Alien: Out of the Shadows

A short while ago, I wrote about winter-time horror faves, particularly books. The following day, thanks to Chuck Wendig's "Ten Questions About..." article featuring author Tim Lebbon, I learned about the publication of Alien: Out Of The Shadows. out-of-the-shadows2When I think of winter-time horror, I tend towards the frigid frights of the arctic, such as John Carpenter's The Thing. I also have to give props to Ron Moore's new SyFy television series, Helix, which seems to be embracing the viral-horror vibe nicely, using an isolated scientific research lab in the Arctic Circle as its setting. The show is layered with threats, from viral infection to the crazed and paranoid populace, and the omnipresent danger of the freezing cold.

But, really, what's colder than the vacuum of space?

Alien is an absolutely terrific horror flick, one I would argue fits suitably well for winter-time frights. Released in 1979, director Ridley Scott and lead cast member Sigourney Weaver ushered in a new era of horror films aboard the cold, dull, dingy confines of the spaceship Nostromo. There's little that is warm and inviting about the film and it's a perfect choice to curl up to on the sofa during a nasty winter storm.

While I love arctic-themed horror, I also have an enormous weak spot for the claustrophobic confines of space-based sci-fi horror. Of course, Alien is the prototype, but Event Horizon has a few things going for it, and the tightly focused scares of the Dead Space series of video games are immensely absorbing (and kudos to part 3 for embedding some arctic survival horror niceties). Unfortunately, these outings seem to be in short supply in literature (or, perhaps I'm just not aware of them, in which case I urge you to name some favorites below!).

With the release of Lebbon's Alien novel, 20th Century Fox may be in the process of correcting this short-coming as we near the 35th anniversary of Scott's film. Out of the Shadows is the first in a trilogy of officially sanctioned novels set in the Alien universe. The other two books should be out over the course of this year, with the next, Sea of Sorrows, slated for July. (Side note: Dark Horse Comics are relaunching their corner of the Alien universe this summer, with all new comic books for both the Alien and Prometheus franchises, as well as Alien vs. Predator and Predator. To top it off, a video game, Alien Isolation, is due out soon and focuses on Ripley's daughter, Amanda. So, it's a good time to be a fan of these properties!)

I, for one, welcome the expansion of the Alien franchise into literature. It's worked well enough for both Star Trek and Star Wars for more than 20 years, so why not take the gamble? The thing I like about these canonical stories is that it gives fans a chance to dive deeper into the stories, to crawl into the heads of its characters, and to keep the franchise inhabited between their filmed counterparts. It also allows, when done right, the opportunity to explore the lives of established characters and get inside their heads in a way that the filmic properties cannot.

With Alien: Out of the Shadows, Lebbon brings back Weaver's Ellen Ripley, and crafts for us an untold story that falls nicely between the 57-years worth of cracks left from the climax of Alien and the opening moments of Aliens. Think of it as Alien 1.5.

The Deep Space Mining Orbital Marion and the planet LV136 are the setting for this story, and Lebbon crafts a horror-survival story on par with both Alien and its James Cameron-helmed sequel, Aliens. He absolutely nails the claustrophobic, fight-for-your-life atmosphere of the films, and the palpable threat the alien creatures pose. They are swift, violent exterminators, and the Marion crew-members are dispatched with horrific expediency.

When adapting a character like Ripley, who was so well-defined by Signourey Weaver in this series of films, it is crucial to get the "voice" right in prose. Thankfully, Lebbon succeeds and makes her transition from screen to printed page a smooth one. The dialogue rings true, and you can easily hear Weaver's voice. Readers should also appreciate the brief forays into Ripley's history and parental guilt presented across a series of nightmares.

Of course, by tackling a story centered between the first two Alien films and bringing Ripley in for such a central role unfortunately means that a large reset button needs to be hit in order to not disrupt the film continuity or leave any lingering questions. Thankfully Lebbon fleshes out the crew of Marion well enough that, in the end, the book doesn't feel superfluous. By focusing on the characters and the dangers of their situation, Lebbon is able to really draw readers in and keep them hooked. The book is a terrific page-turner, and I'm looking forward to seeing what author James A. Moore brings to the table with the follow-up, Sea of Sorrows, this summer.

Michael Patrick Hicks

Michael Patrick Hicks is the author of the science fiction novels Convergence, an Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2013 Quarter-Finalist, and Emergence. His work has appeared in several anthologies, and he has written for the websites Graphic Novel Reporter and Audiobook Reviewer. In between compulsively buying books and adding titles that he does not have time for to his Netflix queue, he is hard at work on his next story.

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