Monday, 17 February 2014

'Alien: Out of the Shadows' - Tim Lebbon (Titan Books)

I know this is something that just isn’t said but I’ve always found the ‘Alien’ films to be a bit hit and miss and in completely the opposite way to everyone else. There, I said it.
I’m not going to deny that ‘Aliens’ is utterly awesome and probably the best film in the franchise but ‘Alien’…? I’m sorry but I just wasn’t scared at all. ‘Alien 3’ is pretty cool though and I don’t care what you say ;o) I’m thinking about the bit where you get to see through the alien’s eyes as it chases the convicts through the tunnels; I could watch that all day. ‘Alien Resurrection’ though? Ok, that is pretty awful… I guess what I’m saying is that if they tacked on some ‘Alien 3’ bits onto ‘Aliens’ and got rid of the other films I would probably be quite happy with that :o)

As far as the books go, I’ve read a couple (have a look on the old blog for the reviews) but wasn’t all that fussed if I recall correctly. When I saw that Tim Lebbon was writing an ‘Alien’ sequel though I was definitely up for a read as Lebbon is an author whose books have always gone down well with me in the past. I say ‘sequel’… What do you call a book that is the sequel to one film but a prequel to another? I have no idea so any suggestions would be greatly appreciated!
But onto the book itself. It’s a Monday afternoon so have some cut n’ pasted blurb…

As a child, Chris Hooper dreamed of monsters. But in deep space, he found only darkness and isolation. The on planet LV178, he and his fellow miners discovered a storm-scoured, sand-blasted hell - and trimonite, the hardest material known to man.

When a shuttle crashes into the mining ship Marion, the miners learn that there was more than trimonite deep in the caverns. There was evil, hibernating-and waiting for suitable prey.

Hoop and his associates uncover a nest of Xenomorphs and hell takes on a new meaning. Quickly they discover that their only hope lies with the unlikeliest of saviors...Ellen Ripley, the last human survivor of the salvage ship Nostromo.

‘Out of the Shadows’ has a lot going for it and I read it through to the end just to see how Lebbon tied things up. There’s a lot of interesting stuff coming out of the first film that finds its way into the book and I think Lebbon does an amazing job of coming up with a book that you could read in between ‘Alien’ and ‘Aliens’ and not notice the joins. He has it all covered and what we get is a fascinating picture of Ripley in between films, someone who is just about to find the strength that she will need to carry her through what is to come; a broken woman who is only just getting her head around the Alien and what it means to her.
The addition of Chris Hooper and his crew makes ‘Out of the Shadows’ a story that isn’t just about Ripley and I liked that move in terms of how it not only fleshes out the setting but gives us a whole new cast to root for in the face of an old threat. Lebbon clearly isn’t afraid to let his characters die and this makes for some tense and visceral moments as people you’ve got to know are suddenly taken in a flurry of teeth and claws.

It’s a bit of a shame though that these moments feel few and far between. Both the ship and the mining installation, on the planet below, are absolutely massive and Lebbon is playing with a very small cast of humans and aliens so there are long periods where the narrative builds up an air of tension that cannot be sustained long enough for the payoff to be reached. There’s just too many corridors to get through first. When the payoff does come it is merciless but Lebbon makes you wait for it just a little bit too long.

‘Out of the Shadows’ is a good read but one that suffers from a backdrop that is just too big for the plot to fit comfortably in (I think I’ve said this about Lebbon’s work before…) Fans of the franchise will get a lot out of the book and it has done enough that I will more than likely stick around to see where things go in the next story. I might even have to dig out my copy of ‘Aliens’ tonight…

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