Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Alien: Out of the Shadows, by Tim Lebbon and Dirk Maggs (Audible Originals) | review by Stephen Theaker

This full cast audio interquel places itself between two of the greatest science fiction films of all time, Alien and Aliens. That takes a good deal of ambition, but, then, it is adapted from Tim Lebbon’s novel by Dirk Maggs, whose CV, taking in everyone from Superman to Arthur Dent, shows he is not afraid of a challenge. We join Ellen Ripley (played here by Laurel Lefkow), sole human survivor of the Nostromo, as she records a message for her daughter and settles down for hypersleep. What she, and we, didn’t realise at the end of Alien was that murderous company android Ash had uploaded his consciousness to the escape pod’s computer. He hasn’t given up on his mission, and what’s worse he now sounds just like Rutger Hauer, having scraped together a new voice from what’s available in the computer system. He changes their course, taking them to LV178, a mining planet where he suspects the alien xenomorphs might be found. And he’s right. The miners disturbed something on that planet, and now, like Dracula coming to Whitby, it’s on its way up to the orbiting Marion in a shuttle. Chief engineer Chris Hooper (played by Corey Johnson) and the other surviving miners will need the help of Ripley if any of them are to survive, but the presence of Ash is just going to make things worse.

As well as the films, there have been a lot of good Aliens comics and games, and this adaptation shows how extremely well suited they are to the audio medium too, despite being fairly quiet, as monsters go. Characters talk over comms as they explore locations where the aliens might be lurking, and of course comms cut out as the aliens attack, creating a tension reminiscent of Journey into Space at its most frightening. The plot gives the characters some very difficult decisions to make, so the conversations never feel redundant. The record entries of the disembodied Ash are used cleverly to make sure listeners know exactly what’s going on in each of the ten chapters. (The Audible app’s new clips feature helps with this too.) One problem listeners may have is that a lot of what Ripley sees in this story seems to come as a surprise to her in the second film. Are we supposed to think that she kept that essential information from the colonial marines? Or is this a new timeline, branching off before Aliens? The story does answer these questions by the end, but not really in a way that’ll have anyone cheering. Nevertheless, this is a good, solid four-and-a-half-hour alien adventure that sounds terrific. It should satisfy anyone with a hankering for more of the galaxy’s second meanest bipeds. ***

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