Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Artificial Intelligence, Space Miners and Survival REVIEWING: Alien: Out of the Shadows

ALIEN: Out of the Shadows
Author: Tim Lebbon
Genre: Science Fiction 
Year of Publication: 2014

Alien: Out of the Shadows is a new book that came out this past January that brings a new adventure into the universe of the popular franchise Alien. I recently watched the Alien movies for the first time ever and greatly enjoyed them. When I found out that my local library had this book, I immediately wanted to read it and have more encounters with the creepy creature mainly known only as an alien with specific forms. I will refer to it as a xenomorph as that is the term I am most comfortable with using that is associated with it. I don't like just calling it an alien, because it feels so generic and unfitting to the horrific creature found within these pages. Not once is it called a xenomorph in Out of the Shadows, but still, its the way of referring to this specific creature that makes me happiest. I digress.  This book occurs sometime between the first and second movies (Alien and Aliens) and features the main heroine Ripley. This is a really hard thing to do since there is universe continuity to deal with in terms of the franchise. That being said, 20th Century Fox has confirmed this book as part of the Alien film series canon.

Before anything else, can we just talk about this cover for a quick moment? I really like this cover. It's creepy, interesting and very awesome. Whoever designed it deserves major props. This is the kind of book that I would love to have just to show off the cover. I'm a big fan of the xenomorphs and the way they maneuver. The only thing that would improve this would be if they included the claws. I'm really excited to see what the next two books will look like cover wise. To be honest, this cover was half of the reason why I picked this book up for reading. The first half was of course that its Alien related. The drool is so icky looking. Even if its harmless, the fact that it comes from the xenomorph just makes it feel dangerous. Its only drool though! But what if it had been acidic like their blood? These random thoughts floating around in my mind..........

Basically the premise is this: on planet LV178 there is a large group of miners that mine for trimonite. What trimonite is really doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things. Its just an ore that is very useful that needs to be mined. The blurb on the back of the book says it is the hardest material known to man, but it doesn't play a huge role in the plot of the book overall. There are three ships: the Marion, the Samson and the Delilah. The Marion is a main ship on which the cast of main characters is located when the book begins. There is a problem on the Samson and the Delilah. Strange creatures have been brought up from the mines by accident and are on board both ships, causing complete chaos. Hoop, the chief engineer on the Marion, has no idea what they are. Through some chaotic circumstances, he comes to be in charge of the last few people remaining on the Marion. The crews of the Samson and Delilah have been completely killed. The Samson is a bit recoverable and still useful to the plot but the Delilah disappears from the book pretty quick. A distress signal is sent out and picked up. The ship that picked it up is not a rescue ship, but the Narcissus. The Narcissus is the small ship that is currently carrying one passenger: Ellen Ripley, in a stasis pod, the sole survivor of the salvage ship Nostromo. The book quickly turns into a story of survival in space. There are currently 6 people left on the Marion and Ripley. They have to figure out how to escape and get back home to Earth. It gets majorly complicated with several appearances by my favorite outer space critter, the xenomorph. There are a lot of them!!! The crew ends up having to go down into the mines and get their quick easy plans all messed up and complicated. 

That's basically how it goes for the whole book. It is definitely a high energy adventure in outer space. I really enjoyed it and I only have a couple of problems with it. Ripley is very in character and doesn't stray from being the strong heroine audiences have come to love. That's awesome. Most of the characters left over are pretty interesting except for a couple who bite the dust pretty quickly and don't get much development. That's ok, because they were expendable anyhow. Hoop is a good, strong male lead with flaws. The xenomorphs are freakishly creepy and awesome, as they should always be. Those are the positives. I had a couple things that did get on my nerves, so here they are. There are a few typos within the book. Normally I can easily dismiss typos as quick errors and not very consequential, but in a book that is part of such a great franchise, I have a hard time excusing it. I want to be totally immersed in a horrific adventure of survival, not jolted out of the action by random typos. It wouldn't be so bad if there was one or two in the middle, but there is one on the very first page. This bothers me, because then I get the impression that there will be a lot more and I'll start a scavenger hunt that turns out to be pretty disruptive to overall enjoyment. I'm of the opinion that while typos can occur and that its mostly ok, there shouldn't be any typos in the first chapter at all. If it's later in the book I understand that maybe it was overlooked because the author was so into what was happening and got caught up in writing the story. At the beginning, it just feels like the author was being lazy and couldn't bother to look over their work or that the editor didn't do a very good job at looking it over. Beyond that the only other technical issue I had was with the constant spacing between words starting with the letter F. That's distracting. It might just be a printing error, but it happens all throughout the book and it looks weird. Instead of "fired" you get "fi red" or "fi gured" instead of "figured", and the most obnoxious is the combination of the letters FL. Instead of "flung" there is "fl ung". Sometimes this happens 2-5 times on one page. It isn't on every page, but on a very large number of them and it did bother me. It wasn't stylistic or anything and it just looks so sloppy. It's not a huge deal beaker and I won't dock a rating based on those details alone, but it needs to be pointed out because its so blatant an error for publishing to have made and not even bothered to correct before going to make more copies for sale. This is a major turn off for if I'm considering buying a book at full price. If I'm going to pay anything above $5, I want a good quality book! It was probably an accident of some sort though so I'll dismiss it. 

          The parts that cannot be disregarded are when famous movie lines and scenes are used in very ineffective, cheap ways. The movie Aliens has one of the most recognizable lines that is very frequently referenced. I'm sure everyone who has seen the movie remembers and possibly even loves this famous line (warning to Alexandria and anyone else who may be bothered by it, there are 4 curse words in the clip below, but its appropriate to the characters and the situation when its in context: they're marines in space, basically faced with certain death): 
  

Yep. In Aliens we have the "game over" scene. It describes everything that is happening to the characters we are watching. A bunch of colonial marines are at a colony trying to figure out what happened. They want to get in, do the job, and get out. They have huge guns, they've had top level training, they're ready to go.....and then its all taken away in an instant. It's chaotic, the feeling of security is gone and things have gotten really BAD. The line fits and it tells us everything we need to know. It's appropriate to the character who says it. Maybe to Hudson, his job kind of has felt like a game. He is sent on missions, takes a big gun or two, gets it done and lives to tell the tale. This time, he has a moment of realization that it isn't so easy and that he might not make it out this time. The game really is over. This line is used in Out of the Shadows. It might have been a good idea at first, but the execution is horrible. Lebbon tries to insert a fun piece for fans of the franchise, but fails in its delivery. To anyone who isn't familiar with Alien, or doesn't care all that much for the films, this probably isn't a big deal. However, to those of use who have really enjoyed the films and like the characters and how well lines work and love to quote our favorite scenes, this is something that can't be looked over lightly. I won't take down a rating for it individually, but I will take this moment to complain about it because it really felt cheap and needs to be discussed. Nothing really major has even happened in the book yet. There are some people dead, but the real adventure hasn't even begun yet. None of the main characters have entered the serious dangers yet. The characters who say it aren't even the right ones to be saying it. They aren't colonial marines for one thing. For another, how would any of this even feel like a game to them? It certainly isn't the same dynamic as it was in the movie. The character is all wrong. It just completely backfires. I think that Lebbon tried to put in a really neat throwback for fans and he didn't do it at the right moment for it to work. That doesn't make him a bad author, it just makes this particular instance stick out really bad in a negative way. There's also a moment in the book where Ripley takes hold of a weapon and asks one of the crew members how to operate it and says she can handle it or something. Again, another throwback to Aliens, as anyone really familiar with it would recognize as being really similar to her moment with Hicks. He teaches her how to operate a really intense firearm and its a really nice moment in the movie. I think it was also used in this book with the male lead and it just felt redundant to me. I didn't like it at all. I felt like it was another cheap way to toss in a cool moment from the movie that doesn't feel nearly as cool or significant as the original. I'm not an intense Alien fan, but I did really enjoy the movies and the creature is one of my favorite creepy fictional critters ever (ranked up there with the shark from Jaws, the dinosaurs from Jurassic Park and the graboids from Tremors).  The throwbacks used in this book just happened to be two of my favorite scenes from the original films that were used poorly. 

However, there were a couple of references that were used from the movie Prometheus that I think came out rather well! I hadn't watched Prometheus before reading the book, but finally watched it and feel the need to add this in as a positive point. There is the line "It's what I choose to believe." I really liked the way in which that line was used in this book. It was completely fitting. It is a great line for the circumstances under which it occurs. Another thing that I noticed was the use of the medical pod. I didn't know what the med-pod looked like and can't recall it being in the previous Alien(s) movies. However, after watching Prometheus it made a lot of sense and added good depth to the scene where the medpod is used. The application of the med-pod in Out of the Shadows actually made me be a bit more nervous when I was watching Prometheus for the first time because I wasn't at all sure what to expect after what Lebbon did. So some references to Prometheus were included and were well executed. That's a definite plus, considering the Alien(s) ones weren't greatly to my liking. 

The other issues I had were with the characterization and development of various characters: 

1) Sneddon, Kasyanov and their relationship:
 Kasyanov is the ship's doctor and Sneddon is the science officer. They are both women and it is implied that there may be a relationship between them. I'm not saying that in of itself bothers me, I have nothing against having queer characters present in the book, so don't think that (truth be told I'm not much for the subject matter of it, but I won't take off points on a book just cause its there and I wasn't expecting it). My problem came with the fact that it isn't ever said for certain and it isn't applied in a way that is any kind of useful to the plot. If its there, it is there just to....be there. It serves no real purpose. To start with, the author took forever to say what gender Kasyanov is, which is peculiar, and takes even longer to actually mention anything worthwhile about her. Throughout the book she is really just the doctor. Doctors are important but there should have been more to her than just that. Sneddon has a lot more depth to her character, thankfully. There were a lot of tense moments with her and Ripley (not sexual) because Sneddon has a fascination with the xenomorphs that reminds Ripley of the android Ash who was the villain in the original movie. That was a throwback scene which actually worked and that I greatly enjoyed because it made sense and even gave me a sense of ease where my suspicions had been raised. In terms of the relationship between Kasyanov and Sneddon though, there is nothing worthwhile there. There are no moments of anything between them, nothing suggesting that they are really close or anything. There is never a moment of deep feeling or emotion. Quite frankly, if Kasyanov had been a male, I could have seen a huge possibility for an important subplot that would play into the very last quarter of the book. The tension and stakes would have been higher and much more devastating if things went wrong. I would have thought even just showing that the two women were super close friends would have added more. There is nothing. It is said but never shown. There is no development and that makes mentioning a relationship a complete waste of time. That annoyed me. Even if I'm not really into queer character relationships, at least make it be relevant if you're going to have it present or even suggest it. Otherwise, don't waste words and time that could be used reading about the xenomorphs tearing things apart. 

2) Lachance, the pilot and a Frenchman: 
He is mentioned several times as the Frenchman. That's all good and fine. He rarely ever speaks a word of French though. That isn't the problem I had. The problem I had came near the end of the book. There is a scene where he is talking to some of the other characters and he says, "pardon my French" and then drops the f-bomb. Sorry, but I don't think a real French person would say that. They would just cuss and be done with it. French to them really is French, THE LANGUAGE. I'm sure he could tell that saying f---ing anything is really not french at all. I have a hard time accepting that this particular character would say that phrase in the way that he did. Even if he wasn't a Frenchman, his character just wouldn't say that. He's been in space for a long time, he's a pilot, and I'm pretty certain that he cussed without any problem in earlier instances in the book. He is with the same 6 people throughout the book, so why would he suddenly change his way of talking or being at that one point? It threw me off quite a bit. I also think it would've made more sense to make him cuss or say random commonly used French words or phrases. Then it would make sense that he was a Frenchman. I can't remember him having said any french at all. I'm sure I would have caught it and marked it as a characteristic specific to him. Why bother referring to him as a Frenchman and not have him use any French and go so far as to make him say that weird phrase? If anything, just make him a regular guy with no associated nationality. That'd be much easier and fitting for this particular character. 

I really enjoyed the book, but there were a lot of things I just got really fed up with. I kept becoming distanced from the characters and having to force myself to get back into the action. I kept noticing all these little strange things that made no sense and they continuously bothered me. The main issue is just the fact that things are done or said that are out of character or that have no relevance whatsoever. I loved the action sequences and everything that had to do with all the aliens. The xenomorphs were depicted as being very intelligent and I liked the way that Lebbon incorporated Ash into the story and made him an important part of why things are happening like they are. Pretty much everything is explained and wrapped up. I think that while it was fun, it was not the best book ever and the characters aren't as good as they could have been. Therefore, I have to give Alien: Out of the Shadows a 3. I probably won't ever read over again, and I'm not very likely to purchase it at full price. If I ran across it at a second hand sale I would pick it up just because its Alien related and I really do like the cover. Can we just take a moment to appreciate that xenomorph on the cover? I mean, wow, its awesome. It looks so cool and freaky at the same time. 

This is the first book in a new Alien based trilogy published by Titan Books. The next one comes out in July of this year and it is written by a different author. The final book comes out months after and is also by an author that is different from the first two. This should add some interesting flavor to the adventures to come. I liked Lebbon's style for the most part, but for some reason he just couldn't hit a home run for me with this book. He isn't a bad author, but he did have a really high expectation that a few of his characters dragged him down from hitting. Hoop and Ripley were spot on. I loved them greatly and I can't wait to see what direction the other two books go in. The ending did leave me curious and I'm super frustrated that I can't just have the next book already.

This concludes my review of this book, come back next week for another book review. Leave comments telling me if you've read this book or if you want to. I'd love to hear about any thoughts you had on the original movies and the xenomorphs. If anyone would like for me to write a review for any of the movies or anything else at all, don't hesitate to say so!! Thanks for reading!

No comments:

Post a Comment