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, of Best Action Heroines and Top 100 Genre Characters, that it’s impossible to count them all. 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. Eight years ago Ripley returned in a big way as part of the Alien and Aliens canon in a series of three novels. Those three novels arrive today in an all-new omnibus paperback edition called The Complete Alien Collection–The Shadow Archive, available here at Amazon. See my review of the second novel in the collection–Alien: Sea of Sorrows–below. The commonality of the collection is that each book has a connection in some way to Ellen Ripley. It includes what we at borg have called the best Alien/Aliens tie-in of them all.
And that novel is Tim Lebbon’s Alien: Out of the Shadows, which we reviewed here at borg (I also interviewed Lebbon here). Alien: Out of the Shadows was surprising in the way it bridged the period between Alien and Aliens, pulling apart the very fabric of 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. Lebbon takes Ripley on a nonstop, perilous mission that is as engaging as the grittiest and most exciting scenes in Aliens.
Read my complete review of Lebbon’s Alien: Out of the Shadows here. I haven’t reviewed the second and third novels in The Complete Alien Collection–The Shadow Archive, so let’s dig into James A. Moore’s Sea of Sorrows today and I’ll review Christopher Golden’s River of Pain in the coming weeks.
Ellen Ripley is a character in the first novel, but she is not a character–directly–in Moore’s Alien: Sea of Sorrows. Alan Decker is the star of this story, and he’s the kind of creation that readers would have expected to return in future stories (he hasn’t returned yet, however). Decker is a good guy doing his job, but caught up in the politics of everyone’s favorite corporate they love to hate: Weyland-Yutani.
Decker is an engineer for the Interstellar Commerce Commission, who uncovers problems on a planet called New Galveston involving regulations with terraforming. Readers get a look at the Alien universe describing terraforming planets, doing it in a more labor-intensive manner than the Genesis device of the Star Trek franchise. Weyland-Yutani will stop at nothing to avoid expenses or fines. Unfortunately for Decker he has a site accident, not caused by anything nefarious, but it awakens beasts trapped below, and a secret about a ship marooned in the past.
Decker suffered from horrible nightmares on the planet, but something new is triggered during the accident–more detailed images that include the beasts we all know as Xenomorphs. In all my reading of Alien tie-ins this appears to be the first use of empaths in the canon. Through some clever closed captioning-type recordings, Weyland-Yutani sees that Decker has unusual reactions and describes events in an amnesiac state, events that only could have been known by someone… on the Nostromo.
Decker’s connection to Ellen Ripley comes to light and after he files a report against Weyland-Yutani, is fired, and he’s returned to Earth, he is kidnapped and brought back to the planet. A member of management named Andrea Rollins knows about his acts against the company, but that’s not why she wants him. Rollins today would be played by Charlize Theron–another tough, determined–actually obsessed–ambitious character trying to make a name for herself. Like Decker, she’s good enough to return later in Alien canon (but hasn’t yet).
Decker learns he is a descendant of Ellen Ripley, via some line that is impossible to figure from other books and movies. Somehow a part of her was retained by the Xenomorph hive globally and can recognize her DNA in him. Rollins claims that Decker is responsible for the legal liability Ripley left behind when she died. In no jurisprudence is a descendant of someone liable for the monetary losses of their distant ancestors, so the reader is left to believe Decker is monumentally gullible in believing he has no choice but to help Rollins with a project on the planet.
That project opens up what readers come to expect from any Alien novel: lots of Xenomorphs, lots of terror, lots of carnage, and the mystery is who if anyone gets out alive. Without having the actual Ellen Ripley as a character, Sea of Sorrows is not as compelling as Out of the Shadows, but it’s a solid entry in the “monster horror” side of the Alien stories–differentiating it from the Colonial Marines sub-genre of the Alien stories.
Readers get the first storytelling in the canon from the Xenomorph perspective, via Decker. This returns again later in Tim Waggoner’s Alien: Prototype, which I reviewed here. Also, close readers may notice that Andrea Rollins is written similarly to Rick Deckard in the Blade Runner 1982 movie, and there’s a reason for that, as can be found on the Alien Xenopedia page for the book.
This trilogy of books was originally published beginning in January 2014, but now you can get all 864 pages in one volume.
Get Tim Lebbon’s Out of the Shadows, James A. Moore’s Sea of Sorrows, and Christopher Golden’s River of Pain now available together for the first time here at Amazon and at all good bookstores as part of Titan Books’ new omnibus edition, The Complete Alien Collection–The Shadow Archive.
For more Alien novels and tie-ins, check out links to them all here at borg.