Berserker (Aliens, Book 9)
by Paul Mendoza
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Aliens Novels: Book 9, Berserker / 0-553-57731-X
At some point during "Berserker", I realized that I've now read nine aliens novels as well as the four film novelizations, and I've still yet to read an account involving an isolated colony or ship having to suddenly deal with an unexpected infestation in their midst (indeed, this was really my only complaint with "Aliens", that we weren't treated to knowing what, exactly, had happened to the colony during those missing days).
This seemingly small point is, in my opinion, an insight into the deep flaws in the aliens novel series as a whole. Nearly every single novel so far has followed one of two plot lines: (1) a mad scientist is experimenting on aliens when things go inevitably sour and all the janitors and lower-level scientists have to clear out in a hurry, or (2) a group of fighters heads into an alien nest or infestation to exterminate them or retrieve a MacGuffin. While these are by no means bad plot lines, what this means from a practical reader's perspective is that when the blood inevitably starts flying, it's hard to feel too sorry for the blokes getting slaughtered because, really, they should have known better than to muck around with aliens. In other words, we have no true victims, undeserving of their fate.
The other problem with these limited two plot lines, of course, is that the authors have to increasingly stretch for new reasons as to why anyone would keep going into these nests to be slaughtered after it has been proven, time and again, how deadly this species is (and this problem also feeds into the "had it coming" issue because, really, any other species would have learned its lesson by now).
Perry has attempted to handle this problem by constructing a reality in which the occasional alien infestation is just a matter of life and the W/Y company has put together crack pest control teams that can be dispatched to clean out infestations as they pop up. So it's sort of like working for Orkin, except the on-the-job fatality is pretty darned high. You'd have to be pretty stupid or pretty desperate to take a job like this, so the crack teams are composed of convicts and felons who are motivated by a one-to-one ratio of nests cleaned to years left to serve.
This doesn't really solve the problem, though. Ignoring the fact that an outraged public probably wouldn't be too happy with Charles Manson exchanging 40 years for 40 alien raids, and skimming over the fact that this isn't exactly social rehabilitation, we are still left with the issue of why the team doesn't just quit when a routine situation rapidly turns suicidal for shady Company reasons. And even assuming they can't quit (which Perry stresses that they can), they're convicts on a freighter with a crew of six and no guards or guns. So the characters come off as particularly thick when they know that they're headed into a highly unusual suicide mission and they have no motivation to continue, and yet they continue anyway.
Having said all that, this isn't a bad aliens book. The plot premise is thin, but less thin than many of its predecessors. The middle of the book is, in fact, quite solid - it's just the beginning and ending that bother me. Perry seems to have trouble characterizing the people in her stories and spends the first few chapters rushing over uninteresting character details. She seems aware of this, but her solution is to just hurry through and get it over with as fast as possible. Once everyone is properly fleshed out into two-dimensional cardboard cut-outs, the story settles down and things go relatively smoothly. The Beserker team is an interesting idea, particularly the part with the "bait", but the whole man-in-the-suit premise doesn't work well in a world with synthetics and seems like a gimmick to just make the Company as evil as possible for no real reason. This is the major problem, in fact, with the ending - resolution is tossed away in favor of an anti-industrial subtext that just comes off cheaply.
All in all, if you're planning to read all the aliens novels, this is by no means one of the worst. It's an interesting read and a good take on the aliens universe, even if I continue to be disappointed in my search for a plot line where the aliens come to the humans, instead of the ham-handed vice versa. But if you're getting tired of the series, or planning to start new with this installation, your socks probably won't be blown off.
~ Ana Mardoll
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