There are two ways of viewing the universe. One is from afar, peering through a telescope and seeing all the beauty and wonder of the celestial bodies swirling around each other. Starry nights that inspire countless poems throughout time. The other is when you get out there and leave the confines of this planet. See up close how fragile the human body can be and worry about every little thing that could go wrong; from the freezing temperatures, to the lack of oxygen, and all manner of radiation emanating from the stars or planets and moons that you sail by. Then imagine you finally have your first encounter with an extraterrestrial; and not only is it hostile, but next to impossible to kill. Space can be very unforgiving if you get too close.
In Alien – Out Of The Shadows, written by Tim Lebbon, we arrive on the Marion, a ship orbiting the planet LV178 and designed to assist a trimonite mining facility on the surface. Chief Engineer Chris Hooper is about to play a round of pool with Captain Lucy Jordan when a distress call is picked up by the ship’s pilot Lachance. Two dropships, named the Delilah and Samson, are approaching their vessel from the surface and are coming in with casualties from an unknown alien encounter, some of which are visible on the ships through their viewing monitors. While in complete shock at what is happening, they fail to notice the Delilah coming in too fast as it collides into two of their docking bays, destroying them, and sending the Marion out of orbit and into a very slow, but inevitable descent towards the planet’s atmosphere. The Samson, now docked at the intact area of the ship, is quarantined because it appears the creatures that attacked the injured miners have infected them. Offspring have begun bursting from their chests and within minutes the routine, calm atmosphere of the Marion is now in chaos.
All this takes place in just the first two chapters; and it doesn’t let up from there. The story begins several decades after the original Alien story and before the second film. Ellen Ripley, who was left drifting in space all this time aboard the escape shuttle Narcissus, after previously destroying the ship Nostromo that her entire crew perished aboard, is found auto-docking aboard the Marion. When she awakens she cannot figure out why the shuttle led her here. Her mysterious appearance and the creatures on the planet make this book an intriguing adventure. Especially since none of this is ever mentioned in the second film.
I found the camaraderie of the characters helped to bring the suspense and danger down to an intimate level. Hooper’s interactions with Ripley as well as the moments with science officer Karen Sneddon, who exhibits a curious fascination with the creatures. The French pilot Lachance offers some dry humor which lightens the mood in this very dire situation. I especially enjoyed getting to see the AI computer program Ash, who if you recall played an android that malfunctioned and engineered the events that led to the destruction of the Nostromo. His consciousness managed to sneak aboard the Narcissus and is now seeking to continue the mission he was ordered to complete by the Weyland-Yutani Corporation. One other pleasant character, and nod to the original film, is the cat Jonesy, spending most of its time slumbering in the stasis pod of the Narcissus.
The book balances its time aboard the Marion and on LV178. Due to an unanswered distress call sent by Hooper, they are forced to take the Samson to the planet in order to retrieve fuel cells and hopefully power the Narcissus home with the remaining crew of the Marion on board. It’s a series of long shots. Knowing the Marion is still descending towards the planet and also anticipating the aliens scurrying around in any number of dark corners.
In the alien encounters, the Marion crew is fortunate to have some insight beforehand courtesy of Ripley. The author does a terrific job setting up these scenes which details not only their behavior patterns and biochemistry, but how they cleverly deal with potential prey. The journey through the mine shaft is a wild ride to say the least.
Another subject that is explored in this book is the motivations that led these characters into space in the first place. Money is obviously one factor, but another is escaping an old life to pursue a better one. Both explanations can be said of Hooper and Ripley who left families back on Earth. Ripley dreams about her daughter Amanda. She is so distraught with being away from her for so long and envisions memories with her that never happened. It’s very emotional and you feel so much sympathy for her. It’s a constant waking nightmare she suffers from throughout the book. Hooper has kids he hasn’t seen since they were little. His guilt with leaving them behind is less noticeable; but when death is one dark threatening shadow away, you cling to any family you have.
I have to say that this first entry in a series of books exploring and expanding the world of Alien is quite fascinating. Hooper’s interactions with Ripley are a real pleasure and the whole crew provide an adventure that compliments any that have come before it. The real treat to read is Ash. Wreaking havoc as best he can with the hopes of retrieving a specimen to send home and hacking any cameras on Marion and LV178 to relay as much information as he can back to Earth.
I personally can’t wait for the next installment and see where it goes from here. Suspense is a great genre, but add deep space and you have an unlimited amount of unknowns and variables to drive your reader insane. I suggest any science fiction fan or fan of tales with near-impossible outcomes to check this out.