Alien: Out of the Shadows
By Tim Lebbon
Titan Books, Paperback, 347 pages, $7.99
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The Alien series has always capitalized on body horror, the fear of infection and change from within. This made my review of Tim Lebbon’s Alien: Out of the Shadows a bit problematic when I was hospitalized for a week with diverticulosis at about the halfway point of the book. I wasn’t in much condition to do anything; pumped full of antibiotics and morphine, I moved in and out of a hazy nightmare dream state, waiting to hear if my guts had failed me entirely and I would need to have a section of them removed. And the pain . . . I’d had kidney stones before, but they were nothing compared to this. The morphine seemed to barely touch it. For the first time, I think I understood the agony felt by Kane in the first Alien film, and all the hapless victims after that, as birthing aliens tore through their guts and abdomens.
So Mr. Lebbon’s new Alien novel sat near my hospital bed, unread; my foggy brain allowing it to become a symbol of this terrible rebellion within my own body. Before I fell ill, I’d made it to the halfway point reading voraciously. Lebbon has caught the rhythms of the first two films in the Alien franchise perfectly that I could hear Jerry Goldsmith’s and James Horner’s scores as I read. This is no mean feat; the average reader really has no idea how difficult it is for a movie or TV tie-in writer to make their work feel like it belongs in the same universe as the primary media, without violating what fans refer to as “canon” – the unalterable word of the original films or TV shows.
Alien: Out of the Shadows plays a magnificent trick fitting into the chronology of the movies. It utilizes the gap between Ridley Scott’s original Alien and James Cameron’s Aliens and manages to find a way to maneuver Ripley’s escape shuttle, the Narcissus, to a new location. The trick is easy, and doesn’t spoil the rest of the novel: Ash, the murderous android from Alien, uploaded his consciousness to the Nostromo’s computer before Ellen Ripley killed him, and was masquerading as Mother, the ship’s A.I. Ash also uploaded a clone of himself into the Narcissus’ flight computer, so while Ripley was floating in space, Ash was listening for any possible reports of Xenomorph infestation, and then steered the Narcissus in that direction. This accounts for the Narcissus being so far off course in Aliens that it almost doesn’t make it back to work and also helps explain why it took 57 years for the Narcissus to make it back. Ash is a particularly single-minded bugger; he was programmed by the Weyland-Yutan corporation to bring a Xenomorph embryo back to Earth, and as long as he’s functional, he’ll try . . . no matter how insane the odds.
Besides Ash doing his best HAL-9000 impression, Mr. Lebbon pitches the voice of Warrant Officer Ellen Ripley perfectly, with terse dialogue that absolutely fits her character in the first two films of the franchise. Ripley winds up involved with the crew of the Marion, a mining mothership orbiting the planet LV128, which has run into a spot of trouble: Several Xenomorphs have returned from the planet surface aboard the Marion’s two dropships.
Within the first few pages of this novel, all hell breaks loose for the Marion and her crew in the finest Alien tradition, and Mr. Lebbon rarely allows Ripley and the Marion’s survivors, led by engineer Chris “Hoop” Hooper, a moment to breathe afterward.
After my own body horror had concluded and I was able to return home, I was also able to finish this novel, and I found myself delighted by the revelations in its second half. Mr. Lebbon presents an ancient enigma that brings to mind the same howling chasms of time that Ridley Scott explored in his prequel to the film series, Prometheus. That same film also presents the key for how Ripley is re-set for the evens of Aliens. Mr. Lebbon’s solution to this quandary had me grinning like a loon, because it was so perfect and so within canon.
A gripping and recommended read for fans of the Alien franchise, Alien: Out of the Shadows is also the first novel in a licensed Alien trilogy. There’ll be two further novels in a trilogy began by Out of Shadows, with Alien: Sea of Sorrows by James A. Moore being released in July 2014 and Alien: River of Pain by Christopher Golden in November 2014. Titan is also reissuing the original Alan Dean Foster novelizations of the first three Alien films between March and June 2014.