I kid you not: one night, I actually had a nightmare where I was being chased by one of the Giger-inspired aliens from (you guessed it) ALIEN. I honestly don’t recall all that much of the dream itself; I can just remember being pursued by one of those acid-blooded suckers down a dark corridor or some such place. I woke up from a sound sleep actually screaming. Of course, I scared the Hell out of my wife. And when I told her what the dream was, she understood perfectly. I guess I’m a nut for science fiction that way, so the dream perhaps didn’t come as much of a surprise to her.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
For those who are caught unawares, 2014 actually serves as the 35th anniversary of the first film in the legendary series: ALIEN first launched into theatres and scared the bejesus out of audiences back in 1979. To those of us who’ve followed the saga with and without Ripley, it seems just like yesterday. In any event, Titan Books is hopping aboard the celebratory bandwagon by launching OUT OF THE SHADOWS, the first of three officially-licensed novels set with the growing ALIENS mythology. In case you missed that, let me clarify: for all practical intents and purposes, these books are considered “canon,” and, for those of you who’ve no idea what that means, this clarifies that the characters and events depicted within are on par with what’s come before in the movies. (There’s a second novel coming this summer, and a third one due in stores this fall.)
Naturally, there’s good and bad with this, at least so far as this reviewer is concerned. For my tastes, it’s hard to ‘accept’ this novelized adventure as having actually taken place as, chronologically, it’s set between ALIEN and ALIENS. What SHADOWS postulates is that before Ripley gets recovered by a salvage crew in the early moments of ALIENS (the movie), she’s actually found by another space-based mining colony … which, as luck would have it, is also dealing with an infestation of the aliens. While there are hints at even another species, the bulk of the action involves Ripley and this new crew joining forces to get pack up and get away before they find themselves all on their backs with facehuggers wrapped around their necks.
Unfortunately, that’s really all there is to the premise.
In fact, I’d argue that the tale that unfolds in SHADOWS is thematically almost the same as what audiences were already treated to in ALIENS, so much so that a reasonable person might wonder why in the Sam Hill 20th Century Fox green-lit the novel as is. You’ve got Ripley recovered by this new crew; she’s essentially viewed as the resident expert; so she’s basically put into a leadership role much like James Cameron’s sequel to Ridley Scott’s original film. Together, they all proceed into an underground lair; they’re chased by a horde of aliens; and they even come face-to-face with a queen! And if that isn’t enough for you, Ripley spends the bulk of the action fighting a psychological battle to save her daughter (back on Earth) from being injected with an alien spawn; this proceeds almost note for note (albeit figuratively) as her struggle to keep Newt safe in the aforementioned film.
Unlike most fans of the entire ALIEN saga, I don’t have massive qualms regarding the overall quality of ALIEN3 and ALIEN: RESURRECTION. Granted, they aren’t my favorites by any estimation, but each of those films offers something different – a varied interpretation, a twist on the original mythology; it’s certainly easy to find fault with stories that don’t rise to the level of ALIEN or ALIENS, but, if you’ve an open mind and you’re watching closely, you might find something to appreciate in each of them. However, SHADOWS feels like an intellectual retread of those first two films – arguably the best in the series – and no amount of character development given to the new additions can ever erase that criticism.
Perhaps to really make matters worse, SHADOWS has to quite literally erase itself from existence in its closing moments: since it’s canon but neither Ripley nor the “company” nor the shuttlecraft’s onboard computer have any record of those events, author Tim Lebbon has to create a narrative device that removes everything he did in order to keep things neat and tidy for ALIENS’ opening sequence. No matter how well you liked or disliked it, that just seems horribly ungrateful to something everyone went to great lengths to establish as “canon.” It felt like a cheap trick – one played by 20th Century Fox – and that kinda/sorta spoiled the whole thing for me.
Still, I’m a glutton for punishment. Based entirely on the quality of the writing, I enjoyed it at least as much as I enjoyed ALIEN3 and ALIEN: RESURRECTION, so I’m liable to be here when the next installment in this all-new trilogy hits the shelves. Hopefully, that one will produce better results.
ALIEN: OUT OF THE SHADOWS  is published by Titan Books. The story is written by Tim Lebbon. The book retails for $7.99, and that’s a bargain for the amount of scares stirred up between the covers. Enjoy it while you can, Alien-fans! Ripley’s back … and, this time, she’s out for blood!
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Titan Books provided me with a reading copy of ALIEN: OUT OF THE SHADOWS by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.
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About the reviewer
What? You don't know enough about me from the picture? Get a clue! I'm a graduate from the School of Hard Knocks! You can find me around the web as "Trekscribbler" or "Manchops". … more