Before I get into the meat of this review, a little history should help set things up. I’ve been reading science fiction since I was four. If you don’t believe me, ask my family. I learned to read before I even attended school. How that happened, I have no idea. But words and pictures called to me at a formative age. You would think I could’ve been – I dunno – a doctor or a scientist by the time I hit my teens, but no: I was too busy reading books. By the time Star Wars hit the screen, I had another genre to get my teeth into – Novelizations.
I read George Lucas’ novelization of the Star Wars screenplay before I saw it in the cinema. I learned that much of what occurs in the novel didn’t make it to the big screen. (Obviously there were last minute changes to the screenplay, so I understood what was going on.) What I found out later what that Lucas himself didn’t write the novel; it was Alan Dean Foster on ghostwriting duties. Foster then wrote the sequel to Star Wars, Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, a book that sent a then 13-year-old boy scouring the Yellow Pages for a therapist. It was dark as fuck, and was only written under contract in case the original movie wasn’t a hit. As it turned out, The Empire Strikes Back is the official sequel to Star Wars (though it was still dark as fuck).
Reading this so far, you might hold the view that all Foster does is novelize screenplays. But although he’s written novels based on the original screenplays of the first three Alien movies and Alien: Covenant (aside from his Star Wars, Star Trek, and Transformers work), Foster is a prolific writer with some highly regarded original material. I’ve read his Spellsinger series and I remember it with much fondness. So, what I’m saying is: he’s no hack ghostwriter. Alan Dean Foster has legitimate credentials, and has won an award for his media tie-in work. So when I was offered the chance to review Alien: Covenant – Origins, I was delighted to take up the opportunity.
It’s at this point I need to say that there are spoilers ahead for those of you who haven’t seen the recent movie, which stars Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, and James Franco. Those familiar with the screenplay know that there were problems with the movie itself. In the end, it wasn’t as successful as 20th Century Fox would’ve hoped, but personally, I thought it was pretty good. I hope for more, but I’m not holding my breath.
Origins begins many, many years before Covenant does. The colony ship is still in orbit above Earth, with many of the colonists already aboard and in cryosleep. The ship’s captain, Jacob Branson, and his wife and chief of terraforming, Daniels, are putting the finishing touches ahead of their interstellar journey. They await some key members of staff, as well as their new AI, Walter, a new prototype based on the David model from Prometheus. The other main character is Chief of Security Carl Lope, who’s still on Earth looking to recruit his second-in-command. Characters that appear in Covenant flit in and out of the story, but in the main, the story’s setting is Earth rather than deep space.
We learn a lot of why people want to leave Earth in the first place. The planet is dying, as are its people. It’s over-populated, polluted to the point of being virtually uninhabitable, so Weyland Yutani sees that there answer to humanity’s problems lie in the stars. But not everyone thinks this is a good idea. A group of saboteurs-cum-cultists think that Out There Be Demons, and their Prophet suffers continuous nightmares that suggest our favourite xenomorph is out there waiting for us, ready to kill us and take the planet as its prize. As Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer once said, “Humans, you’re just Happy Meals with legs.” So this group set about sabotaging the mission in any way they can. From the attempted abduction of Yutani’s granddaughter to secretly placing one of its members on Lope’s security team, it appears they’ll stop at nothing to get the mission cancelled. Of course, Weyland Yutani and the crew of Covenant aren’t about to let that happen.
I had to approach this book as its own entity, mainly because most of the characters in the novel die horrible deaths in Alien: Covenant. Captain Branson himself is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-him character in the movie. Lope, the “hero” of Origins, makes it to the last reel of the movie, so that’s something. Daniels, the movie’s main focus, isn’t really fleshed out in the novel at all, but I think that wasn’t Foster’s plan from the outset.
There are no aliens in Origins, so if you’re expecting facehuggers and chestbursters, you’re going to be disappointed. However, the book is exciting, despite the reader knowing the ship’s going to at least launch into space and make it halfway to its destination, Origae-6. It’s a race-against-time kind of story, as the cultists throw every obstacle available to them to prevent lift-off. What I liked about the book is how Foster created this urgency while at the same time exploring the corporate politics of the company behind the mission, Weyland Yutani, particularly Yutani himself. You get to understand the man behind the name and his motivations for having the mission proceed on schedule. If anything, Origins deals with new characters very well. And the way Foster portrays the global climate crisis is on point. Humanity may very well look to the stars for its survival.
What I wasn’t too impressed with was its wordiness. Much, and I do mean much, of the dialogue is needlessly expository. Lots of telling, very little showing, and in scenes where actions would speak louder than words, verbosity got in the way. But little scenes here or there, especially when it came to Walter’s creation and induction into the crew, made up for a lot of excess dialogue. And the action, when it takes place, it exciting and sometimes surprising.
By the end, though, the mission is saved. How it’s saved is why this book was written. I doubt it could’ve been written better if Foster wasn’t in the chair, and I’m glad I read it. But I see no need for more, to be honest.