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I think I read this as a paperback somewhere in the early 2000s, pretty sure before 2010. It was a book set in the Aliens franchise. I'm not certain whether it was supposed to be in continuity with the films (I've only seen the first two films and the AvP film), or if so, where it would fit in. The protagonist is a soldier (Colonial Marine?) sent with a team to the recently discovered Xenomorph homeworld to get samples for study. When they arrive, they find that the Xenomorphs are far from the top of the food chain, with creatures on the planet hunting the Xenomorphs as prey, and the prey of the Xenomorphs sporting impressive defenses (my memory is that they tend to be large creatures with heavy armor and a tendency to stomp the Xenomorphs into the dirt when attacked). I think there was a strong implication that the rapid adaptation of the Xenomorphs was due to their stiff competition on that world, and that their rapid proliferation off-planet was basically because they were an invasive species with no natural predators once off-planet.

Somewhere in the middle of the book, I think during an incident on the planet, the main character, as well as the rest of the soldiers, come to realize that they are Synthetics who had been implanted with false memories. Nevertheless, they carry out their mission, despite significant casualties, and bring the sample back to Earth, only to find that Xenomorphs have overrun the planet, I think leading into a sequel that I didn't read.

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    This matches my own headcanon (before Prometheus) almost 100%. Mine was that the xenomorphs were the termites of their home world, which was populated with flora and fauna so utterly horrifying it made the xenos seem cuddly and relatable by comparison. Nov 22 '21 at 14:03
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    @BinaryWorrier, yep, the reproduction rate of the xenomorphs requires that something is aggressively keeping their numbers down in a way that balances an ecosystem.
    – Separatrix
    Nov 22 '21 at 14:05
  • I always figured they were a bioengineered weapon (even back in '79); close to a Doomsday weapon (i.e. release it on your home planet, it takes you out along with the enemy).
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Nov 22 '21 at 14:22
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In the course of trying to find more details, I found the List of Alien (franchise) novels on Wikipedia, and Aliens: Earth Hive jumped out at me.

Wilks was a space marine with a near-fatal flaw: he had a heart. Billie was a child, the only survivor of a far-flung colony outpost. Thrown together in the last hellish night of an alien invasion, Billie and Wilks helped each other get out alive. Thirteen years later Wilks is in prison, and Billie lives in a mental institution, the nightmare memories of the massacre at Rim seared into her mind. Now the government has tapped Wilks to lead an expedition to the aliens' home planet to bring back a live alien. But the competition on Earth to develop the aliens as a new weapons system is brutal. When Wilks's team departs on their mission, a trained assassin trails them. And what follows is no less than guerrilla warfare on the aliens' planet—and alien conquest on Earth!

I had forgotten about the other factions, who war with them on the planet surface. The linked Wikipedia article mentions the realization of being Synthetics, although I may have misremembered the scale:

Wilks and Billie fly down in a dropship to pick up the surviving marines, when Mitch is apparently killed by an alien – only to be revealed to be a synthetic as well. The Colonial Marine force included a team of synthetics so accurate, they could completely pass for human. Billie had no idea Mitch was synthetic, and is devastated.

And indeed, Earth is overrun, leading to a sequel:

On Earth, the alien cult has successfully broken into the biowarfare lab containing the alien specimen, and has released wild aliens onto the planet. The aliens are slowly taking over, despite the best efforts of Earth defense forces. Over a period of several months, the aliens so completely dominate the planet, that most humans have been killed, and the rest have evacuated to earth orbit or other planets. As Wilks, Billie, Mitch, Blake, and Parks return to Earth, the last organized survivors of Earth are preparing to leave. Upon landing, a group of military survivors approach them, demanding that they hand over their ship. The encounter turns violent: Blake is killed and Parks panics and abandons the group. Wilks, Billie, and Mitch manage to stow away on a container ship headed for an unknown destination. They escape from Earth, with no idea of their final destination. This cliffhanger ending leads into the next book in the trilogy, Nightmare Asylum.

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