All Alien movie franchise fans should rejoice that this book, Alien: Out of the Shadows, exists. Who knew it was possible to create another horrifying adventure for everyone’s favorite protagonist, Ellen Ripley, between the events of Alien (1979) and Aliens (1986)? Well, let me assure you, it’s not only possible but makes for a great read.
She dreams of monsters, stalking the corridors of her mind and wiping faces from memory before she can even remember their names.
In betweeen these dreams lies a simple void of shadows. But it offers no respite, because there is always a before to mourn, and an after to dread.
When she starts to wake at last, Ripley’s nightmares scuttle back into the shadows and begin to fade away. But only partly. Even as light dawns across her dreams, the shadows remain.
Author Tim Lebbon, best known for his book The Silence (now a Netflix film), breathed new life into a couple of movies from 40 years ago. The frightening new story takes place 37 years after the ending of Alien (1979), featuring a few old foes and the surviving crew of the space vessel Marion.
Alien: Out of the Shadows wastes no time getting into the action and devastation that normally encompasses the Alien movies. The book begins with Chris ‘Hoop’ Hooper, a ship engineer aboard Marion, dwelling on his youthful desire to explore space in search of monsters. Estranged from his wife and sons, and dealing with the decisions he’s made throughout his life, now works for Kelland Mining Company, a Weyland-Yutani company. The Marion, an orbital mining freighter floating above planet LV-178, awaits delivery of a new load of Trimonite, the “hardest, strongest material known to man.”
Such an inhospitable, storm-sourced, sand-blasted hell of a rock that they hadn’t even bothered to give it a proper name.
-Hoop, describing LV-178
The crew of the Marion lost contact with the ground team on LV-178 two days ago, attributed to the storm activity on the planet’s surface. The mining team, currently on the planet, is due back aboard the Marion soon. Suddenly, the dropship Samson ascends from LV-178’s surface, heading toward the Marion, yelling for the freighter’s med pods to be fired up, in distorted communication, also screaming about “creatures.”
You can see where this is going, right?
The Samson’s sister-ship, Delilah, is a mere 10 minutes behind her brother-ship, also in a perilous situation. With a sudden change in course, the Delilah slams right into the Marion, causing mass-casualties aboard both the Delilah and the Marion.
The Samson docks with the Marion, and Hoop orders the docking bay hatch to remain locked and sealed until further notice, not wanting to infect the Marion with whatever got into the Samson and the Delilah.
Not long after the crash, another ship, the Narcissus, also docks with the Marion. The crew finds Ellen Ripley still asleep with her cat, Jonesy, in a stasis pod. They wake Ripley, introduce themselves, and explain the situation Ripley awoke to.
The Marion sustained so much damage it was essentially a useless vessel. The creatures aboard the Samson and the Delilah pose a major threat (obviously), and eventually, Ripley figures out how and why she ended up on the Marion: Ash.
Lebbon included a wide variety of characters in Alien: Out of the Shadows. Almost too many, in fact. I found it difficult to recall the difference between Lachance, a Frenchman, and the Marion’s pilot, with Baxter, the communication’s officer, Cornell, the ship’s security officer, and Powell and Welford, the ship’s other engineers.
Lucy Jordan, the Marion’s captain, doesn’t get much attention in the book (similar to James Franco’s Captain Jacob Branson in Alien: Covenant (2017).
The only other female character (that I recall) is Karen Sneddon, the ship’s science officer. In typical Alien franchise fashion, the science officer plays devil’s advocate from the rest of the crew’s decision to kill the aliens on LV-178. Is she a friend or foe of her shipmates?
Hoop, Ripley, and Sneddon steal the show in Alien: Out of the Shadows. The author fleshed out each character’s personality flawlessly. They were certainly the highlight of the book.
Ultimately Alien: Out of the Shadows was an enjoyable read. As an Alien-franchise fan, I am well aware of how subjective my opinion is, however. For readers unfamiliar with the Alien movies, the book will likely not resonate with them. At a minimum, watch Alien (1979), then read the book. Then watch Aliens (1986). You’ll appreciate the book, even more, I hope!