TracingTheStars.com received an Advanced Review Copy from the publisher, seeking an honest review.
Well here it is, and I think all science fiction and Alien franchise fans will be pleased. I know I was excited when the publisher contacted me, seeking out a review. This is an official / canon novel that is set between movie 1, Alien, and movie 2, Aliens. It explores what happened to Ellen Ripley while she drifted in space and how she ended up where she did at the beginning of movie 2.
I don't normally accept review requests from non-indi publishers/authors. I try to stay away from mainstream for a few reasons, but I just couldn't pass this up. As an Alien fan, I knew I was going to either hate it or love it. I was afraid to be disappointed with a story stuck in between two existing movies, that Lebbon would try and change Ripley from the character I love, or that this would be some sort of off-shoot series reboot that takes the timeline somewhere out of canon. I knew Lebbon would have to thoroughly impress me to get high marks.
On the very first page, Lebbon issued his own challenge to Alien and hard-core sci-fi fans by quoting Carl Sagan:
'The universe seems neither benign nor hostile, merely indifferent.'
To quote Sagan before you even begin telling your story is like saying "I am about to blow your mind, so hold onto your butt because the kid-gloves are coming off". It's a risky move if you fail to follow it up and show that you've got the literary SpaceBalls to back up your gusto. By page four, I knew Lebbon wasn't bluffing.
The book starts off in an unexpected way - by introducing a whole new cast of characters. This almost made me groan a bit, as it felt like the main character of the book was not going to be Ripley, but instead this new guy named Eric Hooper. I immediately jumped the gun and thought "Oy, self-insertion fanfic?..." Sorry, Lebbon, but I've read a few too many books that are obvious fanboys who land a franchise novel contract then proceed to insert themselves and their fantasies all over the blasted place. Sorry, and thank you for not doing that.
This is merely the set up, introducing these characters so that Ripley has something of substance to arrive into when her sleep pod (yes, the Narcissus that was launched into space at the end of movie 1) is picked up by Hooper's mining freighter. Lebbon also takes no time in getting right down to the nitty-gritty, the action and the aliens. Mining ship, mining colony, minors digging into deep tunnels.... Yeah, you see where that's going. True to Alien franchise horror, it doesn't take long for the first character to die.
This is another area where Lebbon excels. It's an Alien novel - people are going to die. Even if you've never seen the movies, you know what they involve and how they end. Saying that most of the characters die is in no way a spoiler. Lebbon, however, makes it impossible to guess which characters are going to die and/or when.
The first one came as a shock. The next ones - shocked. The next ones - shocked and horrified.
Lebbon gets you to connect to the characters before they meet their expected, eventual demise. You root for them, hopeful until the very last page that everyone (remaining) will be okay. Lebbon doesn't allow any flat characters to exists that other books would, letting you say AH! I knew he was going to kick the bucket! There are no red-shirts in this book!
Enter Ripley, into madness. Ripley is yanked out of deep sleep and thrown into her worst nightmare. She even refuses to believe it's real at first. But, you might say, why is she there? How coincidental is it that she just happened to be floating around in space and end up in the one place and on the the one ship that is having encounters with Aliens?
I'm not going to tell you, but it's an excellent reason and plot twist that Lebbon devised. Kudos and applause. It made me grin.
Lastly, I'm going to talk about style. I'm not actually a horror fan. *Gasp* There, I said it. What draws me into Aliens is the characters, the setting, the science fiction, the lore and the style. I wasn't sure how well the style of the movies would transfer into the written word. I know there are other Alien books, but this is the first one I've read. I can easily say that I will be looking to pick up anything else Lebbon has written or writes in the future.
Lebbon mixes wonderful, introspective prose with great dialogue, easy to follow action and world building that will have your imagination submerged deep in the thick of the story. The book flows from page to page seamlessly with excellent pacing, zero info dumping and just enough lucid, figurative language to give the story life.
This book is a highly recommended read, and I have to thank the publisher for contacting me and introducing me to the work of Tim Lebbon.