Kate’s Review: “Aliens: Vasquez”

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Book: “Aliens: Vasquez” by V. Castro

Publishing Info: Titan Books, November 2022

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Description: A groundbreaking Latinx Aliens novel by a rising star Latina author, featuring the fan-favorite character PFC Jenette Vasquez from the hit movie Aliens and the family she is forced to leave behind.

For the very first time, the canonical background of the breakout Aliens hero Jenette Vasquez, as well as the story of the children she was forced to leave behind as written by the rising Latina horror star V. Castro (Queen of the Cicadas).

Even before the doomed mission to Hadley’s Hope on LV-426, Jenette Vasquez had to fight to survive. Born to an immigrant family with a long military tradition, she looked up to the stars, but life pulled her back down to Earth—first into a street gang, then prison. The Colonial Marines proved to be Vasquez’s way out—a way that forced her to give up her twin children. Raised by Jenette’s sister, those children, Leticia and Ramon, had to discover their own ways to survive. Leticia by following her mother’s path into the military, Ramon into the corporate hierarchy of Weyland-Yutani. Their paths would converge on an unnamed planet which some see as a potential utopia, while others would use it for highly secretive research. Regardless of whatever humans might have planned for it, however, Xenomorphs will turn it into a living hell.

Review: Depending on the day and my mood, it’s a toss up between whether “Alien” or “Aliens” is my favorite film in the franchise (admittedly, I don’t really acknowledge any of the other films in the “Alien” universe because I don’t like any of them). They are such different movies in tone and theme and genre. But the one I revisit the most often is “Aliens”, as I do love the rag tag Colonial Marines who find themselves in a REALLY bad situation with a corrupt company, an traumatized expert, and a LOT of hungry and bloodthirsty Xenomorphs. One of the stand out marines is Vasquez, a tough as nails no nonsense brawler soldier who is one of the only women on the team. I love Vasquez as a character. One of the problems with Vasquez is that she is a Latina woman who is portrayed by a non-Latina in brownface. So when I saw that V. Castro, one of my favorite horror authors writing right now, was going to give Vasquez an origin story and explore her legacy in a new Sci-Fi horror novel, I was THRILLED. If there is any author who can reclaim the character of Jenette Vasquez, Castro is the one who can do it, as her horror stories have a Latine lens and perspective, AND she knows how to craft a gross and balls to the wall horror story. So I dove into “Aliens: Vasquez” with high hopes.

Haaa, look at Hicks in the background just amused as heck. (source)

“Aliens: Vasquez” is not only a deeper look into Jenette’s backstory, but it is also an exploration of her legacy after her death on LV-426 at the Hadley’s Hope Colony vis a vis the lives of her twin children Leticia and Ramón. I loved that Castro decided to go this route, as while the backstory for Jenette is great (more on that in a bit), there is only so much to work with there. So to think of it as the whole Vasquez legacy works very well. For Jenette, we see her upbringing in a close knit family that has a share of tragedy involving disease, poverty, and societal racism. Eventually she is charged with a crime she didn’t commit thanks to a corrupt cop, and has to choose between prison and military service. To make matters more upsetting, she eventually finds herself pregnant while enlisted, and is told that she can either abort, or have the babies and give them up never to be seen again, and both scenarios end with her forced sterilization. Given what he know about American history (and very RECENT history too) with government forced sterilization of non-white disenfranchised people, this is all very chilling. I loved seeing Vasquez go from somewhat ambitious teenager to hardened Marine, and seeing the various injustices that got her there.

But then there are the twins, Leticia and Ramón Vasquez, and that is the real heart of the story. We get to see these twins as they are raised by their loving aunt with no memory of their mother, and how this loss sets them on two very different paths. For Leticia, she wants to follow in her mother’s footsteps and joins up with the Marines, hoping to prove herself a worthy warrior not only for her mother, but for their family’s tradition of women fighters. For Ramón, it means gathering enough power that he will never feel powerless again. We mostly follow Leticia, and I felt like I got to know her better, but what we do get to know about Ramón is well conceived and feels very realistic. I thought that the twins paths were very on point for the overall tale, and also for the “Alien” themes, as while Leticia becomes a commando like other badass women in the franchise, Ramón ends up working at Weyland-Yutani, the corporation whose greed and thirst for power is what gets everyone into the Xenomorph mess in the first place. Let’s just say that it’s up to its old tricks, and Ramón feels a lot like Paul Reiser. I liked seeing them have to come together when things with the Xenomorphs go wrong. Because, of course, it goes wrong.

And let’s talk Xenomorphs. You need to have a solid focus on the Xenomorphs and all the action and body horror nastiness that comes with them, and I think, for the most part, Castro achieves this. There are the required ‘Weyland-Yutani just can’t leave it alone!’ themes, just as there are the really gross parasitic moments of chest bursters, but there are new ideas like what if someone tried to cross breed Xenomorphs with other creatures to create other kinds of horrible bioweapons? It’s disgusting and unsettling as hell, and it felt very in character and in universe. My only qualm was that I almost felt like, when it all comes together with the research, the Xenomorphs, and the twins colliding, it almost wasn’t enough action and climax. That isn’t to say that things earlier should have been scrapped or cut. I would argue that this book should have been longer to explore this confrontation between Xenomorphs, a marine, and an enabler as it all comes to a head. Especially when that marine and enabler are twins.

Overall, this is a very worthy addition to the “Alien” universe and I thought that it was a great reclamation of a character that is well loved in a movie fandom. Fans of “Aliens”, you should read this.

Rating 8: A fun exploration of a fan favorite character that moves her beyond Hollywood dated stereotypes, “Aliens: Vasquez” feels right at home in the “Alien” franchise.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Aliens: Vasquez” isn’t included on any Goodreads lists yet, but it would fit in on “Alien Books & Tie-Ins”, and “Latinx Horror/Fantasy”.

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