Welcome to Written in BLOOD! This monthly series will take a look at the long-lost novelizations of some of horror’s finest films! Sometimes these novelizations stay very true to the final product, and sometimes they go completely and absolutely bonkers! Either way, we will examine the details and the subplots written in these books that add to the stories we already know and love.
There wasn’t much to do in the tiny village I grew up in. You could either go get a pop out of the vending machine by the grain mill, throw rocks at Art’s old abandoned house, or go to the miniature one-room library. This small building, which looked like it was on the verge of falling over at all times, was where I fell in love with Alien.
“In this iteration, the face-huggers had a gigantic eye on their backs, and the xenomorphs were much more beast-like”
Not only is this library where I checked-out a VHS copy of the film for a first-time watch, but it’s also where I found Alan Dean Foster’s novelization. It was on one of those rickety spinners that also served as the final resting place of all mass-market romances. Before finding this novel sandwiched between books about shirtless Dukes and Highlanders taking wives, I had already found the small corner of “spooky” books the library offered.
This small corner, at the bottom-right of the back shelf near the cast-iron floor register, was heaven to me. Books about Bigfoot, Nessie, ghosties, poltergeists and most importantly, Aliens were always available for me to read at the little two-seat table. When I picked up Foster’s novel, I was shocked at how incredibly terrifying it was, but I was also a little disappointed. Here’s why:
In Ridley Scott’s Alien, the crew of the interstellar tug Nostromo are directed to investigate a potential distress call in the Zeta2 Reticuli system. After landing the ship on the surface, three crew members go on a mission to discover the source of the intercepted SOS. The ship’s captain, Dallas, his executive officer Kane, and the crew’s navigator, Lambert, find that the call is coming from a downed craaft.
The ship is a monstrosity. It’s gigantic, menacing, and almost organic-looking. It was like a tumor; a cancerous entity that hastily grew out of the rocks. When they enter the craft, they come upon the most interesting part of the entire series for a young man from Gilson, IL: The Space Jockey.
“…questions rang through my mind after my first viewing [of Alien], and it was why I couldn’t wait to dig into the novelization.”
This being never had an “official” name in Alien, but it has since been crowned with several different monikers. Its designer, H.R. Giger called it “The Pilot”, and James Cameron called it “The Big Dental Patient”. We learn in 2012’s Prometheus that this being is from a species of extraterrestrials responsible for the development of life on Earth. Elizabeth Shaw and her doomed boo Charlie call them “The Engineers”.
No matter what you want to call them, seeing this long-dead being filled me with a sense of wonder. Watching as the three members of the Nostromo have to climb its chair like a jungle gym was mind-blowing. It made me want more. It made me need more from this universe. What happened to it? What’s with the giant hole in its chest? Was it carrying these eggs mon board, or did they arrive after its death? These questions rang through my mind after my first viewing, and it was why I couldn’t wait to dig into the novelization. Unfortunately, this version of the story does not contain any reference to a pilot being found on the derelict ship.
There are several small differences between Foster’s book and Scott’s final film. This is because, like most other novelizations, this one was based off of an earlier draft of the script. In this iteration, the face-huggers had a gigantic eye on their backs, and the xenomorphs were much more beast-like (the original name of the script was Space Beast which is, admittedly, a pretty kick-ass name and what I will call myself from now on). It had visible eyes on the front of its head, and it also did not have that infamous set of secondary jaws. This means that it killed each crew member with its bare hands, which is still pretty cool. It was a little clumsier, a little less assassin-like, and a little less intimidating.
When the three crewmembers arrive at the derelict ship in the book, they enter through what look like airlocks and find themselves in a gigantic room. There’s almost nothing in this cavern, except for dunes of dust and gritty sand. The only things they recognize are a set of instruments on the back wall (this is what is sending out the signal), and a vase-like container on the floor (hello, Prometheus/Covenant). They also discover a hole in the floor and send Kane down there to check it out.
“…an absolute must-read for all horror fans, and the world is a better place because it exists.”
You know the rest. He comes across the eggs and gets face-hugged real good. This is the extent of the information we are given about the ship. They were going for a more straight-forward slasher/monster vibe with this original draft. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still an amazing way to tell the story, but this makes a world of difference when you think about the Xenomorph itself.
In the book’s version of the alien, it’s could merely be a native creature that killed the original pilots of the ship. In the film, the idea that they are a weapon purposely brought on board that got loose is too delicious. It adds a whole new layer of meaning to the film, one where our military-industrial complex and our desire for all-destroying nuclear weapons could turn against us and destroy its master.
This was Scott’s thought from the beginning, and he was able to bring it to fruition with his two later films. The Engineers create life in the universe, and if it is not developing in a way that will advance life elsewhere, they use the black pathogen in the vases to eradicate it and start over. In Alien’s DVD commentary, Scott states that the ship was an “aircraft carrier or battlewagon of a civilization, and the eggs were a cargo which were essentially weapons. Like a large form of bacterialogical/biomechanoid warfare”.
Maybe it’s just my specific brand of Nessie-loving, alien chasing insanity, but the Engineers are what made the Alien franchise possible. It created the desire in the audience to know more. This novelization is beautifully written, terrifying, and holds a few more secrets inside that I didn’t want spoil here, but ultimately, it didn’t contain my favorite aspect of Scott’s film. But, that’s the beauty of novelizations. They are a snapshot of a creative in the middle of their process. This one is an absolute must-read for all horror fans, and the world is a better place because it exists.
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