The Movie Waffler Book Review - <i>Alien: Out of the Shadows</i> | The Movie Waffler

Book Review - Alien: Out of the Shadows

First part of a new trilogy of novels set in the Alien universe.

Written by: Tim Lebbon

The Alien franchise has always been a sturdy old beast. Sequels, spin offs, comic books, video games and team ups. Now, on the 35th anniversary of Ridley Scott’s peerless original, we have a new trilogy of officially sanctioned books.
The film novelisation and tie-in is a curious side effect of fandom. On the one hand it allows increased world building and expansion of the cinematic universe. On the other it feels like a quick attempt to cash in on the name with a half baked idea and at best functional prose to get from point A to point B.
Expanding the world in this first of the trilogy by Tim Lebbon has been a problematic experience. Unlike say Star Wars, Dr Who et al, the Alien universe is fairly simplistic, a streamlined concept, perfect for a movie but not easily translatable to literature. The Xenomorphs are mindless killing machines with a perfectly thought out replication cycle but not much else. What you are left with is Weyland-Yutani, the shadowy corporation that seems to fund half the universe and has a sinister eye on the application of the titular beasts. Go too far with the corporate skullduggery and you lose the perfect conceptual horror of the Aliens. Spend too much time on the gore and chase scenes and it all feels a bit lightweight and flimsy.
In Out of the Shadows we explore LV178, a planet that is being mined for Trimonite, a particularly hardy substance, and the mining ship Marion that orbits the planet. Like LV426 in Aliens, it is not too long before something very wrong is unleashed. When a returning shuttle crashes into the Marion with some familiar cargo we are in familiar but suspenseful territory. It is at this point that a spanner is thrown into the works. A spanner called Ellen Ripley. In an attempt to shoehorn her into the plot and set the novel between Alien and James Cameron’s sequel, Lebbon has to twist the story into Gordian knots so it can maintain continuity with the film series. It also undermines the characters he has created. They become faceless cyphers rather than fully rounded characters. Only Hooper really registers and he is little more than a Pound Shop version of Corporal Hicks. Even Ash is thrown into the mix, now a prissy sentient A.I. attempting to bend events to his will like a cyberspace Dick Dastardly.
On the plus side, it moves at a fair clip and has a cinematic three act structure: fighting Aliens on the Marion, getting down to LV178 to get supplies and seeing off more Aliens before a climax that would seem less redundant if it did not need to get Ripley back into her escape pod with Jonesy for the start of Aliens. There are some interesting concepts involving living starships and doglike Aliens that hopefully will be developed in future novels.
On the whole it is workmanlike stuff, the dialogue is a little on the ripe side and has a tendency to be either exposition or inappropriately humorous. The continual visions that Ripley has of her daughter are also a distraction, they may soften her as a character, acting as a bridge between her by the book Lieutenant in Alien and her military bad ass in Aliens, but they seem to come at the most inopportune times and, more tellingly, before she is injured, which makes little narrative sense.
This feels less of a branching out of the franchise and more a redundant chapter in the life of Ripley. Hopefully future books in the series will have the confidence to branch out and not cling so insistently to the characters from the film series.
Alien: Out of the Shadows is an adequate tie-in that ticks all the boxes from the cinematic series, but is also somewhat redundant and inessential. One for Alien fanatics only.

Jason Abbey