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Aliens Colonial Marines Technical Manual Review

10 min read

You already know the outcome, but take a look at the universe behind the movies military and discover why the rout was so shocking.

Lee Brimmcombe-Wood

What They Say
The United States Colonial Marines. Ultimate troubleshooters equipped with state-of-the-art firepower, capable of power projection across the vast expanse of deep space. They can sharpshoot a man at a thousand meters or obliterate an entire world from the safety of orbit. They reckon they are unbeatable.

But on a dirtball colony planet known only as LV-426 the unthinkable happens.

The Marines lose.

The Aliens – Colonial Marines Technical Manual is your official guide to the equipment and organisation of the United States Colonial Marine Corps. Packed with diagrams, technical schematics and plans, the manual takes a detailed look at the guns, vehicles and ships of the USCMC, and the men and women who use them.

A must-have book for any Aliens fan, the Aliens – Colonial Marines Technical Manual examines the technology of the movie’s futuristic nightmare in every detail.

The Review:
The release is presented in a manner that I was rather happy to see as its soft cover format and slightly-larger-than-magazine-size dimensions for height and length (along the lines of a soft cover deluxe graphic novel from days gone by) will allow it to fit onto a shelf with a couple other sci-fi tech manuals that I have and look like it will slides right in to their company. The cover itself has a good functionality to it as it uses a sturdy type of cardboard like material that is both glossy enough to shrug off minor moisture but rugged enough to help provide some support when reading through the pages and the pages are tightly bound in place.

The pages are of an adequately thick stock to provide some weight to them which allows for some support of their own so that they don’t bunch up or bend and leave crease marks without some effort being put into it which adds stability in number as the book has 160 pages as they work in conjunction with the cover. The pages are also are rather stark white and somewhat glossy which adds some ease in reading as the words practically leap off the page though this is a double edged sword to an extent as the whiteness and thickness allow for some bleed through, particularly of some images that may be present on the other side of given pages. The glossy paper is sufficient to allow for a number of drawings from line sketches to full color images to be used though as well as some full color stills from the feature, but it does bring along the risk that some of the ink may smear a bit if one runs their finger over some of the lines of type.

For the front cover image the book uses the Aliens logo with the identifiable shining “I” from the feature and it lays a technical grid in varying shades of green with a detailed cut away of the dropship from the feature over a profile shot of one of the films antagonist creatures. This green theme carries over as the spine uses a lighter version with the various title and subtitles as well as author’s name written in either white or yellow before switching over to a darker green like the front for the back. Also present on the back along with the book’s copy is a full figure color illustration of one of the Marines from the book’s pages who is decked out in full camouflage and carrying the larger smart gun that grabbed a good deal of attention in the feature.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
The 1980s and 90s were a really good time to be a science fiction fan. Of course sci-fi certainly didn’t start there but there was an explosion of media that seemed to leap forward and grab the attention of people who weren’t as likely to read novels or visit the somewhat rare conventions. During this period some of what are now renown as game changers came into being as the late 80s made TV sci-fi more palatable with Star Trek: The Next Generation being one of the heavyweights while theaters had a number of sci-fi and sci-fi element hits including Back to the Future, The Terminator and the successful follow up to 1979’s hit Alien hitting the silver screen and grabbing the public’s attention. The success of these ventures often crossed over into other avenues including toys, comics and novels.

During this period one of the more interesting concepts that came to appear even in smaller bookstores was the concept of the sci-fi technical manuals that allowed for the worlds and technologies that often just flashed across the screen to be flushed out and explored by curious fans looking to add depth to the universe these products created. On occasion though, some of these guides turned out to be less useful that others and occasionally they’d wind up being ignored and contradicted by later writers who didn’t want to be constrained. Still, a good number of these guides were innovative and informative looks at some of the technologies that were meant to play a role in some popular properties and had a tendency to be cited by writers of novels for their role in laying out the technology.

Originally published in 1995, the Aliens Tech Manual looks at some of the equipment and vehicles seen in the 1986 film as it also attempts to give a bit more insight into the Colonial Marines whose overwhelming training and firepower failed in the face of an unknown and incredibly deadly species. Anyone who has seen Aliens knows that the group of Marines was central to the story though one might be forgiven for wondering if their bravado was as warranted as they came off given the fact they were almost wiped out to the last man in a small manner of days.

The Tech Manual works to explain the source of that bravado as not only does it cover the devastating firepower that the group had at its fingertips but it also works to build up the lore of the fighting force which in turn makes the menace that the films titular monsters provide even more daunting when one contemplates how badly the fighters were wiped out in the feature. In writing the book the author starts by describing the organizational breakdown of the Corp which helps lend an air if credibility to her efforts to build up the organization by taking what exists in the Corp today in terms of training and its structural supports and extrapolating it into this fictional future form which pays homage to its real present. Additionally throughout the book she not only breaks down the weapons and gear but she breaks down the tactics that the Marines would employ in their use as well as the breakdown of the weapons use in the units which helps add to the realism that the narrative is working to create.

To help aid in this realism and explanation of the various items the book has a fairly large number of both illustrations and pictures of the weapons that appear in the feature as well as some images shot of a model displaying a number of the items that look like they were taken from the props in the film (the book isn’t clear if these were actual props from the feature or amazingly detailed reproductions) including elements that the feature didn’t touch on much or really go into much detail on beyond them being mentioned in passing. Additionally a number of the vehicles used in the feature get some detailed breakdown, the most intricate of which is the dropship which appears both on the cover as well as in the pages though the Sulaco also has a few pages devoted to it.

As far as technical manuals go this isn’t really anything new or that should be surprising (at least from the various ones I own anyway) and it does often follow the pattern of trying to provide a sense of realism with describing the materials used in creation of the items as well as power output of various items from force that engines could create to the force of bullets from the different types of firearms (though frankly as a non-engineering focused person much of this simply became background noise that I skimmed as happens to me in other material like this).

For the most part the book early on plays rather tight to the narrative as it presents itself like a guide to the equipment would be if it existed in the world of the feature, though some odd narrative elements start to sneak in early which create a bit of instability to the whole of the picture that the author is attempting to paint. Initially things roll along well and at times the guide mentions those wanting to see more details visit (fictional and completely non-existent) Marine Corp guides but the presence of some “testimonials” undercuts some of the reality the book is looking to create. While a good number of these “quotes” add some realism to the world and deepen some concepts presented a few seem just off message enough that they never would have been put in a real manual seemingly endorsed by the Corp (or any military body for that manner) and some holes start to seep in as the book progresses.

Where things really get rocky is later in the book as it tries to both continue the narrative it has created to set a tone but it also attempts to satisfy the fans of the feature who want some pictures from the film as some stills from the movie start to filter in including the xenomorphs themselves as well as there being quotes that include rumors of what happened on the planet which would never get past the approval stage if the book were a real look at things done with the cooperation of the military or the corporation whose machinations play a big role in the first two films (plus with so many worlds and battles available it is hardly probably some of them wouldn’t have had stories that made for some interesting quotes in place of rumors, though the author does create a few).

On top of that once one gets beyond some of the small and heavy arms, the look at equipment gets spotty from a “universe” standpoint. While the Powerloader seen in the film gets its due and the dropship is incredibly detailed the APC winds up getting only surface images presented of it which was a bit disappointing rather than a detailed schematic. From there the Sulaco also is somewhat (but not nearly as in depth as the dropship) detailed and the obvious reason for why this ship is featured (because it was in the film) seems to undercut the suspension of disbelief somewhat, particularly when no other class of ship gets seen (obviously because outside of the first films now likely well out of date Nostromo no other ship is shown in the feature). Additionally in the later parts some nod is given to some of the colony tech (like the tractor that appears only in the Director’s Cut) and a couple sketches of the facilities yet the lack of depth to them feels like it was tacked on as a nod to the feature but which doesn’t completely flow with the narrative that the book was striving for at the beginning.

The final oddity created is that the author creates a record that purports to take place post the film with some scientists discovering some of the information that could have been gleaned from the events. This “log” has them contemplating the nature of the xenomorphs as they look at trying to examine the creature from various logs created from those who encountered it as well as an ominous bit that implies that humanity failed to learn from its encounters and that someone has gone to replicate the mistakes that were made by the higher-ups in the company in the past. The problem here isn’t that this doesn’t work as it is a rather in depth and well written piece but that it stands like a huge bone thrown to fans but one which is in contrast to the narrative that the book had been (mostly) using so far. Additionally it creates a bit of an issue when trying to work these somewhat separate elements into the same book (it also could stand in conflict with the events as they played out canonically from Aliens to Alien 3, but given how that film played out I’m willing to give the author slack in seeming to have ignored the third film).

In Summary
Aliens: Colonial Marines Technical Manual is a rather fascinating look into the structure of the Corp and the equipment that they used which played such a pivotal (and tragically mostly futile) role in the events shown in the Aliens feature film. The book is a bit uneven at times in narrative and inconsistent in the detailing of some schematics of the various tech but those who loved the film and who would like a bit more of a grounding into both the technologies shown as well as the tactics of the Corp that have adapted to use them will find this a treasure trove of images and inventiveness. There is a wealth of info here and I found it makes for a good compliment to the feature as the reintroduction to the Aliens universe had me pick up the Blu Ray and watch for elements outlined and explored in this book which added an extra layer to the actions of various characters that play out during the feature.

Content Grade: B+
Packaging: A-

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