Alien: Out of the Shadows is an “official” new novel by Tim Lebbon that is set between the movies Alien and Aliens. The teaser on the back of the book, however, reveals that the crew in the story meets the series’ hero, Ellen Ripley. So right off the bat, if you’ve seen the movies, you know that something is not right – is it an alternate universe? is Ripley an android? – because in between Alien and Aliens, Ripley does nothing but sleep.
The main character is Chris Hooper, an engineer working with a group of miners on board the ship Marion, parked above planet LV178 (not LV426, the planet in Aliens, but it’s described similarly). Hoop becomes the ad hoc leader of the crew after disaster strikes: miners aboard the Samson, a shuttle returning from LV178, contact the Marion in pure terror, claiming there are creatures on the ship.
Just like Ripley does in the first movie, Hoop tries to tell the others before the crash that they can’t let a shuttle with possibly infected crew members dock, and this is the first of many direct allusions to the movies, which sometimes work and sometimes are just direct copies of dialogue (like when Ripley asks Hoop to show her how to use a certain weapon and says, “I can handle myself”, or when a character actually uses the Hudson line, “Game over”). This time, caution doesn’t matter because the Samson crashes into the Marion, while the crew aboard the latter watch the staticky death and destruction inside it on a screen.
The crash is quickly determined to be fatal to the Marion and a distress signal is sent out, after which they come in contact with Ripley’s shuttle, and briefly think that it’s a rescue ship. Ripley is woken up and horrified to learn that she has already slept for 37 years (in Aliens, she has slept for 57), and now she is stuck on a dying ship attached to a sealed-off shuttle that holds an unknown number of aliens. The crew’s only recourse is to abandon the Marion and squeeze onto Ripley’s shuttle, but of course fuel cells are needed and they can only be gotten from the mines down on the planet itself. And the only way to get down there, is to take the Samson.
Worst of all, Ripley discovers that Ash, the android from Alien, managed to upload his intelligence into the system of her shuttle, and is still attempting to carry out his mission of bringing an alien specimen home to the Weyland-Yutani corporation.
Lebbon does a good job of building the suspense and describing the action as the miners break into the Samson and fight the aliens, and then descend into a nest of them inside the mines of LV178. There isn’t much back story or character development for most of the crew, but the story is intense and gripping, and what they discover in the mines is clearly inspired by the prequel Prometheus. This is the most intriguing part of the story, when Hoop, Ripley, and a few other survivors are forced onto an ancient ship deep within the mines that obviously doesn’t belong to the aliens hunting them. Inside it, they catch glimpses of the remains of a different species entirely, as they try to avoid being herded and trapped.
Ripley is portrayed faithfully for the most part, except for frequent references to her “smiling reassuringly” at Hoop in very tense moments. This is something Ripley just doesn’t do in the movies, except maybe to the little girl Newt in Aliens. She’s just not a smiley person, which figures, considering all the crap she’s been through. Overall though, Out of the Shadows is a fun read and the twist at the end which explains how Ripley is present does work, even if it’s a little far-fetched.
Image via Titan Books