Alien: Out of the Shadows is a new novel by New York Times Best-Selling Author Tim Lebbon that follows Ellen Ripley’s adventures between the films Alien and Aliens, and is set to be the first in a new canonical trilogy in the Alien saga.
Now the first thought from any avid Alien fan is: “…but Ripley didn’t have any adventures between the first two films.” Ah, but that’s where you (and I, and the rest of the world) are apparently mistaken. Lebbon has pulled some authorial strings to introduce a new subplot for our we-thought-she-was-hypersleeping heroine, and under the supervision of 20th Century Fox, every word is officially sanctioned gospel.
Out of the Shadows takes place 37 years after the first movie (and 20 years before the second movie), when Ripley’s escape shuttle, the Narcissus, is picked up by the Marion, a support station orbiting the mining colony of LV-178. But Ripley isn’t the only survivor from her previous crew on the Nostromo. The story heavily features the ruminations of Ash, the android who turned against the Nostromo crew (under company orders) in Alien. Again, I hear those fans say, “…but Ash was flamethrowered into goo!” Well, he’s still lurking, and 37 years of playing chess against the onboard computer hasn’t done much for his disposition.
But at its core, this isn’t really Ripley’s story. It’s a story about our new protagonist, engineer Chris Hooper, “Hoop,” and the crew of the Marion. Before Ripley’s arrival, they’ve already had an encounter with a nightmarish unknown species brought back from the surface. Their ship damaged, and the creatures still aboard the station, they’re doing everything they can to survive, and maybe even get home.
Lebbon reinforces another great antagonist – space itself. Our main characters, Ripley, Hoop, and even Ash, struggle with the harsh isolation of deep space, and the insurmountable loneliness that it breeds. Whether it’s the acknowledgement of loved ones left behind, or the sensory deprivation of the infinite abyss, we are left to consider the realities that the life of a spacefarer would entail.
Lebbon echoes Carl Sagan, and H.P. Lovecraft before him, in painting a universe terrifying not because of its malignance, but its pure indifference to humanity. Sprinkle in Ripley trying to cope psychologically with the trauma of the events in Alien and the feeling of abandoning her daughter Amanda, and the book becomes as much about the struggle of the psyche as it does a struggle against the xenomorphs.
While Ripley’s ending feels a little forced for sake of continuity (don’t worry, it’s not “all a dream”), the book itself is definitely a must-read for fans of the franchise. Not only does it add new characters and some interesting new angles to Ripley, Ash, and the Xenomorphs, it also strives to thread a few more connective strands with the rest of the Ridley Scott Universe. Whether it be a reference to the replicants of Blade Runner, or a nod to the technology of Prometheus, there are plenty of little bites to satiate the fans. Lebbon even honors one of the UK’s biggest Colonial Marines Cosplay groups, the United Kingdom Colonial Marine Corps, by giving life to the first regiment of UKCM, Homer’s Heroes.
For an Alien-based story, Out of the Shadows does exactly what it’s supposed to do. It’s Ripley and pals vs. Aliens, with all the face-huggering, hive-resinning, chest-bursting mayhem you can shake a plasma torch at. Never fear, by the end of the novel, the scene is set for Aliens as well as the next novel in the trilogy, Alien: Sea of Sorrows (by James A Moore, est. release July 29th, 2014). Just remember, it’s like watching Titanic: we know it’s not going to end well, but it’s about the journey, not the destination, and I’m excited to see where the series goes next!