Review by C.J. Bunce
You might think you’ve seen it all with five Alien feature films featuring the vile and merciless Xenomorphs. You might really think you’ve seen everything about Warrant Officer Ellen Ripley from the spaceship Nostromo. Ripley, the tough-as-nails heroine of the franchise played by Sigourney Weaver, was the lone human survivor of Alien (1979), and she led the charge against a Xenomorph attack in the sequel Aliens (1986), to come back again after her escape pod crashes onto a penal colony planet in Alien³ (1992), and finally return 200 years later as a human/Alien, Terminator-inspired hybrid clone in Alien: Resurrection (1997). Ripley is on so many best-of lists, like Best Action Heroine and Top 100 Best Genre Character, that it’s impossible to count. Ripley didn’t make an appearance in either Aliens vs Predator (2007) or Ridley Scott’s return to the Alien universe in 2012’s Prometheus, but has appeared in various incarnations in comic book spinoffs. Well you haven’t seen the last of Ripley. To quote the series’ often used tagline, The bitch is back.
A new trilogy series begins later this month, with Tim Lebbon’s Alien: Out of the Shadows. Surprisingly it bridges the period between Alien and Aliens. That’s right, Alien: Out of the Shadows pulls apart what you think happened to Ripley between entering into her deep stasis sleep at the end of Alien and her rescue from that sleep at the beginning of Aliens. And Lebbon does it in a way fans of the series might not flinch at. More importantly he takes Ripley on a nonstop, perilous mission that is as engaging as the grittiest and most exciting scenes in the franchise, the military mission in Aliens.
Chris “Hoop” Hooper works as chief engineer on a mining vessel called the Marion, as part of a Kelland Mining Company search for a rare metal called Trimonite. Kelland is, of course, a subsidiary of Weyland-Yutani—the company that controls everything in the future. Without wasting any paper, Lebbon catches us up with the Marion as two mining vessels go out of control in response to an invasion by certain familiar space “monsters.” The ships ram the Marion–limiting anyone’s chances at survival, at ever leaving the orbit of the seemingly unextraordinary planet below, and causing the Marion to slowly descend to be burnt up in the planet’s atmosphere. Jordan is the Marion’s experienced captain (and Hoop’s former love interest), Lachance is a level-headed pilot but he’s a pessimistic sort, Josh Baxter is the ship’s communications officer (and makes a good cocktail), Karen Sneddon is a hardened, intelligent science officer, Garcia is the nervous medic, and Kasyanov the doctor, with Powell and Welford engineers that keep the Marion’s crew alive for more than eleven weeks until Ripley’s shuttle auto-docks with them, 15 days before they predict they will get too close to the planet and burn up.
Ripley has been in stasis 37 years, nightmares haunting her the entire ride. Despite the gruesome scenes the Marion’s crew views via monitors on the ship called the Samson, nothing compares to Ripley’s nightmares about her daughter. And only Ripley fully knows how doomed the crew is—only she has seen the impossibly fast, acid-spitting Xenomorphs close-up.
Alien: Out of the Shadows begins with a doomed crew, whose circumstances only get worse. Whether you know the inevitable outcome of the story or not, Lebbon has crafted a pulse-pounding tale of survival in the worst of circumstances. You’ll get to know the crew as their strengths and weaknesses surface, as they face a stronger enemy only a few feet away, with less than ideal barriers separating them. This story could overlap with Firefly’s Serenity and their crew—a close-knit group stuck in the vastness of space, relying on each other–the dark side of a Fantastic Voyage sci-fi story. In fact, Lebbon would be a good pick to novelize Firefly.
To survive the crew needs fuel cells, and Hoop must lead them to the mines on the planet below to find them, or they have no chance of leaving orbit at all. They’ve no supplies to simply remain, and their best escape plan is iffy at best.
Carrying a crew with the determination and savvy of Hicks, Hudson, and Vasquez from the film Aliens, Lebbon has put together a fully realized Alien universe story that measures up to the best of the franchise. It’s a story that fans probably would have hoped to see instead of what ended up in Prometheus. Although some of the historic elements of Prometheus may have their counterparts in this novel via a desire of creators to show some ancient history to these shadowy creatures, don’t expect similar plodding and dull moments here.
Alien: Out of the Shadows will be released January 28, 2014 (available for pre-order now at Amazon.com), to be followed by two more novels in this new trilogy, James A. Moore’s Alien: Sea of Sorrows on July 29, 2014, and Christopher Golden’s Alien: River of Pain later in the year.