BOOK REVIEW: Alien Covenant by Alan Dean Foster

Back when I was a kid, I loved movie novelizations.

They used to come out before the movies were released so the novelization was like an advance screening, if you like. I picked up a lot of them over the years— Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade, Licence to Kill, Alien 3 etc. And what I really liked about them, particularly Alien 3 by Alan Dean Foster, was how you were often given something extra, something that was absent from the movies— a cut scene here or there, some clues as to what a character might have been thinking, what motivated them to do whatever it was they did. In that sense, then, the novelization was like the director’s cut of the movie and, for me at least, often a better way to experience the story.

I haven’t seen Alien: Covenant yet. I guess I’m waiting for the DVD release, figuring it’s one I’d prefer to experience in the comfort of my own home as opposed to on the big screen. Maybe I’m just getting old or maybe it’s the fact that a visit to the cinema these days would set you back more than I would happily pay (yep, definitely getting old!). That said, I feel like I’ve seen the movie because I’ve read the novelization: written by the always on-form Alan Dean Foster, it’s like the damn thing was playing in my head.

So what was it like?

First of all, I think it’s important to say that this story is not a direct sequel to the Alien series. What I mean by that is that it doesn’t come after Alien Resurrection, either chronologically or thematically — it’s a very different beast to that. No, this movie is a direct sequel to Ridley Scott’s Prometheus which is something of an origin story to Scott’s very first movie within this world, 1979’s Alien. In that sense, then, Alien: Covenant continues this prequel series, not only making reference to the characters of Prometheus but actually picking up on their storyline.

The story is set ten years after the events of Prometheus. We follow the crew of a new ship, Covenant, sent by the ever-sinister Company (aka Weyland-Yutani) to colonise a distant world. The crew themselves are comprised of couples, each with their own skillsets: our principal heroine, Daniels — a character perhaps a little too similar to Ellen Ripley for comfort — is in charge of terraforming, for example. After being woken rather abruptly from hypersleep — a scene that, at least in the book, played out very effectively — they find themselves close to a different planet to the one they were originally destined for, and collectively decide to at least visit it. This, of course, turns out to be a mistake.

To take the story much further than this would be quite spoilerific and I want to avoid that in this review. For me, a lot of this story’s punch lies in going in with fresh eyes and no expectations at all. Safe to say, the xenomorphs make an appearance, at first on the planet, and then later within the ship. In some ways, then, you could be forgiven for thinking that this story is a retread of some of the earlier movies within the series — Scott’s original movie as well as James Cameron’s Aliens and even the less popular Alien 3— and that would be true, particularly with regards to the action scenes. But what that doesn’t account for is the fact that there isn’t a lot of action in this story per se — at least not within the book. It’s much more of a philosophical piece, and, in that sense, I feel, borrows just as much, thematically, from Scott’s Blade Runner as it does from the Alien franchise.

I enjoyed this book and very much look forward to the movie. For me, it is a wonderful enrichment of the Alien universe, addressing many of the questions fans have been pondering for years as well as introducing a few new ones. For the casual reader/ viewer, the pace might prove a little on the slow side, the action scenes — and even many of the characters within them — bringing little new or fresh to the table. But for me, this is a worthy addition to the series and a great bridge between the world of Prometheus and the world of Alien.

More info on this book and other titles within the Alien series is available from the Titan Books website.