Alien by Alan Dean Foster

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've loved the concept of Alien ever since I first watched the film in the early 80s, the jaw of every family member dropping open at the chestburster scene - before we hit rewind to watch it again. I approve of any work that is coherent, where the form fits the theme. And in the original there is that first feeling of awe at something completely alien to us, a feeling lost in the sequels which - even though some are still good films - increasingly see the Alien become a scary but known quantity. It is no longer alien.

Despite having seen the film many times, reading this novelization based on an early script let me experience elements of it as if for the first time, because there are subtle changes from the film I know: extra characterizations, a different pace, altered details. We can never experience anything again for the first time, but this captured a hint of that feeling of discovery.

These are some of the changes I noticed between the novel and the film. The differences below apply to the novel.

- In hypersleep the humans are naked and surrounded by a kind of amniotic fluid.
- There is no Space Jockey on the derelict craft.
- The face hugger has an eye and suckers.
- The facehugger is cut in a different place as they try to take it off Kane's face.
- Kane is not held down when the chestburster erupts.
- Dallas confronts Ash.
- There is a scene where the remains of Brett and Dallas are discovered - a scene removed from the film, but which suggests a totally different life cycle from the one eventually adopted in Aliens and later lore.
- Details of the ending in the shuttle are changed.

The writing takes a bit of getting used to. It flips between perspectives, even including Jones the cat's viewpoint. There is never a section break when the action jumps between perspectives or locations or time, which can be jarring. It should also be pointed out that the adult Alien is never described in much detail, probably due to a vagueness in the script. It is also the reason why there are not many physical descriptions for characters.

The version I have is the 'Illustrated Edition'. It contains some colour prints from the film, captioned to tell a brief version of the story. But it gives away the fact that this novel was being put together at the same time as the film was being shot, since whoever did the captions got mixed up about what some of the pictures portrayed, probably having not yet seen the film. The pictures show them exploring the alien spaceship, but one of the photos is actually the base of the humans' own craft, the Nostromo; whereas the final picture which purports to show the crew searching the Nostromo actually shows them inside the derelict craft. Evidence that this book is from back then, 1979, when most of the world had yet to experience a being so... alien.

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