Aliens: Colonial Marines Technical Manual by Lee Brimmicombe-Wood – Book Review [Bellarius]
Bellarius takes a detour away from novels to look at the Aliens: Colonial Marines Technical Manual by Lee Brimmicombe-Wood.
“The best thing to happen to the Aliens mythos in decades!” – The Founding Fields
There’s little denying by this point that Alien is a franchise which has definitely seen better days. Even ignoring the various elseworlds comics and expanded material which failed to meet the narrative strength of its early films, efforts of a resurgence recently fell flat. With Prometheus resembling little of the universe people love and Aliens: Colonial Marines triggering cries of betrayal which still echo across the planet, it now seems unlikely we’ll ever see the glory days of 1979 and 1986 repeated again. As such this was exactly the right time for this to be reprinted. Despite having been brought back to try and capitalise upon Colonial Marines, the Technical Manual proves to be the best addition to the universe since James Cameron was involved.
As this isn’t the traditional work of fiction we cover on The Founding Fields, there isn’t too much of a plot to cover. Ultimately divided into two parts, the Colonial Marines Technical Manual explores the two best known aspects of the films: The titular Colonial Marines and the xenomorphs of LV-426. The former are explored in detail while the latter, set after the events of Aliens, follows scientists trying to piece together what happened. Examining the truth behind Ripley’s initial reports of the events on the Nostramo and LV-426. Both are explored in detail, with the former is explored far more than the latter.
While Aliens displayed many memorable aspects of the military, it did little to explain them. The famous APC and smart gun were both enigmas. Whatever we knew about them we got from fleeting scenes, only very brief moments which told us very little of what they were or how they worked. The Technical Manual does wonders to detail them and make them feel like proper military equipment. Take the aforementioned smart gun for example. The book not only cites exactly what the eye piece is for and why it is there but lists all of the following in detail:
- The ammunition types it uses
- Diagrams of postures on how to hold the weapon and turn it
- Use it within a squad and the positions individuals should have
- Breaks down its overall weight into components
- Preparation and firing procedures
- Material used in its construction and heat dispersal methods
- Reloading and stripping procedures with diagrams
- And finally technical and field problems found with both current and previous varients.
This is for one weapon of the eight or nine the book covers, each done more or less with the same level of detail as this if not more. All going the extra mile by adding quotes from those using it and experiences in combat. All of which feel exactly like they would have been taken out of lines from the Aliens script. The few pieces of equipment which are not gone into detail are usually excused via limited use or simplicity. Even then tactical descriptions are given explaining their use, flamethrowers for example featured with explanations on how they are used in close quarters. Denying ambush points and securing rapid advances inside ships and urban complexes.
Even those originally made only for the Technical Manual are given similar treatment, with statistics, designs and information which feels entirely in-keeping with what we’ve seen. This ranges from actual tanks and artillery pieces to models E.V.A. armour designed to work in combination with the established equipment. The M22 Jackson tank (cue obvious StormWatch joke) is listed with potentially even more details than the APC, exploring how a main battle tank would be used in a universe with so much emphasis upon air support and orbital combat. Detailing exactly why it used and even minor bits of information like the limitations on the turret’s elevation.
It’s really this high level of information and statistics which really sells the universe to readers, which is compounded by the more human element of the quotes. It makes the universe feel vast and adds an amazing level of realism to a universe which often seems so improbable. This is obviously helped by the fact that they often contain elements of scientific understanding and technology present today.
What further compounds the book’s believability is how the author moved beyond simple technical details. Examining points of the universe beyond just that of the military. Elements of naval warfare, how the ships are constructed and even civilian transports are detailed. The Sulaco is mentioned by name and the civilian tractors seen being used on Hadley’s Hope are gone into in vast technical detail, describing why they are so widely used. Even the escape pod utilised by Ripley is given a brief look over, exploring its survivability following an accident on-board a vessel.
The final pages are the most interesting, the look into the xenomorphs themselves. Written in-universe it consists of a number of recordings and documents as they compound research. Attempting to understand the creatures and why they exist. More to the point how they could physically exist. It’s built upon them learning from their mistakes and even offers some explanations for some of their abilities such as the acid blood. Giving a more genuine theme to their research even as they point out how impossible the aliens are in every biological sense.
Really, this is the type of book which puts Warhammer 40,000’s Imperial Armour volumes to shame. The sheer level of thought, detail, planning and effort put into this one book is near superhuman. It contains nearly as much information as you would find in a genuine military guide and it’s only the lack of highly detailed point by point cut-aways of how each gun works which sets them apart. The two flaws which can really be picked out feel more like nit-picks than anything else. The first is that the title feels like a misnomer. The book doesn’t entirely focus upon the Colonial Marines and many elements detract from the idea it is a technical manual, namely the individual quotes and final section on the xenomorphs. The second is the lack of battles. Unlike many historian records or military books, this one never contains any detailed maps or descriptions of skirmishes by the Marines. Something which is lacking, but is made up for in part by the brief eye witness accounts and quotes of Marine Corps personnel in combat.
While this is not recommended to those with only a passing interest in the franchise, those disheartened with the current direction it is going in should buy this one the first chance they get. It gets almost everything right and the few missteps the author does make are easily forgivable. It’s easily one of the best examples of a military science fiction tome to date and an achievement for everyone involved.