H.P. Lovecraft is quoted as saying, “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” The year was 1979, and I can remember watching the opening credits as the word A L I E N was slowly revealed in the very dark cinema house auditorium. Just arriving into my teenage years, Ridley Scott’s Alien was a disturbing viewing experience where I oscillated between sitting on the edge of my seat to hunkering back into the chair in almost a fetal position with my eyes covered. In intervals, my heart raced at all the right story beats – little did I understand at the time, but I was witnessing the birth of modern “space horror” by the film that would forever change the landscape of horror in space.
In the intervening years, audiences have been entertained (mostly) by the Alien franchise that has included several films, comics, video games, and books filled with Xenomorphs, face huggers, chestbursters, Alien Queens, marines, and artificial intelligent beings, I am impressed that there is still plenty of creative real estate in which to write tense-filled Alien stories. And more importantly, that I can still feel that same fright I felt all those years ago. Writer Jonathan Maberry, who is known for his Joe Ledger and VWars series of books, as well as a number of crossover comic book titles, has edited a collection of 18 stories featuring the familiar franchise suspects, as well as a few new species that are just as deadly and have no hesitation in adding to the body count. In all of the stories, there was the requisite tension, suspense, blood, and gore that one has come to expect with the Alien stories – easily qualifying on my list of scary content with a big bite.
Three stories stood out. The first is Yvonne Navarro’s “Reclamation” which recounts Corporal Dwayne Hicks' (Michael Biehn in James Cameron’s 1986 Aliens) experience against the aliens when his mission takes him to the same moon that years before had claimed his wife’s life. As Maberry described in his introduction, not all of the stories were canon, and this is likely the case with this story. Navarro’s description of the squad exploring the wreck of the USS Paradox was riveting and set the hairs on my neck on end – of course, I could not stop reading!
“Dark Mother” written by David Farland is one of two stories that takes on a different perspective. In this case, readers get inside the head of company man Carter Burke (Paul Reiser) who was not above reproach in trying to smuggle a couple of aliens back to Weyland-Yutani Corporation in Aliens. In the film, we assume that Burke gets outfitted with an additional hole to his head; however, Farland describes how karma has a nasty way of delivering a heavy dose of payback. Where Burke failed with Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) and Newt (Carrie Henn), in Farland’s account, the aliens score one against the bad guy.
Of all the stories, my favorite by far was Scott Sigler's "Dangerous Prey," and he took a decidedly different narrative voice for his story. He took the POV of the aliens, exploring their colony structure and their life cycle; as a result, it was an exceptional story. I think it is because we haven't gotten into the head of the alien before (not counting the video games where you can play a Xenomorph). Unlike all of the other stories, Sigler's story gave me pause to re-assess the films and the comic book stories I have seen and read before, thinking about the aliens' motivations for their actions.
I have come a long way from that darkened movie house having watched Alien and all of the films in the franchise a number of times, but I can say that the fear that H.R. Giger and Ridley Scott’s Alien evoke has not subsided. My heart still quickens at the sight of that slick, slender, elongated head and the wicked jointed tail – waiting… watching… preying….