Rogue (Aliens, Book 7)
by Sandy Schofield
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Aliens Novels: Book 7, Rogue / 0-553-56442-0
When I noted in my review for the 5th aliens books ("Alien Harvest") that the plot was almost functionally identical to that of the 4th book ("Genocide"), I had not suspected that we would see a similar pattern with the 6th and 7th books ("Labyrinth" and "Rogue"), and yet we do. The overlaps in basic plot are so strong that a cynical person might suspect the aliens' franchise holder of assigning the same plot to multiple authors and just publishing whatever comes back. Fortunately for all of us, "Rogue" takes the compelling plot of a deranged scientist lording over his trapped minions and using them as bait and breeders in his horrific alien experiments, and expands it with wonderful writing and incredible character insight and development into a novel that will be a pleasure for anyone to read - including those completely new to the aliens series.
There are so many things to love about "Rogue". First and foremost, every character featured in the book is eminently sensible. This is such a welcome relief after so many books that feature incredibly stupid heroes in order to facilitate the demands of the plot. Every single character here is sane, sensible, and smart - from the pilot captain and her mysterious passenger, to the marine squadron stationed on base, to the concerned civilians who have long ago realized that they are constantly under surveillance and in danger of being fed to the aliens at any sign of insubordination and have accordingly formed an intricate and determined resistance movement. When the plot moves, it moves forward cleanly and precisely, in response to the actions of the mad scientist and the reactions of his would-be victims.
What do sensible characters look like? They are sensible enough to recognize that their lives under a mad dictator will be inevitably short (none of this "if I just tow the line, I will be spared" idiocy that we see in "Labyrinth" and, to a lesser extent, "Nightmare Asylum") and they organize, plan, and plot their revolt efficiently, with a keen eye for survival. They split up into sensibly sized groups, in order to avoid detection and increase the chances of survival, but no one goes off alone to perform daring and risky hijinks. They rescue and recruit victims who can be useful in the fight against the professor, but they don't hang around in dangerous areas to have long, expository conversations. They are all capable and intelligent, each in their own unique ways, regardless of race, religion, or gender. They are motivated by a thirst for vengeance and justice, but not at the risk of their own survival which they correctly realize is the most important thing. They don't feel the need to risk their lives in meaningless heroics to save the bad guys when everything goes inevitably wrong. Escape is handled intelligently and efficiently, which such plans as "one pilot per ship" and "as soon as a ship is filled to capacity, launch it immediately" and "don't wait for us if we don't make it". All of that may seem like a small thing, but the difference between a book with sensible characters making the decisions that you would expect them to make, versus a book with stupid characters who continually underestimate the bad guy, walk blindly into his traps, and fail to take the alien threat seriously is the difference between thoroughly enjoying a book and wanting to hurl it across the room for having such willfully dumb characters.
What else do I love about "Rogue"? The character exposition is perfect - not too much and not too little, with everything nicely timed and parceled out in little flashes of insight and retrospection that never interrupt the action of the narrative. The obligatory marine squadron is surprisingly composed of individuals who are tough, competent, highly trained, extremely deadly, and above all intelligent, thinking human beings. In other words, the "marines" in this book resemble real marines (as opposed to painfully stupid cannon-fodder) more than probably any other aliens book or movie. Incredibly, the authors have actually done the research necessary to model the alien behavior, and the result is poetry: aliens behave as they should - swarming towards their victims on ceilings and walls, not just on floors - and the acid blood is handled correctly and creatively. The aliens move with instinctive intelligence, hunting and overwhelming their prey in a manner reminiscent of the hunts in "Aliens". It may seem silly to praise an aliens book for having 'correct' alien behavior, but such conscientious adherence to the source material is becoming a rarity with these books, and "Rogue" is a bright light in the darkness.
There are so many other things to love and list about "Rogue", but I'll end by simply noting that the plot is wonderful. While "Labyrinth" successfully used the "mad scientist" idiom to shock the senses, "Rogue" carefully parcels out the horrors and shocks the reader in sequential batches, allowing us to become accustomed to one outrage before slowly presenting us with another, rather than saving them all up for one big bang. Where "Labyrinth" is like a single mental explosion, "Rogue" is like a fireworks show, a series of controlled explosions that form a beautiful pattern.
The only thing I can criticize about "Rogue" is that I was not particularly thrilled with the two or three brief mentions of female pubic hair included in the story. I really do not want on need details regarding color and density - why are they here?? - but fortunately these odd references are kept short and quickly forgotten, a bizarre-but-minor detail that the authors felt compelled to include. Other than that, though, this novel is a perfect example of how great an aliens novel can be, given the right author.
~ Ana Mardoll
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