Aliens: Bug Hunt Edited by Jonathan Maberry

When Jonathan Maberry assembles an anthology, a discerning reader should expect a certain degree of excellence from the final product; that is doubly so when that anthology includes material from authors like Christopher Golden, Weston Ochse, Brian Keene, Scott Sigler, and Maberry himself. Aliens: Bug Hunt is certainly no exception.
Pitched by Maberry to the decision-makers handling the literary universe that’s evolved from Ridley Scott’s Alien universe as a series of vignettes, deep-diving into the lives and experiences of the men and women of the Colonial Marines, it’s a magnificent thing to behold.
The collection is kicked off with Paul Kupperberg’s Chance Encounter. He takes us to a far-off planet where low gravity provides a lattice for massive trees to spear the sky and equally impressive jellyfish-like creatures to float amid the highest branches. Unfortunately, for the expedition on-site to collect samples, there’s another lifeform preying on those Floaters and happy to prey on any other lifeforms making themselves available. Like many of these stories, this one focuses on greed and selfishness, and the disastrous consequences when we allow those traits to guide our actions, much as James Cameron’s Aliens did.
Reaper by Dan Abnett introduces us to a world where the corporation’s attempt to grow and harvest grain awakens a swarming colony of organisms with no objective but to consume all available organic material before returning to hibernation, awaiting new growth and new food for the swarm.
Rachel Caine’s Broken introduces us to Bishop, detailing his first minutes of awakened existence and the fateful mission that ultimately brings him into the company of Apone and crew.
Reclamation introduces us to Hicks, long before the events of Aliens, as Yvonne Navarro shares the story of his marriage and his desperate struggle to understand what happened to his wife on a mission that stole her from him five years earlier.
Christopher Golden’s Blowback takes us into the life of Dietrich, quite some time before her fateful mission to LV-426. We witness first-hand the turmoil of romance within the Colonial Marines as death can come from any direction, at any time. Numerous familiar faces populate this story, from Apone and Hicks to Hudson and Vasquez.
Exterminators by Matt Forbeck provides us with another glimpse into Dietrich’s life as she and Frost make their way to a bar on an out-of-the-way colony, only to discover that R&R is not in the cards for them.
Ray Garton’s No Good Deed takes us to LV-426 before the events of Aliens, as a bounty hunter and her sarcastic android chase two escaped prisoners to a colony under siege by xenomorphs. But it may turn out that the aliens aren’t necessarily the most dangerous creatures on the planet.
A most peculiar and horrifying encounter with a different sort of alien sucks us into Zero To Hero by Weston Ochse. As a cowardly Colonial Marine discovers untapped reservoirs of heroism, he discovers that he might have been better off staying home and playing video games.
David Farland’s Dark Mother shares the final hours of Burke’s life after he failed to get Ripley and Newt impregnated as hosts during the events of Aliens.
Episode 22 by Larry Correia details the history of the M41A pulse rifle in a fictional documentary format that is strangely captivating.
Keith R. A. DeCandido provides us with a glimpse into the hazardous life of an embedded journalist in Deep Background, as a group of Colonial Marines investigates a potential attempt by Weyland-Yutani to cultivate and study the xenomorphs on another planet, with another unsuspecting group of civilians.
Brian Keene’s Empty Nest takes us to another xenomorph infestation and provides us with a glimpse of just how far a mother will go to be a mother.
Darkness Falls introduces us to a retired Colonial Marine, desperate to find peace and security in a colony where she expected never to see xenomorphs again. Heather Graham’s is the only story where we get to witness the adaptations of the xenomorph depending on the organism they’re using for a host, and it’s a horrifying outcome.
Hugs To Die For by Mike Resnick and Marina J. Lostetter showcases a fine example of corporate hubris, as a small group of Colonial Marines receives a tour of a facility where xenomorph blood is being harvested for industrial use.
Maberry’s own Deep Black returns us to the prison colony from Alien 3, long after the events from the movie. A three-man team arrives on the planet, learning that all has not been as quiet as expected.
Distressed by James A. Moore introduces us to what is the most horrifying and indescribable alien lifeform of this collection, dragging us along on a surreal, disorienting battle against something virtually impossible to fight.
Scott Sigler’s Dangerous Prey takes us into the alien minds of xenomorphs themselves, and the experience is altogether more captivating than one might expect, becoming part of the hive.
Spite by Tim Lebbon takes a squad of Colonial Marines into conflict with a species of alien with a scorched earth methodology.
The narrators for these stories were superb in almost all respects, most notably James Anderson Foster, Priya Ayyar, Suzanne Elise, Michael David Axtell, and Grover Gardner. Those were just my personal favorites of the narrators involved, but there wasn’t a single one who didn’t thoroughly immerse the listener.


The Damned Highway: Fear and Loathing in Arkham by Brian Keene & Nick Mamatas

Brian Keene and Nick Mamatas answer a question no one ever thought to ask with The Damned Highway: Fear and Loathing in Arkham. What if Hunter S. Thompson, instead of joining the campaign trail during the 1972 presidential primaries, traveled to the fictional town of Arkham, MA, where he experienced the horrors H.P. Lovecraft described in his writing?
I’m honestly a bit sad that I didn’t know about this book when it was originally released ten years ago. The cover art for that edition is definitely superior and so perfectly captures the blend of cosmic horror and gonzo journalism one is destined to find if they crack the spine and open this book. When I say they’ve perfectly captured this blend of otherwise disparate things, I’m not joking. The Thompson pastiche doesn’t come across as being satirical or heavy-handed. As someone who’s read essentially everything Thompson had published, the style is unmistakable…and these two authors nailed it, including the unrelenting disdain for Nixon. I’ve never read any other work from Mamatas, though I’ve always sort of intended to (it just falls by the wayside). but I’ve enjoyed a good number of Keene’s books in the past, and nothing from his other work mimicked the style and texture of another author in this way.
Feeling as if he’s going to be crushed under the weight of both snow and an endless barrage of unwanted fan letters, our eminently unreliable narrator determines that he needs to escape from his Colorado compound. He can’t go West. That’s where all of this awfulness began. Instead, he chooses to go all the way in the opposite direction. Looking at the map on the bus station wall, he picks Arkham as his destination. A short while later, he’s waiting for the bus to arrive as an ethereal tentacle caresses his leg….and you can sort of guess where it goes from there.
The biggest difference between this fictionalized version of Hunter S. Thompson and the traditional Lovecraft narrators is the capacity to take in stride things that should drive any sane man mad. The moral of the story is that when you’re never quite sure that a thing you’re seeing isn’t just another hallucinatory episode brought on by the surplus of illicit substances you’ve carried with you, it’s far easier to cope with unearthly horrors. In that sense, it could be argued that there would be no better guide into the realm of eldritch horrors. It could be argued that a man with Thompson’s psychology is uniquely suited to document this descent into the unknown.
This is an odd book in so many ways, but it’s equal parts amusing and horrifying; it’s disturbing in both its depiction of cosmic horrors and the antisocial, drug-addled mind of our protagonist.