Alien: Out of the Shadows by Tim Lebbon
Titan, pb, £6.38
Reviewed by Heidi Ranger
As a child, Chris Hooper believed in monsters. But when he travelled into space, he found only darkness and isolation and escape from the responsibilities of family life. At least until he’s posted on a mining ship, Marion, in orbit above LV178, a planet rich in the rare trimonite, the hardest material known to man. They also found something else, something evil with infinite patience and acid for blood.
As Hooper and the other Marion crew learn more about the Xenomorphs, they realise the human concept of ‘monster’ does not even start to cover what they are facing. But hope is not lost. Possible salvation has reached them in the form of an escape pod carrying the last survivor of the ship Nostromo, Ellen Ripley.
I have to start this review with a confession, other than a couple of short stories; this is the first book I have read by Tim Lebbon. Now I realise my life has been the poorer for it. I have loved the Aliens franchise since watching Aliens as a teenager. The claustrophobic setting, the steady pace building to heart-stopping tension and the characters’ resourcefulness in the face of unstoppable malice all combine, creating a story that grabs you by the throat from the beginning. Picking up Alien: Out of the Shadows, I slipped back into a familiar horror, as thrilling as it is terrifying.
Out of the Shadows is Alien 1.5, set between the first two films and has taken inspiration from both of them. The setting matches Alien with a ship too large for the human miners and an inhospitable planet with an ancient, stranded alien ship. The storyline follows Aliens with the focus on Ripley’s desire to return to her daughter, journeying from immobilising fear of the Xenomorphs to grim determination.
Lebbon takes the mother aspect of Ripley’s character and explores how this motivates her fight for survival. Her mother’s instinct to protect her daughter is a force as strong as the Xenomorphs desire to reproduce inside human chests. When all else fails to keep her moving, the thought of her daughter, Amanda, keeps Ripley on her feet. As a mother myself, I can relate to that powerful force to protect my children from everything at all costs. Any parent would, male or female. This brought a different element to the story that rounded Ripley’s character a little more.
The author also brings in another strand of conflict, as if the Xenomorphs weren’t enough, by the reintroduction of the science officer from the Nostromo, Ash. For anyone who doesn’t know, Ash was a synthetic lifeform willing to sacrifice his crewmates to bring a Xenomorph back to Earth on the command of the company Weyland-Yutani. He survived the events of Alien in a way only an android could and is still focused on his mission to bring an alien back to Earth. Having a renegade artificial intelligence on the Marion working against the survivors twists the tension beyond uncomfortable, making Out of the Shadows truly horrifying.
Another character worth mentioning is Science Officer Sneddon. Her relationship with Ripley is prickly from the start due to Ripley’s experiences with Ash. However, Sneddon takes a different approach; human life over company orders even when, spoiler alert, she becomes a host of a Xenomorph. She puts her crewmates before any chance of her own survival in a Weyland-Yutani lab.
While I will say I loved Out of the Shadows, I found the way Lebbon fitted in Ripley having no knowledge of these events in Aliens a little too neat. I appreciate it had to fit between the two films, but it felt like the weakest element of the story. That said, I did note the use of medical tubes as seen in Prometheus, which I enjoyed. I won’t say much of the ending other than that as I don’t want to ruin it for you. Other than that element, the ending is haunting, full of false hope because we know what the characters have more to come. We know that when we finish this book, it is not the end. For anyone who hasn’t read it and is a fan of the Aliens Franchise, or anyone looking to get into it, Alien: Out of the Shadows is highly recommended.