Book Review: ALIEN: OUT OF THE SHADOWS by Tim Lebbon

The deep-ore mining vessel, Marion, is in orbit above the inhospitable planet LV178 from which the Kelland Mining Company is extracting precious trimonite. During a shift change, the Marion’s crew of 10 are concerned by the lack of contact with the remaining 40 crewmembers on the surface. They soon discover what’s happened to them when one of the dropships collides with the Marion and a second automatically docks. And the crew of the Marion has received a distress call from one ship and seen the CCTV footage of the crew being destroyed by chest-bursting xenomorphs.

Later, the Marion picks up a distress signal from the escape pod, Narcissus (from the Nostromo mining vessel which featured in the first Alien film). Aboard in hypersleep is Ellen Ripley, who has been drifting for 37 years. Ripley’s revival and rescue by the crew inadvertently creates a second problem – the AI Ash from the Alien film has inserted itself into the Narcissus’s computers to complete its mission to bring back a xenomorph to the Wayland-Yutani Corporation back on earth, and now it has infiltrated the Marion’s computers.

The ship that has docked on autopilot has four aliens on board. Not only that but the question arises as to whether the Marion can be repaired to take the crew back home. There are additional fuel cells and spare parts down in the mines on the planet, so the crew has no option but to make the descent — to a place filled with alien eggs and swarming with their protective adult parents.

Alien: Out of the Shadows is written from two points of view: those of the Marion’s engineer, Chris “Hoop” Hooper and Ellen Ripley. The rest of the cast comprise ship’s captain Lucy Jordan (a tribute to the Marianne Faithful song, perhaps?), communications officer, Josh Baxter, pilot Lachance, science officer Karen Sneddon, medical personnel Garcia and Kasyanov, security officer Cornell and team members Welford and Powell.

One of the great things about Alien: Out of the Shadows, apart from the terrific non-stop action, is the characterization and the playing out of the theme of parents and children. There is an irony in the fact that the aliens will go to any lengths to protect their offspring, while Ripley and Hoop left their own children back on Earth years ago. Ripley is plagued by terrifying visions of her daughter, Amanda, being continually ripped apart by the alien birthing process, while Hooper is preoccupied with guilt over his two sons. The two of them discuss their respective families, and their feelings are summed up in a sentence: “They were both cursed by distance and time, and the staggering loneliness both could instill in a person.”

I was excited to read a Tim Lebbon addition to the Alien canon. I’ve been a fan for years, ever since reading his amazingly scary novelette, White, in The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror and his revelatory and truly original fantasy duology, Dusk and Dawn .

While Lebbon isn’t called upon to exercise the full richness of his prose and imagination in this novel, the skill he brings to bear on blockbuster material is second-to-none. I am not a particular fan of pure action, but Lebbon demonstrates that such material can be handled in a way that’s not only gripping, but also extremely classy at the same time.

This is the first novel in a projected trilogy, though it works perfectly as a standalone. However, once you’ve finished it you’re sure to want to read the sequels.

John Dodds Article by John Dodds

John Dodds is the author of The Kendrick Chronicles crime novels (Bone Machines and Kali’s Kiss ) and is currently completing the third novel in the series, Babylon Slide. Under a pseudonym, JT Macleod, has written a collection of historical/paranormal/erotic/romance stories called Warriors and Wenches, as well as the first novel in YA steampunk superhero series which he is shopping around agents. You can hear some of his short stories on podcasts such as Tales to Terrify, Starship Sofa and others. John also blogs for Amazing Stories Magazine.

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