"A bluish sun flared against the blackness of space as the massive bulk of the Covenant slowed upon entering the unnamed system."
It’s a long time ago in a galaxy, etc. but there was once an age when movie novelizations were really, really important.
Before streaming, when films took forever to appear on “home video” let alone TV, novelizations were the only way for many genre fans to get a idea what was going on with a franchise. What was this hype all about? If it was a sequel, what happens next? What does my new action figure do in this movie? Is Alien really that scary? If you didn’t live in a town with a movie theatre or near one, or you couldn’t afford to go to the cinema, this was just how it was.
Novelisations were like extended trailers and strangely they never seemed to ruin the movie at all – even though they were as complete a spoiler as actually reading the screenplay itself. They were also pretty cool – if you were too young to see the movie in the pictures, you could at least read the book. In the library, no one could hear you scream …
In the genreland of One Giant Read, the undisputed star of the novelization is Alan Dean Foster. He has written them for the proper big deals – Star Wars, Star Trek, The Thing, Aliens …
Foster’s novelizations – while it’s important to remember he’s a really successful novelist in own right of course – have become classics, and collectible classics at that. An old Corgi paperback of his 1982 version of The Thing for example will set you back at least thirty quid now, and that price is rising all the time. A good investment for the initial 25p or whatever it was.
The difference with Foster of course is that his work isn’t just the lunchbox or happy meal marketing extra you suspect is going on with some other novelizations – he brings new and brilliant life to the stories. Our recent review of Force Awakens shows that he isn’t losing his touch. He’s a master of this particular craft.*
In an interview with One Giant Read we were properly amazed to learn that he wrote our absolute favourite Alien in only three weeks. This is not just incredible in itself as an example of stamina, but because that book is so good. Like some of the comic work around the Alien franchise, Foster’s novelizations (he has done several of the films now) really do bring new insight, new psychology to the stories. The dream-driven opening to Alien is unforgettable. Once you’ve read it, Foster’s take even plays in your mind as you re-watch the film and Ripley & Co. stagger from their hypersleep into chaos.
Dreams play a big part in his novelization of Covenant too. Now, with the film still playing in theatres we’re going to steer well clear of any spoilers, but Foster’s success with this novel again is the way that he deals with the innerscape of the characters, while still maintaining the speed of the cinema narrative, the kinetics and all the horror – that curious interplay of imagery you know from the screen and its extension in the prose. Sure, the plot is pretty much fixed, the dialogue to an extent, but Foster’s skill with the characterisation, his use of setting, his spare yet evocative descriptions, the nuances of the story – is a thing to behold.
It’s fair to say that responses to the actual movie have been mixed – we’re still struck by the review in the Guardian (“the vu has never been so déja”) – but Covenant is in many ways better than at least two of the sequels, and probably even Prometheus. It’s Ridley Scott and the Xenomorphs. And it’s Alan Dean Foster. It’s Alien. If you’re a fan, reviews will make no difference – you’ll already have watched the film, read this, or both.
For lots and lots of people – this reviewer certainly – Foster’s work played a hugely significant role in building a long-lasting love of reading, his novelisations an imaginative hook to a reluctant reader more interested in movies and video games. Sure, these were beloved characters and films, but the books still had to be good to read, and they were.
Alan Dean Foster is a legend – end of.
* You can read our interview with author SD Perry here, where she talks Aliens and the craft of the novelization.