alien vs. predator megareview, part 4: waiting for more (hopefully)

what was supposed to be the third and final part of this megareview ended up ballooning to an unmanageable length, so i ended up having to pull a hunger games 3: part 21 and split it into two parts. so here we go.

alien: covenant (movie 2017)

the origin of humanity is not, in any way, shape, or form, the “only question that matters,” nor does it render any other concerns meaningless. weyland (and ridley scott, for that matter) can fuck right off with that bullshit. i would be willing to chalk it up to weyland being one of the series’ great villains were it not for the fact that the narrative and thematic intent of the film absolutely bear the importance of his fetish out. we also get an acting captain whose entire character is “christians are so oppressed you guys.” ridley, what happened? where did you acquire this ax that you won’t stop grinding?

i also just hate, hate, hate revelations that make worlds feel smaller. david did not need to create the xenomorphs. no one needed to create the xenomorphs. this is like george lucas star wars prequels levels of making a rich, interesting world feel tiny. the idea is just so wrongheaded, and it plays precisely into my big picture problem with the film’s thematic intent.

when it’s trying to be serious and meaningful, alien: covenant is just intelligent design: the movie. and it just makes me want to strangle myself.2 ridley scott’s increasingly aggressive theism is threatening to undo everything that makes this series feel so special. a series that, more than most other scifi series, manages to make space feel huge and terrifying is making it instead feel like everything of consequence that’s ever happened out there is part of this very small web of interconnected events involving a very small number of people, and that’s just a damn shame. even alien: resurrection didn’t really make this universe feel smaller, just dumber.

if we sidestep the film’s thematic intent, though, i actually like it quite a bit better than prometheus, and there are so many parts of it that are just terrific taken in isolation. the shower kill is one of the best in a series that’s marked by excellent kills, and i really do like the way this world is textured (even though i am just all kinds of annoyed at what that texture is in service of). at the end of the day, it fulfills all of the most basic needs of a scifi/horror and hits quite a few aesthetic marks that go above and beyond those basic needs, and that’s not nothing. like, it does need to be acknowledged that this film is fucking gorgeous. it’s worth seeing for that reason alone. and when it lets itself be a dumb horny monster movie for the like 15 minutes it speedruns the plot of alien, it’s quite good on all levels. b-rank

predator: if it bleeds (short story collection 2017)

the anthology opens with “devil dogs” by tim lebbon. oh hey, that author sounds familiar, huh? indeed, this story featuring the same space marine unit as its sibling aliens anthology’s closing story,3 though from the point of view of a different character.

in this short story, the marines are sent to investigate a research space station that has gone dark. as per usual there’s a company rep there with them to push them into disregarding their own safety for the sake of recovering something profitable to the company, in this case a computer datacore. during their initial investigation of the station before docking, the marines see a yautja through one of the viewports, and the company rep is very blase about it, having already known that there was one in captivity being experimented upon, and that an escape was likely the reason the station had gone dark.

the commander is disgusted and angry but unsurprised. she continues to prioritize her squad’s safety and the lives of any possible survivors over the company’s interests. in spite of that, she and her squad get their asses handed to them and she’s the only one who survives. when she attempts to retreat to the ship the company man demands to know if she retrieved the objective and will not let her board the ship if she hasn’t.

at this point the marine realizes she’s been followed by the yautja. because she’s a stone cold badass, she basically engineers a situation where she lies to the company guy and says she’s secured the objective, he opens the airlock, she lets the yautja pass her, and then seals the two of them together in the ship and jettisons it, leaving her alone in the station.

this is pretty action-packed and has some good character beats. i’ve kind of loved this author’s writing style in the two stories of his i’ve checked out, and i’m probably gonna need to check out his novels at some point!4 b-rank

hi, quick question about “stonewall’s last stand” by jeremy robinson. more of a comment, really. this was written in 2017 why the flying fuck am i expected to put up with the protagonist being a literal fucking confederate general? i’m good, thanks. d-rank

we get back on track with “rematch” by steve perry. i don’t know how the order of the stories gets determined or what kind of knowledge the authors have about what the other stories are or if the whole thing was one giant coincidence but the predators blowing giant holes in those racist bikers and then complaining about how they were scrubs and they hope they find better prey on this trip was so fucking hilariously cathartic right after the one that, again, is literally from the pov of a confederate general. i’m not saying it makes up for it–it doesn’t, it couldn’t–but it was still nice.

like the two tim lebbon stories from this collection and its alien sibling, this is linked to a predator novel steve perry wrote, though this time as a sequel rather than a prequel. so it offhandedly refers to the events of the novel several times, but again it worked just fine for me as a standalone without having read the novel. i’m familiar with perry as the author of the star wars novel shadows of the empire. i haven’t read it in probably a couple decades but i remember liking it, so i wasn’t too surprised that i enjoyed this short story as well. probably not enough to read his predator books, though, if i’m being honest. i just don’t think reading tertiary content for this franchise is gonna be in the cards for me, but i did enjoy this on its own at least. b-rank

there is too much bootlicking in “may blood pave my way home” by weston ochse and “storm blood” by peter j. wacks & david boop to even bother talking about them, sorry. i know bootlicking has always been a core feature of this franchise but it’s part of why i don’t like the franchise very much. d-ranks for both.

in “last report from the kss psychopomp” by jennifer brozek we finally get back to space bullshit. this series is so much better when it’s doing space bullshit, i swear.

in this one a salvage vessel comes across a gold mine of derelict vessels, explicitly stated to be enough to set literally every crew member up with their own ship or early retirement. those hopes briefly appear dashed when they notice a small pirate vessel has beaten them there, but for some reason (which, given that it’s in a predator anthology, i bet you’ll never guess!) the pirate ship seems dead in the water despite having full power.

the crew of the scavenger ship is required by “space maritime law” (i love this shit) to investigate the pirate ship and rescue any prisoners that might be aboard, and you can probably guess where this is going but yeah this turns into a pretty awesome action/horror type deal where a predator kicks all kind of ass.

i know a lot of these space bloodbath ones sound kinda samey when i describe them, and they admittedly read kinda samey too, but i really do wish more of them were set out in space than on historical earth. it’s nice to just shut my brain off for a dozen pages or so and let my pred boys fuck up some space dudes. b-rank

see, now, this is how you do a historical fiction story without bootlicking. fucking finally. in “skeld’s keep” by s.d. perry a group of predator trainees and their teacher are doing some hunting on earth in the early-mid 9th century ce.

one aspect i love, which this shares in common with perry’s father’s story from earlier in this anthology, is the story is about 50/50 in terms of the humans’ perspective and the predators’. not in terms of page count, which is definitely drastically tilted in favor of the humans, but because of the brutal directness of yautja culture it still feels like an equal “amount” of their side of the story if that makes sense.

we learn that prior to the events of this story, humans were considered dangerous but not too dangerous, so earth is considered kind of perfect as a proving ground. unfortunately for them, on this particular trip they encounter a viking raiding party. long story short, their teacher ends up deciding to recommend that earth be upgraded to a hunting ground for adult yautja only.

i really loved the approach in this one. i loved all the little details we get from the yautjas’ perspective like how part of their code of honor is that they aren’t allowed to use some of their more powerful weapons on “primitive” planets in order to keep the hunt challenging.

my two favorite scenes in this are definitely the one where a viking sentry gets the drop on a cloaked predator, and the scene towards the end where that predator decloaks and presents his helmet to one of the surviving vikings as a trophy. but yeah, this story is pretty consistently terrific, and definitely a refreshing change of pace from all the various flavors of american imperialism we had gotten in the period pieces up until this point. b-rank

next up is “indigenous species” by kevin j. anderson. i’m quite familiar with anderson’s work thanks to his many licensed works, especially his work on the star wars and x-files tie-in novels, comics, and supplementary materials. i’m a fan of his writing style, so i was looking forward to this story.

the protagonists of this one are a group of colonists who were promised a better life on a peaceful world, but instead found themselves on an inhospitable world full of rapacious predators. that’s predators with a small p. later, some predators with a big p show up, and the colonists find themselves trapped between hunters and bigger hunters.

again this is a pretty simple story, nothing mindblowing or anything. i know i sound like a broken record, but i just truly think predator stories work better when their settings are more like aliens stories? it’s just a matter of taste, but yeah. these are the kind of predator stories i do genuinely enjoy. b-rank

the gist of “blood and sand” by mira grant is that an orphaned brother and sister live with their abusive aunt and uncle in rural montana, a predator (whose ship is mistaken for a “falling star” or meteor) shows up in the wilderness and kills a bunch of animals plus their uncle, their aunt sends them to find their uncle and instead they find the predator and manage to lead him back to their aunt’s house and get her killed on purpose. it’s told in very tight third-person limited narration, and feels a lot more grounded and personal as a result. it’s basically one of those nature survival stories with a kid protagonist only there’s a predator. not a bad mashup, honestly. and it’s genuinely different, which is always a boon in anthologies like this one. b-rank

in “tin warrior” by john shirley, we get a a drastic reversal from a story with a somewhat similar setup in aliens: bug hunt. you see, in this one, the protagonist of this one is a soldier who saw a superior officer trying to rape someone and actually fucking did something about it. unfortunately this superior officer was drinking buddies with the general in command of their secret base, so this action landed this guy squarely on said general’s shit list.

at the beginning of the story, our protagonist has been selected to test a combat suit developed from captured predator technology by facing a captured predator in single combat. the predator is meant to be totally disarmed, but it turns out he still has both his cloaking and wristblades. it looks an awful lot like the general decided to use the exercise as a convenient way to get rid of his “disloyal” rape-reporting subordinate. things go awry when not only does the predator not kill his opponent, but actually escapes and kills or injures several other soldiers on the way out.

it’s now fairly clear the general wants this guy dead, but just to drive the point home after sending him after the escaped predator, he secretly meets with one of his more loyal soldiers, a sniper who the protagonist refers to as the general’s bully at one point, and explicitly orders him to make sure the protagonist has an accident during the pursuit.

long story short, the predator ends up killing the fuck out of the sniper, stealing a vehicle, and using that vehicle to blow up most of the base, likely killing the general in the process. he also has every opportunity to kill the protagonist but decides, y’know, nah. i’m starting to think predators are bros (in a good way), y’all. b-rank

“three sparks” by larry correia is another historical tale that manages to not be super bootlicky, wow. there is some extremely silly racism in showing the origin of ninjas being some samurai encountering a predator and the survivors deciding to emulate him, so do be aware of that. and like, i would accept this kind of bullshit as just a cute idea if a japanese person was writing it, but i’m pretty sure larry doesn’t qualify.5

honestly though the fights in this are so badass and the protagonist samurai guy kicks so much ass that i still found it one of the most entertaining stories in the entire anthology in spite of the racism. ymmv, obviously. b-rank

let me save you some time on “the pilot” by andrew mayne: cold war, cold war, soviet union bad, cold war, cold war, bootlicking good, cold war, cold war, commies bad, cold war, cold war, spy planes good, cold war, cold war, blah blah blah. cool twist, though. c-rank

“buffalo jump” by wendy n. wagner is basically a western but with a predator. pretty basic stuff, and some genre-typical racism but definitely not the worst example of that i’ve seen. my main issue with it was honestly its meandering pacing. c-rank

look, i’m gonna level with you guys, when i found out “drug war” by bryan thomas schmidt and holly roberds was a direct sequel to predator 2 i just straight-up skipped it. after all the other bullshit i’ve put up with in this anthology, i was just absolutely not subjecting myself to that.

“recon” by dayton ward is bootlicking: vietnam war edition. enjoy your d-rank there.

and that brings us to the last story in the anthology, “gameworld” by jonathan maberry. for the record, i was predisposed against this one given how genuinely atrocious his story in aliens: bug hunt was. honestly i was just thinking the whole time that it was really funny that this story was so long and that one (which just abruptly cuts off right when it seems like the main action of the story is about to start) is so much shorter. i don’t know man, i just thought it was pretty funny.

the idea of a not entirely legal space gladiator fight featuring all kinds of fighters from humans to genetically-engineered animals is pretty rad. (could’ve done without one of the humans being referred to as a “surgical hermaphrodite,” but okay.) and a guy fighting in said spectacle to try to raise money for his daughter’s cancer treatments is for sure a good entrypoint to this kind of story. like the writing isn’t great or anything, but casually transphobic language aside it’s fine i guess. c-rank

and that’s all she wrote. well, actually, no, it’s an anthology so that’s all several people wrote.

it’s pretty likely that short story collections like this are the only predator books i’ll ever read? though i generally enjoy predator more in its non-movie forms, i just don’t see committing to reading novels set in this world no matter how much i like the yautja themselves. but anthologies like this are just always a good way to get a sample platter, plus i was going to read the similar collections for alien and avp so i figured i might as well. i probably will get around to the alien and maybe the avp novels at some point because unlike predator, i love alien as a franchise and do see myself wanting more of it.

the predator (movie 2018)

this is extremely bad in ways that matter (the staggering amounts of ableism)6 and ways that don’t (the sloppy scripting and editing). it’s actually kinda cynical about the military, so that’s nice i guess? it’s at least better than the outright bootlicking that usually characterizes these things.

like, any amount of praise i’m gonna give this thing basically amounts to “it does not bore me to tears,” so you know. that’s kind of where i am with it. and there was some cool alien shit and i like the aliens in this movie better than the humans (except olivia munn) so i’m glad there was some cool alien shit. that’s kinda it.

oh, also, i usually hate it when late entries in a franchise take iconic lines that have been repeated verbatim and subvert them for no real reason, but i actually loved olivia munn’s character gasping, “you… are one beautiful motherfucker,” the first time she saw a yautja. that ruled. c-rank

the predator holiday special (short 2018)

there were a bunch of shorts that went along with the predator, and i looked at a list of them to see if i needed to watch any of them, and this is the only one that jumped out at me. and yeah, it was exactly what i would’ve wanted. literally just a rankin/bass style claymation short with a claymation predator taking on the official santa and reindeer and elf claymation models. at one point there’s a reindeer with an eyepatch and a machine gun. fucking incredible.

william gibson’s alien 3 (comic 2018-19)

first of all, can we make this kind of thing more common? where we actually get to see alternate versions of a movie officially released in some form? because i would love to see what bryan singer’s x-men 37 or joel schumacher’s batman triumphant8 or rian johnson’s episode ix, etc etc, would have been. that reminds me, i should check out the batman ‘89 comics. but i digress.

so, obviously with something like this the first question that comes to mind is whether you prefer the movie we actually got or this one. i actually like alien 3 quite a bit, but when i heard the original idea for alien 3 involved space communists i kinda figured there was a decent chance that i’d prefer that? like, even a terrible portrayal that villainized them could be enjoyed from a camp standpoint and maybe even reclaimed and fannoned into something awesome. but if this comic is anything to go by, it turns out the space communists a) weren’t even that heavily involved in the plot, and b) were just kinda boring. sad times.

it’s also nice that newt and hicks get to actually be characters in this instead of being killed literally during the opening credits, but ripley spends most of the story in a coma before being unceremoniously dumped into an escape pod (presumably launched directly toward the next movie). it’s just weird. what a weird choice. obviously i want hicks and newt to get to be actual characters with actual stories, but given a choice between that and ripley getting to be a character with an actual story i’m obviously going to pick ripley?

so, yeah, i’m actually super glad that we got the alien 3 we got instead of this. i know a lot of people think it would have been better, but i’m afraid i just don’t see it. i’m still super glad they did this, though. again, the general concept of adapting abandoned versions of movies into a less resource-intense medium so we at least get to see what the story would’ve looked like is a super tantalizing one, and one i’d very much like to see more of. b-rank

alien: isolation (webseries 2019)

that sure was lightly edited video game cutscenes with terrible lip syncing. kinda wish i had just watched a playthrough now, but silly me i thought something that was intentionally made to be watched instead of played would be a better watch? whoops.

the game still looks awesome, though, even in this effectively neutered form. i love how faithfully they recreated the look and feel of the technology, and the absolute just crushing horror of the xenomorphs. if i weren’t such a fake gamer boy i’d definitely give this one a playthrough sooner rather than later. c-rank

alien vs. predator: thicker than blood (comic 2019-20)

this was extremely good! the art was fantastic. the protagonists–a child and her android “brother”–are well-written and have a great relationship that we learn more about as the story goes on in an emotionally satisfying way. this is legitimately one of the best alien vs. predator comics. maybe not the most dramatic note for dark horse’s time with the license to end on, but a really nice, short but not-too-short, self-contained story. i kind of super wish more of them had been like this. a-rank

alien: the original screenplay (comic 2020)

i enjoyed this well enough, but unlike william gibson’s alien 3 there just wasn’t that much of a difference between this and the final product, and literally all of the differences broke in the final product’s favor in my opinion? like, all this really added was them trying to decipher the alien hieroglyphics that turned out to be a warning about the xenomorphs (dun dun dun!), and you lose out on the company being super evil and one of the crew members being an android who’s willing to murder crewmembers to get the company what it wants, so it’s really just not a remotely even trade. and other than design choices, basically everything else was just exactly the same as the movie.

again, i enjoyed reading this well enough because fuck guys, i like alien! it’s one of my favorite movies of all time! but i’m just not sure we really “needed” this the way we needed gibson’s alien 3. does that make sense? b-rank

aliens vs. predators: ultimate prey (short story collection 2022)

the first story of this anthology, “below top secret” by chris ryall, gives us a fictionalized9 version of the 2019 social media phenomenon that was “storm area 51/they can’t stop all of us.”10 that whole thing had to have pinged the radar of basically anyone working on any scifi franchise. it’s kind of a shame that the x-files wasn’t on the air anymore at that point, because i’m sure they would have referenced it.

this was a pretty fun way to start this anthology! basically one guy who’s with the huge group storming area 51 splits off from the group and drags his friend who’s more or less the audience p.o.v. character along. she’s moreso there out of boredom and curiosity which seems like a terrible reason to break into a military base and get arrested or worse. he, on the other hand, is a serious conspiracy theorist and has been in contact with someone who supposedly works on the base and gave him codes into one of the buildings.

to his mild surprise and her utter astonishment, the codes work! and they soon find themselves in an underground research facility just in time to be caught in a lockdown due to an escaped xenomorph!

they end up in a panic room with a scientist who works there and who berates them for being stupid enough to be there. after ruling out most of the possible ways they could escape, the scientist says she has an idea and they go let a yautja out of a holding cell to fight the xenomorph. and yeah this is kinda dumb and silly but i don’t care i kinda love it? and the scientist is explaining how they should act around the yautja and she’s telling them to avoid any threatening movements and “i’d even kneel and lower your eyes” and that’s so horny, omg. i might not love the predator movies the way i love the alien movies, but the yautja themselves are equally hot af.

anyway, like i said, very fun way to start this anthology! b-rank

i appreciate that the protagonist of “isla matanzas” by steven sears is disgusted by the british slave traders he encounters, but he’s also a spanish colonizer whose beloved home is stolen land. stolen land that acts of genocide have been committed on. so let’s not be too quick to hand out credit there?

look, i’m sorry, but if you really want to do a story about abolitionists teaming up with yautja, maybe have the slaves be the protagonists? rather than a competing colonial power? just an idea. c-rank

“homestead” by delilah dawson is about a lady who lives on an old west ranch and has the misfortune of going into labor in the middle of fleeing a xenomorph/yautja slugfest. obviously there is plenty of unexamined settler colonialism going on here, but this is probably an alright read if you’re into all this rustic pioneer type stuff and wanna see that juxtaposed with xenomorphs and yautja fucking shit up. there’s some pregnancy horror stuff towards the end that was just super not for me. c-rank

“the hotel mariposa” by david barnett is about the crew of a ghosthunting show running into yautja and xenomorphs and i was already in as soon as i realized that was what was happening. and it just gets more awesome from there, with one of the ghost hunters ending up bonding with a yautja and they end up killing a xenomorph together in a moment that’s weirdly emotionally cathartic for both of them, and if that’s not enough they also exorcise their mommy issues together. this is also the first story in this anthology to feature extended scenes from a yautja’s point of view, which is basically always a plus. a-rank

in “planting and harvest” by mira grant, our setting is a remote botanical research station. the station’s crew is composed of company scientists who have flamed out of more prestigious positions but not badly enough to get fired. when their station is attacked by xenomorphs, a nearby band of similarly disgraced yautja decides to ride in to the rescue to restore their status as hunters and escape the menial tasks they’ve been assigned. pretty straightforward space bullshit! c-rank

“blood and honor” by susanne l. lambdin has a trans protagonist!! she’s a colonial marine who’s having an affair with her married c.o. and ends up being marooned on a planet infested with both xenomorphs and yautja. the xenomorphs on this planet are experiencing a civil war of sorts between two rival queens, whilst the yautja are having issues with a male hunter going around killing all the female hunters for reasons that our protagonist is never entirely able to discern.

i really liked all the interconnected conflicts going on. there’s also some interesting parallels here with all three sides experiencing conflicts within their own ranks, as well as our colonial marine protagonist11 and the yautja she teams up with specifically experiencing gendered violence. i also love the triumphant note this story ends on, with our protagonist telling her yautja ally, “long live the queens. that means you and me.” just great stuff all around. a-rank

you might recall that i really enjoyed how rachel caine’s “broken”12 turned on a subversion of the assumption that artificial people are necessarily less compassionate than humans, though i was a bit turned off by its implied misanthropy. so it’s really no surprise that i loved “carbon rites” by jess landry which had similar virtues but actually went quite a bit out of its way to not be misanthropic.

the protagonist of this story is an android who does not know she’s an android, living in a simulation that she does not know is a simulation. it’s sort of like the truman show but with guns and xenomorphs and yautja. this is set in the more distant future we saw a glimpse of in alien: resurrection, and the people running these incredibly unethical experiments are the united systems military, the same people who experimented on ripley’s clone.

in these tests an android is paired up with a human and put through a deadly encounter with a xenomorph, a yautja, or presumably other alien species in a variety of environments. but this one is prematurely ended when a strike team of former victims of the experiments comes to break our protagonist out.

i really enjoyed how gradual the protagonist’s understanding of the situation evolved, and her utter horror and disgust when she found out that all the humans from the previous experiments were “disposed of” at the end of the tests. this subverts not only the expectations that androids are without emotions or empathy, but also the entire trope of the “robot apocalypse.” this story believes that if we prove ourselves worthy of it, our robot siblings can not only not be our destruction, they can be our very salvation from our mutual oppressors. a-rank

i actually feel a little bad about skipping bryan thomas schmidt’s “drug war”13 now, but not bad enough to go back and read it after all. i mean, it’s a fucking direct sequel to predator 2. but i did really enjoy his contribution to this anthology, “first hunt”. this story is told largely from the perspective of the yautja. there’s a bit of human perspective mixed in to give you a more grounded/horrified perspective on things, but i’d say it’s like 60/40 in favor of the yautja, which is just awesome. plus it’s just really well-written in general. b-rank

i like “abuse, interrupted” by yvonne navarro quite a bit more than her previous story, “reclamation.”14 as its title implies, the protagonist of this one is a domestic abuse survivor. there’s some rather explicit descriptions of what she’s been through, so do be aware of that going in. but that just makes it even more cathartic when her new yautja girlfriend fucks up her abuser. with his life hanging in the balance, the yautja looks at the human “almost as though waiting for her to protest.” our protagonist looks at him and realizes she feels “well, not much at all.” she gives the yautja a shrug, and taking that as permission she cuts him from neck to tailbone and rips his head and spine off.

this wasn’t my favorite story in the anthology or anything, it just isn’t the kind of thing i’m really looking for out of this franchise, but it was very satisfying. b-rank

“better luck to borrow” by curtis c. chen reads a bit like a ya-style jason takes manhattan? it takes place on a class field trip on a boat, the protagonist is a little girl with a robot hand, she gets bullied a little bit towards the beginning of the story to get you in a goosebumps/etc sort of mindset, and then all hell breaks loose when xenomorphs start fucking people up and yautja show up to hunt them. this was pretty wild, i loved the clashing styles here. b-rank

“film school” by roshni “rush” bhatia follows a documentary crew to a colony that was supposedly wiped out by a mining accident. as the story progresses you find out that the director is the only one who knew the “mining accident” is a cover story, and she’s trying to find out what actually happened. which sounds like a noble enough goal, but she’s clearly being a bit of a glory hound and the fact that she kept the rest of her team in the dark is just unconscionable.

anyway, given what anthology this is, you probably already have a pretty good idea of what actually happened to the colony.15 i’m tempted to say this story is hampered somewhat by having another story in the collection with a similar setup16 that i somewhat preferred for several reasons, but this story differed enough in what it did with the basic idea of a film crew thrown between a xenomorph/yautja melee that i think it sufficiently distinguished itself. it definitely used the documentarians as a grounded point of view to show much more of an epic setpiece battle between the two sides. so if that’s what you’re looking for, unlike me you might actually end up preferring this one. and i liked it quite a bit, regardless. b-rank

in “night doctors” by maurice broaddus, the aliens and predators are not the monsters. instead, they are fellow victims with the protagonist, her brother, and who knows how many other colonists.

the villain of the piece is a sickeningly evil doctor who is experimenting on the colonists as well as several imprisoned yautja and xenomorphs. the chilling horror of these experiments are contextualized through examples of white doctors committing similar atrocities on black people throughout history.

our protagonist is an extremely race- and class-conscious black woman who at one point explicitly states in the narration that she does her best to leverage the company’s resources while consciously avoiding letting them exploit her or her people. she also acts in solidarity with the yautja and the xenomorphs to overpower their mutual oppressors.

it’s just… so fucking refreshing to see this kind of class warfare be explicit within the text and dramatized through a total badass action hero lady doing badass action hero lady things and taking names. a-rank

“scylla and charybdis” by e.c. myers is about a crew whose ship is dead in space due to sabotage. the setup here is actually pretty similar to the first few minutes of alien: covenant but with more suspicion and without the intrusive theism. eventually, a yautja ship shows up and starts hunting the crew, and the captain thinks they’ve all been killed but eventually he wakes up to discover they’re all alive and well. apparently the yautja–who calls himself keeper–captured anyone who put up a fight. they find themselves in a zoo-like prison that seems to have various “cells” containing vast, simulated environments for a variety of species being held captive there.

the captain finds out it was his own wife who did the sabotage due to political tensions between her united americas and the international body that put this mission together. there’s also a reference to some political weirdness involving korea and a bunch of different acronymed-factions that i didn’t entirely pay attention to so it might be gross imperialism? like, my assumption is pretty much always going to be gross imperialism when westerners write about korea and politics, but i can’t really say for sure and i honestly didn’t circle back to try to parse it.

i did enjoy the space disaster stuff early on, and the fact that the characters ended up essentially as “living trophies” until other yautja attacked keeper because obviously that’s not how yautja are meant to operate. and at that point a bunch of xenomorphs got loose and things got rather predictable.

overall this is a fairly middle of the road story. not great, but not bad. c-rank

i do enjoy scott sigler’s writing style and his contribution to bug hunt was one of my favorite stories in any of these anthologies. his contribution to this one, “another mother”, is apparently a sequel to an avp novel he wrote. unfortunately i do have to say that unlike a lot of the other stories in some of these anthologies that are sequels or prequels to larger works, this one does very much suffer from inaccessibility for new readers. i can tell that he put some thought into explaining his setting to new readers without overexplaining to old readers, but it feels like the scales are tilted very decisively towards the latter. consequently i can’t really meaningfully comment on this, as i don’t feel like i was the intended audience and that’s totally okay in an anthology like this. as a result i will not be rating this one.

the final story of the anthology is “kyōdai” by jonathan maberry and louis ozawa, and it expands the story of the latter’s character from the film predators (2010). specifically it is about kawakami eiji, kawakami hanzō’s brother. i liked this quite a bit more than maberry’s contributions to the other two anthologies. i think a lot of that is down to the content and the fact that this is a much more character-driven piece than the other two. like his alien 3 follow-up in bug hunt it does end in a very cliffhanger-adjacent manner, but this one at least felt much more like a complete story and not like one that just stopped in the middle of setting the table. c-rank

so, there’s our last¹⁷ of these anthologies! overall this one was probably my favorite of the three, as aliens: bug hunt got rather bogged down with distracting continuity issues whilst predator: if it bleeds was mired in repetitive episodes of bootlicking historical narratives.

i’d say the only real big picture issue with this one is that the xenomorphs consistently get their asses handed to them, and while it oftentimes feels like the right choice for many of the individual stories, when it’s a trend that’s happening basically without fail throughout the entire anthology it starts to wear rather thin for those of us who are bigger fans of the alien side of this crossover franchise.

oh, i was excited to learn that apparently a lot of very online white dudes consider the fact that one (one!) of this anthology’s fifteen stories stars a trans woman (and mentions that’s she’s trans… once), one (one!) features a disabled character, and a few feature one or two characters who aren’t white¹⁸ grounds to dismiss the whole anthology as “woke garbage.” the only blatantly political messaging was in “night doctors,” and y’all would agree with that messaging if you weren’t too effectively brainwashed with racism to see your own damn class interests.

also, leaving aside for a moment how utterly vile this attitude would be even if all 15 stories starred black disabled trans women, despite having known for years that there are people like this taking up valuable oxygen to form these thoughts and express them publicly, i still cannot, i still just really cannot wrap my head around the one-two punch of entitlement and fragility at play here. other people existing is “sjw shit.” i just. what the fuck, guys?

anyway it was already my favorite of the three anthologies i read before i saw those reviews, but now it’s even more my favorite of the three just to spite you, so there.

prey (movie 2022)

if you’ll allow me a moment to sound a whole lot more pretentious than i usually do, the greatest measure of art is whether it embodies truth in a way that is unmistakable and crosses boundaries of medium and genre, and if this is not a sentiment you expected to be reading in a review of a fucking predator movie, please know that this is not a sentiment i expected to be delineating in a review of a fucking predator movie.

from the opening shot i was pretty immediately confronted with the likelihood that i was about to see something that defied my expectations. the landscapes this movie opens with have the sort of precise, arresting composition that tells pretty much any seasoned moviegoer, “listen, you’re about to see some shit.” and while my movie tastes have clearly started to slide more in the direction of “i like what i like, it doesn’t have to be high art,” i nonetheless found myself pretty much immediately recalibrating my expectations for what kind of experience i was about to have.

it’s my own fault, because i just relied on cultural osmosis to prepare me for this movie. i’m sorry! it’s a fucking predator movie! i wasn’t that bothered about it. i thought it was a pretty good excuse to watch all the alien movies and finally get around to watching the predator.

i had no idea it was directed by dan trachtenberg. he sure is picking his spots for theatrical feature direction. the incredible 10 cloverfield lane was his first gig, and this was his second.

i mean, damn. i’ve heard of arthouse horror, but arthouse franchise horror? i think this guy might be the only game in town. there is a quiet confidence to this movie that would seem wholly out of place in a predator movie if it weren’t for the fact that this is the predator movie now, sorry every previous predator movie you are just not on this level. anyone making a predator movie in the future should be looking at this movie and only this movie for their cues, and you know what fuck it why don’t we just skip the middleman and say that dan trachtenberg is the only director who should be allowed to make predator movies from now on until he gets tired of making them. does that seem fair to everybody? cool, me too.

one of the things i was nervous about going into this movie was hearing that the protagonists were people of the comanche nation. i mean, i’m sorry, but this is a major franchise movie and let’s just say that mainstream hollywood has a… less than ideal relationship with indigenous people, this probably isn’t news to you and if it is there are only like a few thousand books and documentaries on the subject. and this isn’t a relic of hollywood’s distant, cartoonishly racist past, it’s very much a thing that’s still happening in its recent, cartoonishly racist present. so, yeah, while i would have liked this to have been a reason for optimism it super wasn’t, but thank the fucking gods this is very much in the ballpark of a best case scenario for representation in mainstream cinema. also there is a comanche language track which, y’know, obviously watch it in comanche!!¹⁹

this movie just super, super believes in its characters, especially naru. she is one of the most fully-realized and alive characters i have ever seen in any movie. there is also just this amazing synergy of like… the movie wants what she wants and so does the audience. you’re just living with this character, fully identifying with her on a deep level no matter how different your experiences are from hers. it’s something trachtenberg showed us in 10 cloverfield lane and he’s showing us again now, but also it really helps when you can get a mary elizabeth winstead or an amber midthunder to get the audience the rest of the way there. this is admittedly i think my first exposure to midthunder, but holy fuck she acts the shit out of this movie, you guys.

the whole cast is brilliant, honestly. and the only white people in the whole thing are a group of french fur traders. there’s a viscerally uncomfortable scene where naru discovers the skinned bodies of a herd of bison and it just hammers home the wanton cruelty of colonizers so effectively, and naru and her brother taabe end up captured by them later in the movie. at this point in spite of all the goodwill the movie had built up i do have to admit i had my antenna up for the possibility of this turning into misery porn but no, as the movie goes on naru gets her moment of absolute triumph and it’s just so much more cathartic after everything she’s been through. also the colonizers get their asses absolutely handed to them by the predator, and naru literally uses the last one as bait to help her finally kill the predator, so that fucking rules.

on top of it all, the action scenes in this are just… i mean, just wow? part of it is technological advancements. part of it is that given the much stronger character work in this movie, you are more invested in the action scenes. but they’re also just better action scenes? in every way? from conception to choreography to camera movements to performances, there is not another movie in this franchise that is in this movie’s league.

on top of everything that makes me like what this was going for better than what predator was going for, this is also better at being what predator was trying to be. this is… yeah, this is my favorite movie of the year so far. with ridley scott’s periodic new entries in the alien franchise running it into the ground with his increasingly aggressive theism, i actually find myself, gulp, more optimistic about the future of the predator franchise than the future of the alien franchise. what an incredible turnaround.

oh my gosh i almost forgot something super important. i’m absolutely not a dog person, but sarii is an extremely good boy. s-rank

notes

1. what? is there a more famous example of this that actually started the trend? i have no idea what you’re talking about, doesn’t ring a bell, sorry! (yes i am exactly that petty.)

2. that wouldn’t be much fun, though, so you should do it for me. if you’re into that kinda thing.

3. like its predecessor, it is apparently a prequel to lebbon’s avp novels, but again works just fine as a standalone.

4. i didn’t do the avp novels for this particular marathon because of the time commitment involved and having a few other marathons going on simultaneously, but i’ll swing back around to them eventually probably.

5. i’m not just going by the name, btw, i did actually google him.

6. yes, “autism is a superpower” fucking counts. just have autistic characters. we exist in real life. you meet us every day and sometimes you don’t notice. sometimes you do. whatever. it’s fine.

7. yes, he’s allegedly an asshole sexual predator, i didn’t say i wanted to see him make money off of the venture. which might not be legally possible. but whatever, i’m already making unreasonable demands, i might as well ignore how capitalism works in the process.

8. that one would probably be a bit harder than others considering schumacher’s tragic passing.

9. and drastically more successful, in that they actually attempted to storm area 51.

10. personally i was very much of the opinion that we should take that energy and direct it against ice detention centers instead, but y’know.

11. she eventually deduces that her c.o., the one who was sleeping with her, is responsible for stranding her on this planet.

12. from aliens: bug hunt, the companion anthology set in the alien universe.

13. from predator: if it bleeds, the companion anthology set in the predator universe.

14. from aliens: bug hunt, the companion anthology set in the alien universe.

15. [extremely jonathan frakes voice] what happened here? was this really a tragic but simple mining accident as the company claimed? but then, how do you explain the message from the terrified miner? are we asking you to join our hunt for the truth? or are we hatching lies in your face?

16. “the hotel mariposa” by david barnett.

17. there is another one of these anthologies, predator: eyes of the demon, but i felt my curiosity about predator-focused stories was whetted by if it bleeds.

18. there are plenty that don’t mention the characters’ races at all, but i’m sure these ghouls read those characters as white. also, you incel losers got your bootlicking in the last anthology, shut the fuck up.

19. unless of course you have an accessibility need to watch it in english.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: