Alien 3: The Lost Screenplay – Pat Cadigan & William Gibson

Homo sapiens had been gazing up at the stars for about three hundred millennia before they finally managed to launch themselves off the planet of their origin toward those countless points of light.

After the success of the first two Alien movies, the early nineties tried to replicate the success by continuing the franchise. We’d left Ripley escaping the alien invasion of colony LV-426 with the rescued child, Newt, and the one remaining marine, Hicks, after blowing the stowaway alien queen out of an airlock. Where to take these survivors, and how to progress that story?

Sadly, Alien 3 the movie was not particularly well received, but now we can find out just how different it all could have been as sci-fi queen Pat Cadigan writes a novelisation of William Gibson’s draft for the screenplay, one of the many that wasn’t used at the time.

The first thing that struck me about this book is that – unlike all of the Alien movies – it doesn’t follow Ripley. Perhaps that’s one big reason they didn’t use it. Instead, this is primarily Hicks’ story, so probably best prepared for that. It’s not a bad decision, it just feels like missed opportunity to go with arguably the more interesting character.

In tone, things are more Aliens (action) than Alien (horror), and while there are moments of creepiness, the sense of claustrophobia that runs through the whole movie series didn’t quite make it onto the page. And hate to say it, but action works better in visual formats.

The story itself is not too surprising, and fits perfectly with what fans already know about this universe – more or less. I wasn’t quite sure about the continued evolution of the aliens themselves: it did seem a bit too much change too fast, and I’ve never liked the baffling logic of either their creation or lifecycle, never mind when that gets mixed up again here. I did find myself wondering how much of the subsequent movies – e.g. Prometheus and Covenant – altered/expanded this recent novelisation of the older screenplay. Certainly, I think I spotted a few veiled covid references, hardly surprising for a book written during lockdown, and rather appropriate to the topic in hand.

The other thing that I spotted a bit too much off was references back to the movie. One or two: great. Repeatedly? Got tiresome and also made the characters so much flatter as they only referenced events from this one, albeit traumatic, period. I also caught the same phrases – e.g. something about things never being just once – being used by several characters, which flattened the cast into a slightly amorphous blob at times.

Overall, this was an entertaining enough read, and intriguing as a fan of the movie series to see where it could have gone. However, it doesn’t do anything quite interesting enough with the story to make it a must read, even if you are a fan.

NetGalley eARC: 340 pages / 46 chapters
First published: 2021
Series: from the Alien movie franchise
Read from 26th August – 4th September 2021

My rating: 6/10

2 thoughts on “Alien 3: The Lost Screenplay – Pat Cadigan & William Gibson

  1. In the late 80s/ early 90s, Dark Horse Comics continued the story from Aliens in a far more interesting way: they end up on Earth; the military-industrial complex gets involved trying to exploit them; they are deliberately spread by humans (and looking at the batshittery of the pandemic, it doesn’t seem so far fetched!); Newt and Hicks are scarred by their experiences, and Ripley has disappeared.

    When Alien3 came out, Dark Horse were obliged to change the characters’ names (Newt became ‘Billie’, Hicks became ‘Wilks’, but Ripley was the same), but honestly I think it told a more satisfying continuation than any of the subsequent films!

    Liked by 1 person

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