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.


Eisenhorn Book Two: Malleus by Dan Abnett, Narrated by Toby Longworth

Gregor Eisenhorn, surrounded by a cast of characters both old and new, finds himself at the center of a vast conspiracy orchestrated, seemingly, by Cherubael.
Following a devastating attack on Thracian Primaris, events are set in motion leading Inquisitor Eisenhorn to one of two fates. Either Eisenhorn is escorted to the prisons of the Inquisition, where he’ll be branded a heretic and executed, or he locates the puppetmaster pulling the strings of far more sinister and powerful forces than any he’s ever faced, where the future of the Empire will be decided.
Dan Abnett seems to have skimmed over large sections of the narrative in this account of Eisenhorn’s legacy, sometimes going so far as to reference these other puzzle pieces without filling them in for us. Of course, upon reaching the climax of this tale, it makes perfect sense that a lot of those details are left out. There is, after all, a universe-spanning mystery to unravel, and providing the reader/listener with some of those other elements would give far too much away. It’s a shame, though, because it makes for a book that feels less evenly paced and complete than the previous installment of the series.
Though the events of Malleus certainly seem to be far more epic in scope than those of Xenos, something about the way they’re documented in this book makes them feel more condensed. This isn’t a flaw, but it was a peculiar thing I happened to notice.
The narration provided by Toby Longworth, as before, perfectly captures the grim, wry-humored tone of Gregor Eisenhorn in such a way that I can’t imagine him sounding otherwise. The voices provided for the additional characters are distinct enough–in most cases–to make the narrative flow smoothly.

Eisenhorn Book One: Xenos by Dan Abnett

When people think of Warhammer 40K, it’s often in terms of large-scale warfare and military maneuvers/strategy. The tabletop game and the video games have often been more focused on those elements of the Warhammer 40K universe, so it makes sense that this is the thing first coming to mind. We all first imagine the indomitable space marine in their hulking power armor wielding a chain weapon or some absurdly massive firearm.
Eisenhorn: Xenos by Dan Abnett provides us with a more intimate, character-driven exploration of the Warhammer 40K universe, and it’s a great thing. Following Inquisitor Gregor Eisenhorn as he seeks to unravel the convoluted threads of a mystery involving ruling families, rogue traders, alien species, and Chaos Marines is an exciting ride indeed. With dire consequences looming on the horizon if Eisenhorn fails in his mission, we feel the tension all too vividly.
The narration from Toby Longworth for the audiobook edition is amazing as he brings to life the character of Gregor Eisenhorn as well as his compatriots and antagonists. An already captivating narrative is made all the more gripping with the harsh tones and grave articulation of this narrator.