If you liked Ridley Scott’s Alien – and let’s face it, everyone likes Ridley Scott’s Alien – then Dogs of Mars is going to be right up your street. Clearly deeply influenced by the sci-fi horror masterpiece, this is a similarly multi-layered extraterrestrial bug-hunt. It has a plot based around a group of isolated humans battling against a horrific alien threat, but it’s also interwoven with character-driven sub-plot and a menacing back-story of a very high calibre.
The book starts part way through the action, on humanity’s first Martian base. The mission is to detonate a nuclear bomb in the centre of the planet, to recharge its molten core and create a chain reaction that should eventually manufacture an atmosphere habitable to humans. The trouble is, everyone asssumed there was no life on Mars, but the colonists are discovering this may not be the case.
The mission is lead by a Ripley-like female commander, with guts of steel. Her second in command is another woman, straighter-laced but just as ambitious. There’s a strong rivalry between the two that is on the verge of tearing them apart, even when an extra-terrestrial enemy looks like it might save both of them the bother.
The writing is tight and honed to near perfection, from the plot to the dialogue. The art is essentially monochrome but uses a third colour (orange, giving everything a suitably Martian glow) to powerful effect. However, we found occasions where the fast pace of the action leads to some confusion. It’s perhaps a deliberate obscuring of the horror in the early stages of the book, to give a slow reveal of the monster to maintain some mystery, but while it can work in movies, it isn’t quite pulled off here.
It’s a minor flaw in an otherwise excellent book, that feels a lot like an homage to cinema’s best sci-Fi horror movies, and, although essentially a reworking of a familiar tale, has been pulled off with originality and skill.