Titan Books, £7.99, ISBN 978-1783292820
Alien: Out of the Shadows is the first of a trilogy of new, standalone stories that are set in the Alien setting, and these stories are canon according to 20th Century Fox, the folks who own the franchise. Of course, back in 2014, they probably had ideas of having some kind of book franchise that rivals the Star Wars one, but obviously that plan didn’t turn out to be so hot. I’m reading this one after all these years because I found it in a bargain bin. While that I generally do not prefer buying books based on established movie franchises due to the quality issues and lore contradictions that usually occur, I’m okay with such books when they are available for cheap.
This one is canon, and takes place between the movie Alien and Aliens, so a rewatch of Alien, or a reading of the plot synopsis on Wikipedia, may be helpful as there will be references to characters and events in that movie. You have to imagine that after her escape from Nostromo, Ellen Ripley ends up on board the ship Marion. This is because the shuttle she escaped in had its control systems taken over by the naughty synthetic Ash. Ash, despite now being without a body, still wants to execute its orders to bring the xenomorphs back to the folks at Weyland-Yutani. You see, Marion is in trouble. A ship full of xenomorphs crashed into it prior to Ripley’s arrival, and now remnants of the crew are fighting for survival. Poor Ripley is now thrust into another life or death situation. And the reason she doesn’t remember all this when she comes to in Aliens is because she has her memory wiped as a result of being tormented by too many nightmares.
If that isn’t contrived enough, the author has Ripley constantly being haunted by visions of her daughter having a xenomorph bursting out of her chest or missing that girl or regretting of even leaving her in the first place, that our poor heroine comes off more like a damsel in distress than anything else. Of course, this is a chance for Chris Hooper, the Chief Engineer, to hold her hand, catch her when she falls, and generally play the hero to the point that there is even a hint of a possible romance there between him and Ripley. Gross. The rest of the cast are cardboard types, barely developed and only serve to be fodder.
Speaking of fodder, having Ripley here means that it is immediately obvious that only she will survive this story to float on to Aliens. So, say goodbye to suspense, everyone!
I don’t know. This story would have worked better if Ripley wasn’t here, if the author had just pitted the crew of Marion against chestbursters anonymous and let everything rip. With Ripley around, this story becomes an unnecessarily tortuous detour between those two movies, and it also means that Hoop becomes suspiciously like some self-insert character by the author, who perhaps wants to live out his dreams of playing the knight in shining armor to Ellen Ripley. Alas, this is done by turning Ripley into a more stereotypical heroine archetype – a great disservice to a character who was one of the very few kickass heroines that carried a movie and, later, a franchise back in those days. If this book is an infected human, the xenomorph is Tim Lebbon, bursting out of the chest to yell at me, “Surprise! Ripley’s survival ultimately depends on a man!” Oh, just get lost already.
There is something about this story that feels… unnecessary, sacrilegious even. And all because the author decides to have Ripley here. It may have made the author very happy to have written this book, but this one should have been best posted on some fanfiction site than anything else.