Alien by Alan Dean Foster is the novelisation of the 1979 sci-fi, psychological horror film of the same name. It follows the crew of a commercial space tug named Nostromo who are awakened from hyper-sleep when the ship’s AI detects a distress beacon emanating from a planet not too far off their trajectory towards home. When the crew investigates, they find themselves at the business end of a deadly hunt with an extra-terrestrial creature unlike any they’ve seen or read of before.
Alien is one of my top five films of all-time and I love xenomorphs almost as much as I love kitties. I’m also a big fan of cheesy film novelisations and Alan Dean Foster. So, when I found a first edition copy of the novelisation at my local bookshop last year (or possibly the year before that), I didn’t hesitate in snagging it up. While the book has its marvellous moments of 70s cheese, it ended up being quite a wonderful reading that surprised me in some cool ways.
One of the main reasons that I enjoy reading novel adaptations of films, and even certain video games, is because it offers us a unique perspective: a look inside of the character’s mind typically in a first-person manner. Being able to get a much more candid idea of what the crew mates thought about one another, particularly under extreme duress, was utterly fascinating. It also works to cement their relationships as depicted in the film. For me, it adds a whole extra layer of depth to both mediums that is beautifully engaging on an intellectual level. Plus, it also helps me to gauge how correct I was with respect to my estimates on who hates whom and to what extreme.
The author does an impeccable job of capturing the essence of each of the crew members in a way that helped me to build more personal connections with them, regardless of whether I agreed with their opinions or not. This way if/when they meet their death, usually in gloriously gory fashions, it hit a bit harder than normal (a bit astonishing considering how many times I’ve actually seen Alien).
The writing is also pretty good. While you can tell it’s quite the product of its time, I loved how technical and smart the prose was with respect to describing ship functions, health and science-related issues that arose, the alien’s physiology, and more. It felt like I was reading an honest to goodness adult sci-fi story, which I’m supremely weak at the knees for (bad knees notwithstanding). Combine the brainy writing style with the sarcasm and wit of the characters, I even enjoyed reading some of the passages out loud for my nephews where I would totally get into character.
With the pleasant, however, does come the negative, and the biggest issue that I can see with the novelisation is the same issue many people have with the Alien film, and that is that it unfolds slowly. It’s a slow-burn, psychological trip. Everything takes it sweet ass time getting to the point and when eventually everything does hit the fucking fan (or the deck, in this case), the speed picks up quite a bit. Even with that pace increase, there is still something decidedly gradual about the total progression. Personally, I enjoy this in horror stories, especially science-fiction ones, but I know that it can be a deterrent for some readers that want more fast-paced, action-fuelled brutality to their horror rather than the insidious slither of mind-fuckery.
There’s also a bit more sexism in the novel as we get to see how the male crew members feel about their female mate, Ripley, via internal monologues and contemplations. She’s not someone who garners much love and, honestly, it’s not difficult to see why. You have to respect her dedication to her job, but when someone is so severely by-the-book, it creates enmity, and the best way to unload sometimes is to be a complete and total jackass, not that it makes it okay at all. Again, it’s a product of its time for sure.
Overall, Alien was one of the best film novelisations I’ve read. Yes, it can be cheesy and somewhat outdated with dialogue and shtick, but it’s an excellent psychological sci-fi horror read. The extra insight into the characters’ thoughts, particularly as they come face-to-face with the grotesque gorgeousness that is the xenomorph was bloody excellent (pun not intended… or was it?). Oh, and one of those perspectives? It’s Jonesy. Jonesy the motherfucking tabby cat of space! His feline persona was depicted so perfectly and was by far my favourite (no surprise). There are also a few extra scenes in the novel that aren’t in the film, specifically with respect to learning about the face-vagina, er, I mean face-hugger physiology. So, if that’s something that interests you, it may be worth it just to pick it up for those alone. As it stands, I’d highly recommend this book to readers who delight in slow-burn, psychological horror, fans of the Alien franchise, and folx that like cheesy novelisations of pre-existing media.
Publication Date: March 1979
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing (ISBN: 0446829773)
Genre: Science-Fiction Horror
Series: Alien Movie Novelisations (Book 1)
Page Count: 270
Content Warnings: Graphic descriptions of death, including mentions of gore, blood, and mutilation. Violence. Descriptions of alien creatures invading human bodies via tentacled apparatuses. Claustrophobia. Sexism. Cursing. Consumption of food. Smoking. Intense scenes of suspense and tension.
GoodReads: Alien by Alan Dean Foster