DNA War (Aliens, Book 11)
by Diane Carey
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Aliens Novels: Book 11, DNA War / 978-1-59582-032-7
In my review for "Original Sin", I noted that all its predecessors in the aliens series have relied on one of two overused plots points to drive the story - either (1) mad scientist experiment gone wrong or (2) military cannon fodder stomping into a nest to retrieve a MacGuffin - and I congratulated "Original Sin" for being a bright and shining exception to this rule by providing an original plot line. Unfortunately, "DNA War" falls back on old habits, returning us to a tired mad scientist plot line for something like the eight time now, with the only 'innovative' additions being a complete disregard for established alien canon and a narrative style that seems better suited to a B-movie hard luck detective.
The complete disregard for the previous aliens books is disconcerting - aliens are now a mysterious and largely unknown threat, as opposed to those-buggers-who-nearly-wiped-out-humanity for which every schoolchild has at least a passing knowledge and a healthy respect. Possibly the author-imposed cluelessness is supposed to forestall the inevitable "why are the protagonists being such idiots?" question as the moronic crew stumble about blindly getting into danger, but author Carey can't figure out how much she wants to commit to the widespread amnesia. For example, the crew seem vaguely aware of the chest-bursting aspect of alien births, and they are also aware of the existence of aliens on the planet, but when confronted with a large number of human corpses with exploded rib cages, they wonder loudly and at great length whether the scientists 'went crazy' and murdered each other. So if the break from canon was done to forestall the crew from looking like idiots, we're looking at a pretty epic failure in that regard.
While we're on the subject of non-canon, now is really not the time in the series to introduce flying face-huggers, let alone to claim that alien warriors travel by curling into a ball and rolling about the countryside like a particularly deadly cheese wheel. The point at which hordes of aliens combined into a giant 'death ball' to roll over the countryside was the point at which I felt that we had not merely abandoned realism, but had actively tied it up and tossed it over a cliff. Carey has also heard just enough chemistry to be dangerous and has decided that the incredibly dangerous alien acid can be instantly neutralized by any old "can of base" that might be lying around. (This isn't the only soft-science to be had - the marine ship also carries a crew of genocidal robots programmed to wipe a planet clean of any creature whose DNA isn't native to the planet, a weak plot device to construe the robots as being just as much a danger to the humans as to the aliens.)
While I'm not ignorant of the fact that with a novel franchise, the author du jour may not have a massive amount of control over, say, the fact that the cookie-cutter plot has been massively overdone already or the alien details are incredibly stupid, the one thing the author does have control over is the quality of writing. Here is where "DNA War" really disappoints - fundamentally, Carey just does not seem able to write well, even to the point of basic sentence construction. Her subjects and verbs don't merely fail to agree, they're actively locked into a vicious custody dispute over the objects and prepositions. And while it's not uncommon for the characters in an aliens novel to be pulled from the science fiction horror stereotypes bag, Carey's characters are so over-stereotyped that I'd suspect a clever and subversive parody if the rest of the writing was good enough to support such a charitable interpretation.
To wit, the plot revolves around a tough, rugged, manly, wiry, B-movie detective stereotype heading to a planet infested with aliens in order to retrieve his mother who is oh-so-subtly-named 'Jocasta'. But it's okay, because he doesn't *really* have an Oedipus complex - his obsession with his mother is one of love AND hate rather than just love. Author Carey subscribes to what I call the "Jim Butcher school of writing", and thus protagonist Rory can't help but break the narrative constantly to look directly at the reader and remind us how tough, awesome, scrappy, and unbelievably cool he is. He's a man's man, who doesn't play by the rules, and he isn't above such 'clever' narration as "The idea was to bring him to justice. Instead, I cut his arms off and let him bleed to death. Oops."
Anyway, Jocasta and her gang of scrappy scientists have come out to this planet to observe the aliens. They've been here for awhile, although Carey can't decide quite how long - for instance, she says that the aliens were discovered on the planet three years ago and that's when Jocasta's team was dispatched. However, it takes about a year and a half to travel to the planet, so apparently Jocasta was sent off and about the time she ARRIVED at the planet, the mission was declared overdue and a rescue team was sent off the next day. Whatever, the point is: son Rory has a court order telling the scientists to stop their research and clear out and, faced with a court order and several marines with very large guns, the scientists naturally decide to sit down and have incredibly long-winded discussions about the morality of exterminating aliens. It's all riveting stuff, particularly with Jocasta strutting around cackling loudly and wearing a shirt saying "I am an evil, murdering psychopath". Before stuff can hit the fan, a local alien war breaks out, the practical upshot of which is that the aliens won't kill or impregnate the humans until after the alien war is settled and to the victor will go the spoils, allowing the humans to walk unmolested amongst the aliens at critical points in the storyline. And if that little twist strikes you as so remarkably coincidental as to put the most blatant Deus Ex Machina to shame, you're not the only one.
Despite the incredibly bad plot and cringe worthy writing, "DNA War" does manage to be slightly entertaining at times, at least more so than the snore-fest "Music of the Spears", which I still consider to be the worst of the aliens series so far. But I simply don't recommend "DNA War" - only the most die-hard fans will be willing to wade through the terrible writing, but the die-hard fans are the ones who will be most offended by the exchange of alien canon for silly gimmicks.
~ Ana Mardoll
View all my reviews