When the powers-that-be at Geek Hard asked how I might feel about reviewing Alien Out of the Shadows, an original novel by Tim Lebbon based on the Fox quadrilogy, my initial reaction was “I think you’ve got the wrong guy”. While I’ve seen all the films and for the most part enjoy them, I wouldn’t go so far as to label myself a true “fan” as I may have with some other popular franchises. But upon further thought, giving this a shot started to make more sense. An uber-fan might be a little biased, inclined to pre-consider all things Alien great. However, my level of knowledge of this universe was enough that I could understand what was going on, who’s who with established characters and maybe share some fresh thoughts about this chapter’s entry into the Alien pantheon.
Out of the Shadows takes place between the first Alien and Aliens, showing a lost adventure of Ellen Ripley (that’s the main character played by Sigourney Weaver in this series, in case you’re only just passing through). Now wait a sec-didn’t she go into hyper-sleep at the end of the first and get re-awakened in the second? Yep – relax, that all gets explained; including why there’s apparently no mention or memory of this episode in Aliens.
Two other constants that seem to be ubiquitous to Alien lore are the presence of mining and remote locations where these nasty buggers always seem to be found and thriving; and the recurring theme of military involvement, from surreptitious to outright, in trying to cultivate and breed the alien creatures as a biological weapon. Both of these are here, making this story feel in place with what’s transpired and been revealed to us thus far.
New characters are introduced in the form of remnants of a mining crew assigned to planet LV178 by Weyland-Yutani (essentially a super-corp big brother in the Alien-verse) now led by Chris “Hoop” Hooper. Besides Ripley, there’s even the return of another character from Alien that’s plausible (and no, you sleuths out there, I’m not being cheeky and referring to Jonesy, Ripley’s cat who joined her in hyper-sleep and by-the-by is alive and well, thanks).
The premise of this story, not surprisingly, is a relatively stable situation losing control and going all to hell when our alien friends are discovered and encountered. How do you think that goes? Not a shocker either, the survivor count is low. But to Lebbon’s credit, he still manages to build suspense when we know the direction we’re headed in and starts the game of “Ten Little Indians” as we slowly start to lose the faces we’ve gotten to know. Ripley is there to share her experience in fighting these things and remind the crew and readers that these are ruthless killing machines not to be trifled with.
Overall, not a bad little read and not too time-consuming at 344 pages. For those wanting more, it seems 2014 has been earmarked as the year to make a push with this brand as two more titles are slated for release to complete this new “trilogy”: Alien Sea of Sorrow (July), and Alien River of Pain (November). I would have thought these already existed, but the “official” novelizations of Alien, Aliens & Aliens 3 (where’s Resurrection to complete the set?) are coming out too.
Now I know Dark Horse has done a great job expanding the Alien universe as a comic property, in the tradition of the plethora of Star Wars and Star Trek fiction that have revealed more about briefly mentioned characters and worlds, while introducing us to totally new ones. I must admit, I haven’t followed them too closely but it leads me to my only true quibble with Out of the Shadows: the inclusion of Ripley. The story is written to make her arrival crucial to the proceedings but what the rest of this hapless mining crew was doomed to experience would have happened to them one way or another, whether Ripley made the scene or not. Yeah, I’ll even concede that some may say the Alien story is Ripley’s story; a symbol of humanity’s ultimate resiliency when facing imminent death against insurmountable odds, yet still managing to triumph. But…C’MON!!! How much pain, suffering and loss can one person be subjected to and expected to endure?! (*spoiler alert for any Alien virgins still with us) Ripley has already experienced the traumatic loss of a crew of friends, the loss of an 11-year old daughter and a life left behind due to a hyper-sleep time gaffe, the loss of an adopted “daughter” in Newt; even unwillingly been brought back as a clone and forced to continue fighting for her life after making the ultimate sacrifice and killing herself in hopes of finally breaking the alien-caused cycle of death and destruction that stole and took over her life. Get all of that? Damn! And now we find out Ripley went through another scrape that almost finished her? Job needs to shut up, because this poor woman’s life has become a non-stop trial. Please, it’s time to leave her alone.
If you can get past that l’il bordering on masochistic cornerstone (or you’re a heartless prick who couldn’t care less), it seems the next two installments won’t have Ripley (unless another device is somehow contrived, and that chest is reeeally empty right now) and we’ll see if this saga can stand on its’ own without her help. Let’s hope it adds more life to the Alien world, and unlike some efforts put out by “the Big Two”, doesn’t water down or cheapen what’s preceded it.
If you’re gonna geek out, GEEK HARD!