While every Alien and Aliens novel is, of course, connected to the movies, comics, and games, David Barnett’s Alien: Colony War (paperback, Kindle, audiobook) is in the unique position of being the first in a loosely-connected mini-series that will also include Alien: Inferno’s Fall by Phillipa Ballantine and Clara Carija, and Mary SanGiovanni’s Alien: Enemy Of My Enemy. In the following email interview, Barnett discusses what inspired and influenced this military sci-fi space opera novel.
To begin, what is Alien: Colony War about, and when and where does it take place?
It takes place in 2186, and the action is centered on two colonies. One is New Albion, which is a largely British colony, rich in resources, with a lot of financial interest from “old money” families in Britain back on Earth. The other is LV-187, a mining colony on a fairly inhospitable planet, mainly populated by French mining workers. The underlying political narrative comes when New Albion decides to secede from the Three World Empire and go it alone, and by chance a trade mission from there comes across a mysteriously deserted LV-187, so there’s an opportunistic land-grab suddenly available for New Albion.
Into this mix we have Chad McLaren, who is a character from the Dark Horse comics, and Davis, a synthetic also introduced in the comics. McLaren and Davis are fugitives because of their attempts to blow open Weyland-Yutani and others’ dealings with Xenomorphs. They come to New Albion on the trail of some missing Ovomorphs, and there meet up with Cher Hunt, a journalist from Earth who is looking for answers about her missing sister — more about that in a moment. The trail leads them to LV-187 just as everyone discovers that the colony is overrun by Xenomorphs.
When in relation to the movies, comics, games, and books does Alien: Colony War take place?
It takes place a few years after Aliens, and there’s a major plot point in the novel that riffs off something Ellen Ripley was told in that movie, and which proves not to be quite the case she was led to believe.
My understanding is that Alien: Colony War is also connected to Alex White’s novel Alien: Into Charybdis…
The connection with Alex’s excellent Into Charybdis is that Cher Hunt is the sister of Shy Hunt, who lost her life in the Hasanova incident. It was all covered up on Earth, and Cher is determined to find out what happened to her sister.
So then who came up with the idea for Alien: Colony War?
I worked closely with Steve Saffel, the editor at Titan, who gave me a fairly wide-ranging brief. Alien: Colony War had to set up a number of books to follow, so there was a need to paint the canvas of the current political situation both on Earth and in the colonies, and to detail the steps that would lead to all-out war in the colonies. I was asked to have central ingredients of military involvement, and of course, Xenomorphs, and it was Steve’s suggestion to utilize Chad McLaren and Davis. So it was a case of throwing all that into a blender and teasing out a coherent novel that ticked all the boxes and was still a thrilling read, as the franchise demands.
While the Alien stories are always science fiction, they also often incorporate other genres. Alien was a sci-fi horror story, Aliens was a military sci-fi one, while some of the novels and comics have employed the tropes of space opera. How do you describe Alien: Colony War, genre-wise?
It’s a real mixture of subgenres, really. There is politics, but nobody wants to be bored by the minutiae of political to-and-fro-ing. There is military sci fi in there, there’s space opera. There’s lots of running around in the dark. And there is humor, too.
We have to bear in mind in this universe that not a lot of people actually know about the Xenomorphs, so they are living lives very similar to ours, just 160-odd years hence. So I use Cher, and a new character, Merrilyn Hambleton, who is a survivor of the LV-187 infestation, as our way into the universe, our guides to what’s happening and the lens through which we see ordinary people’s first encounters with the Aliens.
As you said, Alien: Colony War has the U.K. colony of New Albion splitting from the Three World empire. The U.K. voted to split from the European Union not long ago. How much did real world politics influence Alien: Colony War?
I’ve jokingly referred to this book as “Brexit In Space,” but really there’s a long and illustrious history of colonies splitting from empires. I mean, if there wasn’t then American readers would be paying pounds and pence for this book, not dollars, and I wouldn’t have to take out all the “U”s from words such as “humour.” So while Brexit and Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union is perhaps the most recent example, New Albion’s secession from the Three World Empire has a lot of historical precedent.
Prior to writing Alien: Colony War you wrote such novels as 2017’s Calling Major Tom, 2019’s Things Can Only Get Better, and 2021’s The Handover, which is coming out in this U.S. June 7th as Same Time, Same Place. Are there any writers, or maybe specific stories, that had a particularly big influence on Colony but not on anything else you’ve written?
I write in a wide range of styles and genres. Those books you mentioned are what people would call commercial fiction; I also write a lot of comic book stuff, for 2000AD, Archie, IDW, and DC. And prior to Calling Major Tom I wrote a steampunk / Victorian fantasy trilogy for Tor, the Gideon Smith series. So I have a lot of influences. I think with Colony War, I tried to marry traditional science fiction with my more commercial fiction, because although this is an Alien book what really matters is the people.
And how about non-literary influences; was Alien: Colony War influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games? Aside from the Alien stuff, of course.
Not really, I don’t think, other than by unconscious absorption of general culture. I think I just wanted to keep the pace up, and portray believable characters who readers care about. The thing about writing Alien fiction is that nobody, literally nobody, in the book is safe. It’s quite refreshing to be able to kill off a character at whim, without worrying about whether they should appear in the next episode.
Now, Alien: Colony War is part of a series that will also include Alien: Inferno’s Fall by Phillipa Ballantine and Clara Carija, and Mary SanGiovanni’s Alien: Enemy Of My Enemy. And all three will include exclusive scenarios for the Alien table-top role-playing game. How does Alien: Colony War connect to those other books? Do they form a trilogy?
They’re more books that are set in the same universe and same ongoing storyline rather than direct passing-the-baton sequels to each other. So basic situations I’ve set up in Colony War will form the backdrop of the other books, and the various characters may or may not be aware of what the others are doing, but it would be nice to think they’ll all eventually make a cohesive whole.
So, did you talk to Phillipa, Clara, and / or Mary about what they were doing in their books?
As I wrote Colony War first, I was pretty much heading out blind as the other books hadn’t been started or announced at that point. I had a lot of contact with Clara, and Andrew Gaska, who is writing the RPG, to help me out with some of the lore, timelines, and geography of the Alien universe. They are absolutely indispensable. So I may well have unwittingly set up situations that caused headaches for the other writers, for which I apologize.
So, is there anything else you think people need to know about Alien: Colony War?
I think there’s necessarily a lot going on in Colony War, and while the first half sets out the political stage, by the mid-point I hope it will be a novel that satisfies Alien fans with all the requisite action.
Finally, if someone enjoys Alien: Colony War, which of your other novels would you suggest they read next?
My Gideon Smith trilogy has more adventure, thrills, and political intrigue, while Same Time, Same Place is a very human novel.