Alien Covenant (2017) Novelization Review – Alan Dean Foster

Title: Alien Covenant Based on: Alien Covenant (2017) – sequel to Prometheus (2012) Genre: Sci-Fi_Horror_Space-Adventure Release Date: May 23rd, 2017 Author: Alan Dean Foster Plot Summary: Ridley Scott returns to the universe he created, with Alien: Covenant, a new chapter in his groundbreaking Alien adventure. The crew of the colony ship Covenant, bound for a remote […]

Title: Alien Covenant

Based on: Alien Covenant (2017) – sequel to Prometheus (2012)

Genre: Sci-Fi_Horror_Space-Adventure

Release Date: May 23rd, 2017

Author: Alan Dean Foster

Plot Summary:

Ridley Scott returns to the universe he created, with Alien: Covenant, a new chapter in his groundbreaking Alien adventure. The crew of the colony ship Covenant, bound for a remote planet on the far side of the galaxy, discovers what they think is an uncharted paradise. But it is actually a dark, dangerous world.

When they uncover a threat beyond their imaginations, they must attempts a harrowing escape.

Official Novelization cover

Renowned sci-fi writer Alan Dean Foster returns for his 4th involvement in the Alien franchise, having previously adapted Alien, Aliens, & Alien 3 into book form. If you’re unfamiliar with the name, he’s essentially the Tom Brady of Novelization writers. Foster was the ghostwriter of the  Star Wars (1977) novelization, even though it was originally credited to George Lucas as a writer,. Due partially to the film’s massive bonanza in popularity, this established him as the premiere writer for movie tie-ins. The next decade saw Novelizations ride the crest of its prime, as most major releases received a movie tie-in book. In those digitally extinct dark ages of the pre-internet era, Cinema magazines, Comics, and Novelizations were the few outlets available to experience the story outside of the movie.

Four decades later in 2017, the once flamboyant flame of novelizations are now a mere dying ember. Still, Foster remains the perennial king of them. He recently adapted The Force Awakens (2015), as well as JJ Abrams’ other Sci-fi blockbusters Star TrekStar Trek Into Darkness. In a podcast interview after the release of Alien Covenant, Foster specified how, like David Fincher, his work invested in Alien 3 was heavily interfered with by publishers and FOX executives. Foster also admitted he only returned to the Alien franchise after setting some preventative stipulations with FOX. Lacking a mere description of the Alien back during the first novelization, this time around he was given access to the film’s photos: sets, suits, devices, neomorph art. etc.

Ridley Scott’s sequel to Prometheus (2012) was released in May 2017 to mostly negative reviews and an unexpectedly low box-office haul–$238 million on a $97 million dollar budget. Instead of the franchise following the direct path that Prometheus set forth, it seemed to deviate more in canon than what fans had anticipated. Themes of human creationism weren’t explained, while a robot’s god-complex stole the show. There’s only a fabled report of the existence of a Prometheus novelization released in Japan back in 2012. As an eager fan, I even have illusory recollections of spotting a pricey copy of it for roughly $90 on Ebay back when.  Since then, i’ve yet to track this mythical relic down. In September 2014, with a movie sequel still slow in-development, Dark Horse released a Comic Book sequel titled Fire and Stone which features a rescue crew sent to LV-223 where they are menaced by violent aliens and a merciless Engineer.

I’ve now seen Alien Covenant once in theaters and once upon its blu-ray release. With the novelization complete, It’s finally time to dissect the slimy minutiae of Book vs. Film.

Opening Scene – Like in the movie, David’s mental faculties spring to life on an exquisite panorama among an ornate room filled with majestic art. Inner exposition is given mostly from David’s perspective of new found life. Peter Weyland introduces himself as David’s Father, which David argues the semantics of that phrase’s literal meaning. Weyland’s irritation of David’s contentious retort is clearly noted in the book but is only subtly conveyed in the film.  David’s mental index informs him of Weyland’s accomplishments–born October 1st, 1990 and knighted in 2016 at the age of 26. After telling him to pick a name, the android spots Michelangelo’s statue of David, noted to be a creative copy of the original. The name David seems fitting, and easily memorable as the android reaches out to touch its hand, calling it “cold & beautiful.” Weyland tests his creation’s other movements, including its Piano skills. But it’s Weyland’s declaration about the two of them finding an answer to who is mankind’s creator that incurs David’s jaundiced thoughts of contempt for humans. He assesses that Weyland, no matter how accomplished and sophisticated, is only human and therefore inferior to him. For now he acquiesces to serve him, knowing HIS time to dominate will inevitably come.

The book then shifts to our crew on the Covenant. From the very opening paragraph of the original Alien (1979) novelization, Foster has had a propensity for exploring the dream experiences of the characters while in stasis pods. Daniels’ dream is more of a vivid memory of the time Jacob (James Franco) showed her a digital diagram of the cabin they planned to build. Earth time during Alien Covenant’s events is 2104, a full decade after the mysterious disappearance of Prometheus. The couple live in a populated city that’s being assailed by snowfall. It isn’t described as a ‘dystopia’ as some fans have speculated. In fact, according to the narrative, interstellar colonization missions were ordinary for the time. Later on, Walter claims the earth is now a global government, free of territories and countries.

The guardian android of the ship Walter makes his monitoring rounds, even checking up on the herbal garden of cannabis. At one point he offers a joint to Daniels as an aide of comfort. In the book, the Mother computer converses with David from time to time. These engagements are a tad more elaborate than in the film.

Differences I witness most in these novelizations are the scientific jargon, or technical factoids expunged from dialogue. Therefore, you usually get more layers and depth in these adaptations. If you consider yourself a fanboy of the Alien franchise, then at least make listening to the audio-book essential to your indulgence.  Alan Dean Foster always does his research thoroughly and has an excalibur quality of prose. His analogies and figurative aspects are his weaknesses, but he still provides exemplary grammar technique. A rich knowledge of history and science always shines through in his writing. We’re truly blessed to have this guy rendering his talents to such beloved franchises as Alien, Star Wars, Terminator, Transformers, Clash of the Titans, The Thing.

After the ‘Atypical energy burst consisting of heavy particle matter.’  collision, Jacob awakes with a Franco smile before his pod swirls with hot vapor. ADF contrives this risible analogy: ‘like a torch tossed on combustible material‘, making me break into a Franco-esque smile as he dies. Soon after, Daniels starts fondling things evocative to Jacob–including an antediluvian record player. Perhaps it was just hyperbole, or perhaps it was that erstwhile style of devil music on vinyl that provoked the great flood.

After Captain Branson’s body is jettisoned out into space Spock-style, Daniels muses on how much admiration the crew had for their deceased Captain Jacob. She wishes Walter was promoted to Captain but knows Synthetics were designed only to serve. On cue, Walter shows up to commiserate with Daniels, offering up some droll humor and that joint i was mentioning. He encourages Daniels to examine the damage of the Terra-forming equipment.  Assisting Daniels, he urges her to still build the Cabin, saying Jacob wanted to build the cabin as an homage to colonists. This aspect of the cabin being considered the universal home of a historical colonist is left as a tiny connotation in the film. Katherine contemplates how they have scant information about Origae-6, ignorant to whether trees even exist on the planet.

Mother exposition is given. The sophisticated computer system has knowledge on all the aspects of the Covenant. There’s also psychological profiles on all crew members stored in it–predesignated preferences, tendencies, flaws, skills. Being more commodious, it surmounts any mobile androids intelligence. As smart as Walter is, he still seeks info from Mother. It’s one nuance to the film that’s entirely overlooked by Alien enthusiasts, for it’s Mother who detects the transmission. What’s its programmed agenda by the Weyland Corporation? With this personal info, any form of manipulation can be attained by it. Mother transmits the signal of blue pixels into the contour of a woman, accompanied by the John Denver tune. Tennessee mentions how Denver was an environmentalist, an obsolete crusade in their time because saving the environment is deemed ‘fruitless’.

The signal comes from an uncharted world situated in the habitable zone of a five planet orbit around a singular sun. Because the system lies in a sector of obscurity, it has gone unnoticed by any former space colonists. Hence the solar flare disaster going undetected. The preliminary planet readings are assessed: no polar or equatorial distortion, liquid water oceans, scattered land mass, with a high biosphere likelihood. 

Image result for alien covenant photos

Oram, the newly appointed captain, elects to investigate the planet because it’s an ‘oddity’, it’s 7 years closer than Origae-6, and because it’s ‘on the way’. No Machiavellian corporate stipulations seems to influence this decision of his. It’s the mystery and hope of salvation that compels him. As a retort to Daniels’ objection, Oram says it’s because her “science team”  never saw the planet, let alone the system. A blatant thrash at her ego.

Two moons orbit the uncharted planet with a bluish sun hovering nearby. Farris (Tennessee’s wife) compares the atmosphere to that of Jupiter rather than Earth. Upon descending, further analysis shows the planet to have many lakes, rivers, valleys, and forests. The tides roll in early due to the dual moons. Pine, Fir, and massive sequoias identical to earth’s trees are spotted by the crew.

Before disembarking on the planet, Walter’s aerial readings detect clean air with no pathogens down to a molecular level. This was a major flaw in the film that was corrected and explained by ADF. The wreckage of a spacecraft is discovered. It’s the craft flown by David and Elizabeth Shaw from the end of Prometheus. In an alcove nearby, a gold crucifix hung in what seemed to be a human rendered abode. Walter and Daniels survey the contents of a pulpy notebook and identify it as being Shaw’s.  They discuss the lost ship ‘Prometheus’, a story that made news headlines ten years ago. But what’s not present in the ship is Shaw’s body!

Before answering the mystery of Shaw, the next segment features a long telling of the neomorph’s emergence in sick bay. It spawns from a biological amalgam of the black goo, the planet’s ecosystem, and the host it hatches out of. It’s exponential maturity rate isn’t entirely explained. ADF claims he didn’t retcon the purpose of the black goo because scant information was given on it. It’s apparently a catalyst used to create a carnivorous hybrid of the xenomorph to devour all non-botanical creatures. The neomorph’s movements are similar to a spider & baboon.

Following the chaos on sick bay, the crew is saved by a cloak-garbed David. They hesitate before following him into the cavernous city. Fossilized corpses of the Engineers dot the pathway, a carnage that evokes stark comparisons to Pompeii. Once inside David opens up to the crew in a hospitable manner. According to the cagey explaination given by David, the ship he and Shaw arrived in was programmed to fly to this planet the Engineers inhabited. Upon entrance, They had accidently deployed the pathegon, slaughter a multitude of Engineers. To prevent the spread of this endemic, the Engineers had disabled all the planet’s ships.

The crew meanders through the necropolis after David had declared every other building to be too dangerous. Walter stumbles upon David’s main room. He muses over the extensive amount of research that covers the walls. Had he been the one stranded there, would his drawings look exact to that of David’s?  Walter is startled to find David had groomed himself to mirror Walter’s appearance. The manipulation of David commences with the flute scene. It’s a very underrated scene of engrossing nuance. An early model android stranded on an alien planet confabulating with a newer, docile version of himself. The poetic recital of David’s suasion arouses Walter’s suspicion of David’s intent. Despite David’s cunning tactics, Walter stays loyal to his programming. He informs Oram & Daniels of David’s strange behavior that he has yet to decipher. He infers David must be losing his mind due to the prolonged isolation.

Related image

To pad the book into novel length, a lot of scenes jump back to the pilots aboard the Covenant. ADF says he was fond of Tennessee, and therefore his inner thoughts are narrated throughout the book.

Meanwhile, Oram confronts David for more information. David spills out small denouncements on how humans are inferior creatures. Apparently he dabbled in botany until he became consumed in studying the minimal fauna that had survived the disaster. With a countless supply of bodies, David had dissected the Engineers till he procured an excellent knowledge of their anatomy. He then goes on to show Oram egg sacks he had cultivated, expressing excessive pride in his accomplishments. He even goes so far as to say the Engineers would envy him for his advancements on the pathogens. Somehow David convinces Oram to apply a mucoid ointment on to mask odor in order to examine the newly spawned egg sack. The substance has a hypnotic effect on Oram, who becomes more lax upon taking it. The parasitic host latches onto Oram, leading to his death. Oram’s religious conscience is injected more into the book, making him a far more intriguing character. I really loved this scene between him and David. The xenomorph’s mimicking of David impresses the android. He takes pride in being their midwife. It’s important to clarify he wasn’t their creator, but more of a farmer helping with their proliferation. However, in the film he claims to be the creator of the xenomorph species.

After David toots a useless farewell melody to Elizabeth, Walter accuses David of intentionally bombarding the world with the pathogen. Dropping any further pretense, David proclaims his disdain for Humans, calling them a ‘failed experiment’. He’s especially irked by the Covenant’s colonization mission, condemning their plan to resurrect their species. He threatens his purpose is to not let them succeed. He boasts about having perfected the weaponry organism. A correlation to Paradise lost is made by David ” Better to reign in heaven than serve in hell.” Walter’s response is classic: “This dead world is no lost paradise.” A scuffle ensues between the androids. Outside the cavern, the neomorph and Alien clash in a scene that was in featured in the script provided to ADF. The xenomorph manages to savagely disembowels the neomorph. David (posing as Walter) shoots the Xenomorph and then assists the injured Lope and Daniels onto the getaway shuttle. Unknown to them, the Xenomorph boards the ship.

On the Covenant, Daniels questions the android (who she presumes to be Walter) about the extinction of the engineers. The android condemns their race, saying they were lacking compassion, they were arrogant, and they had no chance at co-existing with others. This tone reminds her of David, but she soon forgets about it after the xenomorph starts rampaging the corridors of the Covenant. While monitoring the creature’s activity on the computers, David directs Tennessee and Daniels to its location. Eventually Daniels is able to eject the xenomorph into space alogn with a planetary excavator vehicle.

The most puzzling disparity comes at the story’s climax. Surprisingly,  David puts Daniels into hypersleep without the reveal of him being Walter in disguise. It was the big twist in the film which everyone saw coming. They try desperately in the film to make Daniels this shrewd character who’s invulnerable to deception, but it came off rather pathetic. It was fun to see her screwed in the end of this book. Despite his rogue agenda, David signs into his account through mother, requesting her to contact the Weyland-Yutani corporation. In the film, he keeps the ruse going under Walter’s identity as he sends out a situation report. In the closing moments, David examines a set of xenomorph eggs he had placed in the biotron storage unit. Finally, he commands Mother to play “entry of the gods into valhalla” as he strolls down the rows of colonists in stasis–“his subjects, his future.”

Final Thoughts: Although i wasn’t too much enamored with the characters, ADF kept me compelled throughout. Prometheus is one of my all-time favorite sci-fi films, but Alien: Covenant as a sequel was a failure to my expectations. At least ADF was able to salvage the experience for me. His prequel novel Alien Covenant: Origins was released during the writing of this article. One review I’ve read of it claims the book features numerous irrelevant scenes as padding for a story revolving around the sabotaging of the Covenant’s mission.  Not much canonical info is added to the Alien lore from what i hear. In conclusion, for what ADF puts forth, I commend his efforts and rate the book an A- overall. The psychology of the David character is what intrigued me the most.

*Notes*: This review was written based on research gleaned from the film, the novelization, interviews of people involved with the franchise, articles, and podcasts. All theories and opinions expressed were based on my interpretation of the story Alien: Covenant. – J.B. Midura, October 2017

 

 

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