As a lifelong fan of the Alien franchise, it pains me to have to say that the franchise has become a seriously confusing mythology. The comics have taken a variety of directions over the years (and I honestly gave up with the actual first mini-series when it introduced an alien-loving evangelist and wrapped up with an Architect-alien race intent on invading Earth) as have the novels, and the subsequent films just got crazier and crazier in their muddying of the water. Like fans of the original Highlander, I think many of us are ignoring anything after Aliens and have created our own endings where Ripley, Hicks, Bishop and Newt get home, blow the covers off of Weyland-Yutani’s dark plans, and live happily ever after.
Okay, that’s not really true. Ripley is Ripley, and we’re not happy if she’s not blasting aliens out of airlocks, going ten rounds in a Powerloader suit, and nuking entire sites from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure, right? So, when Titan Books asked me if I’d like to give a read of their new official trilogy that takes place between the events of Alien and Aliens, I was a bit hesitant. I mean, we all know that Ripley floated peacefully along (with Jones) for 57 years before the salvage crew found the Narcissus. End of story, right? Well, apparently 20th Century Fox knows otherwise, and has contracted three authors, Tim Lebbon, James A. Moore, and Christopher Golden, to fill in the details.
Up first is Tim Lebbon’s Alien: Out of the Shadows, a 345-page tale that introduces us to Chris Hooper (Hoop), the chief engineer on board the mining ship Marion, in orbit above LV178. Down below, miners are extracting the hardest known substance in the galaxy, Trimonite, beneath the sandstorm-covered surface. You know where this is going. I’ll warn you to stop reading now if you want no further spoilers.
Okay, minor spoilers start now.
Yes, a nest of xenomorph eggs has been discovered on LV178. A small group of miners manages to get on board a shuttle and make it halfway back to the Marion before something bad happens. Something that causes the shuttle to crash into the Marion and cause enough destruction that the Marion will soon be burning up as it drops out of orbit. Want more?
Okay, now some minor to major spoilers kick in. You’ve been warned.
Not only has a xenomorph made itself home on board the Marion, but the ship’s emergency broadcast has caused a certain rescue craft to skip its return to Earth and burn some serious fuel to intercept.
And now we’re up to seriously spoiler-ific details. Stop now if you don’t want to know the major plot development.
Yep, it’s Ripley (37 years after Nostromo). Apparently Ash managed to download part of his programming to the Nostromo’s lifeboat before being toasted and destroyed. Ash is still operating on his very special orders to acquire an alien, and the incident on LV178 has given him another chance to succeed. Ellen must fight alongside the crew of the Marion as they secure the ship, take a dropship down to the surface for some fuel and supplies, and discover another secret involving the xenomorphs.
If you’ve made it this far, I figure you want to know all the details, so here’s my comments on the plot and the novel in general:
* It’s a good story. It’s got everything you want from Ripley — plenty of fighting xenomorphs, plenty of horror and dark corners, and more mysterious aliens (but not the original Alien/Prometheus/Navigator kind). As an action story, it’s got plenty of nail-biting scenes and will-they-make-it? moments. It’s paced well, and has just the right amount of scenery changes to keep it moving.
* I wouldn’t say it’s full of plot holes… but it definitely requires some suppression of reality. Examples? Look, on a planet the size of LV178, what are the odds that the miners would happen to freely stumble upon the one site where the xenomorph eggs are waiting for victims? All that planet to dig and they manage to dig right into the most dangerous point on the entire planet. It nagged me during the entire read.
* Wait… Ripley never mentioned her experiences on LV178 to Burke, let alone the Company head honchos. Well, Out of the Shadows’ fix for this is pretty obvious — Ripley’s memory has to be wiped. The reason for doing this is thin… very thin — so she can forget the bad dreams of the aliens killing her daughter, Amanda. Why wipe out her memory of everything regarding the aliens but not the events on Nostromo? And it’s Ripley that asks for her memory to be tampered with. Again, this made no sense and didn’t fit well with the character of Ripley that I’ve come to believe in.
* The idea that Ash is the reason the Narcissus has been floating around in space for all these years was a great idea, I will admit. Although in Aliens it’s stated she got lucky that someone found her at all, this explanation that Ash is listening and waiting for a chance to put Ripley in harm’s way and have a xenomorph implanted makes much more sense. Unfortunately, Ash as a rogue computer program never really gave me any shudders. Maybe it’s because I know how easy it is to wipe a hard drive.
As I said… the book is a good action-filled adventure that features Ripley fighting xenomorphs. But the retcon necessary to fit her into a story that takes place between Alien and Aliens feels forced, not natural. I know that a new Alien game is soon to be released that features Amanda, and I’m just as curious there to see how they’ll squeeze out a story that manages to put Ripley’s daughter right into the mix of what was essentially a one-in-a-million chance discovery of a deadly alien life form.
Questions everywhere… so obviously I’ll be reading the next book, Sea of Sorrows (July 2014) to see how this story continues. Lebbon has done a great job of piquing my interest, so in that sense the novel has succeeded. But right now it’s still requiring a level of suspension of disbelief (beyond that already required for science fiction, yes) that I believe Alien fans will struggle with…
But a good story is a good story, so I’ll take the request to hold my doubts and concerns and questions until the series is ended. Who knows? This is an official series, so I’ll have a little faith and see what happens next…
Note: I’d like to thank Tom G. at Titan for providing the review copy of Alien: Out of the Shadows.
My Other Alien-related Reviews: