Review: Alien

Alien (Alien, #1)Alien
by Alan Dean Foster

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Alien (Film Novelization) / 0-446-82977-3

The film novelization of "Alien" is pleasantly well-written from a technical standpoint; the book possesses correct spelling, grammar, and punctuation, which cannot always be said for film novelizations. The characters are largely true to their counterparts in the movie, and both the expanded dialogue and the internal thoughts of the crew have a ring of the genuine to them.

This novelization was apparently based on an extremely early transcript of the screenplay and there are several noticeable differences between the film and the book, which is slightly disappointing if you read film novelizations as a companion to flesh out the film more fully. Most notably, the dead alien with the chest-burst rib cage is missing - a very jarring omission which had me flipping back and forth, wondering where it had got to - and a great deal of the final plot with Ash's betrayal is different, with Ash deliberately and openly interceding to save the alien from being shot out an airlock.

Even considering the omissions, there is a great deal here for fans of the movie to enjoy. The alien facehugger is described very nicely, with frequent allusions to its 'skeletal hand' appearance. (The final form of the alien is described almost not at all, however, presumably due to vagueness in the written screenplay.) The internal thoughts of the crew are fleshed out nicely, with a particular emphasis on Ripley of course, but with flourishes that greatly humanize Dallas and Parker in particular. There is foreshadowing of Kane's ultimate demise, with a mysterious black 'blotch' on the medical scanner over Kane's lungs, and Ash explains how the Company had known that the alien was there (having picked up and translated the warning via long-range scans), and had substituted Ash for the previous science officer right before the Nostromo's regularly scheduled trip, in the hopes that they would pick up an alien and 'accidentally' bring it back to Earth, bypassing the questions and quarantines that a direct mission would have generated. There is also a very nice included scene that was eventually (and in my opinion, unfortunately) cut from the film, where Ripley discovers a cocooned Brett and Dallas, and is forced to euthanize her former friend.

The most disappointing aspect of this book, however, is that the pacing is excessively slow and dull, particularly in the beginning. Even the first few pages crawl painfully, as Foster "introduces" each cryo-sleeping crew member by describing their dreams and discussing whether they would be candidates for 'professional dreamers' and whether their dreams are restless or ordered, pleasant or painful, hazy or distinct. The writing style is what I would deem 'experimental' and I think it might have even worked well if Foster had felt comfortable including more physical detail, but since he was trying to match a movie that apparently hadn't finished yet, details like the appearance of the crew, the ship, the planet, and the alien are kept to a minimum, leaving only the heavy speculative prose.

If you're a die-hard fan of the series, this book is worth checking out, but just factor in the slow-pacing and don't expect too much. For what it is worth, I am now reading Foster's sequel "Aliens", and so far the author seems to have corrected all the writing 'mistakes' in "Alien", indicating either growth on the part of the author, or a more complete screenplay source, or both. So if there's a chance that you might read the entire series of alien film novelizations, I recommend starting with this one and just remembering that they get better.

~ Ana Mardoll

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