Thoughts on “Alien: The Cold Forge”

When I was browsing for books, I came across a relatively recent Alien universe book called “Alien: The Cold Forge” by Alex White. I’d liked at least some of the earlier series and in general had had decent luck with adaptations, and so decided to give it a try. Unfortunately, I didn’t get lucky this time, because this was a really, really bad book.

The general plot is that a Weyland-Yutani auditor, Dorian, is sent to a major secret research facility to recommend what projects should continue and which ones should be shut down, and all sorts of other things. Given the universe, one of his jobs is also to ensure that the people running the projects aren’t hiding things from the company, which of course they probably all are. One of the ones that we know is hiding things is Blue, who is someone with a debilitating disease who is hoping that the Alien ability to fuse their own genetics with the genetics of their hosts — as we found out in Alien 3 and Alien 4 — will let her cure her genetic disease and thus return to health. Right now, however, she gets around and does her work by mind linking to a male android and essentially inhabiting its body. At any rate, while they’re there one of the other projects — an exceptionally adaptive computer virus — gets loose and starts shutting down the station, putting everyone’s lives at risk. And, it also releases the Aliens.

The first big flaw in the book is that the Aliens are essentially environmental hazards. Their only role is essentially to make doing things on the station difficult and dangerous, but they neither cause the bickering employees to band together nor does their presence cause the employees to splinter on the basis of self-interest and survival. The employees were already at each others’ throats, and it doesn’t get appreciably better or worse when they come to see the threat from the Aliens. You could have left the Aliens out completely and it wouldn’t have impacted the plot one whit. Even the cure isn’t uniquely Alien, and so Blue could have done everything she did trying to preserve a cure without it being related in any way to the Aliens.

So, if we don’t have the Aliens being the focus, then that means that the focus has to be on the characters. Dorian and Blue seem to be the viewpoint characters, but neither of them are interesting or sympathetic. Dorian is probably the most interesting as a cold-blooded manipulator who seems something interesting in the Aliens, but that aspect is never followed up on and a sadistic aspect is added to him, likely to make him out to be a more obvious villain. This isn’t very interesting and everything he did because of that sadism could have easily been justified with him being uncaring and working things out the best for him regardless of the feelings of everyone else. For example, early on he leads a woman he audited and slept with to believe that she was safe when he really recommended that she be fired. The book seems to hint that he did this because he relished her devastation when she found out — even though he wouldn’t be there when she did — but just trying to avoid a scene would have been more than sufficient. In fact, the only thing his sadism does is cause his death, as he could have left Blue to die but had to go back to prove his superiority over her because she was such a thorn in his side, despite the fact that she really, really wasn’t. This doesn’t even really hit a “hoist by his own petard” note because he was already established as putting his own interests ahead of that, so he really just looks like an idiot.

A lot of this is, of course, in service to what is probably supposed to be the sympathetic character of Blue, who ends up being utterly unsympathetic and unbelievable. There are constant attempts to hint that she has some altruistic motives — she went into genetics because she wanted to cure those diseases for everyone — but she’s so incredibly self-centered otherwise that it falls flat. She also never really does anything intelligently despite being shoehorned into a lot of situations, and at the end when she is rescued by her benefactors — and given a new android model — claims that she’s invincible now because she survived, which comes across as idiotic because she only lived by luck, still has a very short lease on life, and still has to rely on the android her benefactors provided despite Dorian proving to her that that can be overridden by command. She should be paranoid, not overly confident, especially considering that her ordeal would leave her in worse shape than she was before.

But she seems to be (sigh) the Social Justice representative here. The idea of someone who was physically compromised using one of the androids as a shell is an interesting idea, but it isn’t explored in any detail, with time instead being spent on describing Blue’s struggles with disability. She’s in a “lesbian” relationship with the security chief — who is of course the typical butt-kicking, tough woman model — using the male android shell for the sex. At the end, when offered a female android she insists on keeping the male one for no reason. It seems to me that the author expected us to sympathize or empathize with her because of those traits, but made her so unlikable that it doesn’t work.

So, with no plot to speak of, the Aliens reduced to environmental hazards, the main “hero” and “villain” uninteresting and hard to tell apart, and no interesting interpersonal conflicts or plots to follow, there’s nothing in this book of interest. I regret purchasing and reading this book, and have no interest in reading it again.

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