostly in television, sometimes in film, wherein a manuscript is commissioned that includes a timeline of events, character bios, geography and other world building related material within a given series, all for the sake of maintaining franchise continuity. Around this same point in time, Titan Books, under the oversight of 20th Century Fox, commissioned three loosely intertwined Alien novels of questionable canonicity. Alien: River of Pain, once considered to be the most promising of the three as it details the final days of Hadley’s Hope (the doomed colony on LV-426 referenced in Aliens), is a meandering snore of read that takes a number of liberties such as the unnecessary inclusion of Colonial Marines. Out of the Shadows and Sea of Sorrow aren’t much better, particularly the former which saw fit to needlessly shoehorn in notable characters such as Ash and Ellen Ripley. This year, Titan Books saw fit to bestow its readership with yet another Alien novel.
To the undiscerning brick and mortar consumer, The Cold Forge‘s rather basic cover of a poorly rendered xeno coupled with its all-too-typical plot synopsis (aliens escaping a laboratory, yet again) likely do little to distinguish it from other Alien EU works. Fortunately, writer Alex White’s entry into Alien prose fiction functions as a prevalent reminder that you can’t judge a book by its cover.
Blue Marsalis, a prominent geneticist diagnosed with a rare and debilitating disease (ALS), finds herself working on RB-232, or what the crew colorfully refer to as the Cold Forge. The Cold Forge is a space station/research facility governed by Weyland-Yutani, the nefarious company that will stop at nothing in their mission to weaponize the most deadly species the universe has ever seen. As if Blue’s terminal illness wasn’t enough, it’s quickly revealed that the company is sending an auditor, Dorian Sudler, with plans to ruthlessly cut expenditures he deems unnecessary. As Blue depends on a rather expensive synth named Marcus in order to do her job and said job is by and large a smokescreen that allows her to research a potential cure for her ever ailing disability, Blue may be first on the chopping block come cutting time. Regrettably for Blue all these problems seem secondary when a number of the stations prized test subjects, the eponymous aliens themselves, inevitably escape.
Again, while the notion of xenomorph experimentation and subsequent lab escape represents nothing exceptionally new for Alien fans, Alex White handles this material far better than say the film Alien: Resurrection and for more in league with the Dark Horse four-issue limited comic, Aliens: Labyrinth. The Dorian character is a wondrous amalgam of House M.D. meets Patrick Bateman whilst Blue blissfully avoids all the trappings that typically come with writing a woman into a piece of alien EU. She’s no mere attempt at a carbon copy of Ripley that substitutes misplaced machismo for good writing — she’s a unique character in her own right and has her own unique obstacles to overcome.
The Cold Forge doesn’t represent the first attempt at bridging disparate elements between the older Alien films and the more modern, Ridley Scott directed, Alien prequels (that dubious honor belongs to the Fire and Stone comic series published by Dark Horse) but Cold Forge by far represents the best example. In fact, Cold Forge probably represents the best prose novel regarding Alien shy of an Alan Dean Foster film novelization. White’s book reads more like a Michael Crichton techno-thriller than mere fan-servicing EU. While the aforementioned prequel films (Prometheus and Alien: Covenant) served largely to polarize audiences, The Cold Forge is a story all Alien enthusiasts should champion.