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The Ripley family of the Alien universe seems drawn to corners of the galaxy that are seriously lacking in the warm comforts of home and common hospitality. And when it comes to slaying lethal xenomorphs, there's no better clan to make a last stand with when the flamethrowers start roasting the acid-spewing devils.
Expanding the familial ties to the biomechanical creatures, a 2014 survival horror video game, Alien: Isolation, featured Ellen Ripley's daughter Amanda as she tracked down the Nostromo's flight recorder aboard a remote space station where she encounters a familiar foe. Now a new Alien: Isolation prose novel from Titan Books and written by Keith R. A. DeCandido seeks to expand upon the events of the game and offer more backstory on the characters' mother-daughter relationship — and SYFY WIRE has an exclusive look inside.
Alien: Isolation lands on Earth on July 30 and is an official adaptation of Creative Assembly's hit retro-future shooter. It offers a more revealing look into the lives of Ellen Ripley and her daughter, Amanda Ripley, between the events of Alien and Aliens. We'll follow Amanda's life as a troubled, violent youth, now obsessed with discovering what happened to her missing mom. Seeking answers to the mystery, she hitches a ride with a Weyland-Yutani team sent to retrieve the Nostromo flight recorder aboard the ruined space station Sevastopol, where a nasty xenomorph is prowling the decks. Flashbacks unveil Amanda’s turbulent backstory and the hardships that forced her mother to take the assignment aboard the commercial space tug Nostromo.
DeCandido explains that while the heavy action, tense suspense and gut-twisting horror of the game should still be intact, the main focus is less on the action and more on the journey of the primary character.
"With the exception of the prologue, the entire novel is from the point of view of Amanda Ripley," he tells SYFY WIRE. "There's the frontstory of her traveling to Sevastopol Station and facing Xenomorphs and malfunctioning androids and psychotic people. But there's also her backstory, as we see her throughout her life from infancy all the way to her early twenties, including her relationship with her mother, her devastation when Ellen Ripley and the Nostromo didn't return home, her attempts to find out what happened, and her tumultuous relationship with her stepfather."
This is DeCandido’s second story for the Alien franchise, having previously written a story for the 2017 anthology Bug Hunt, "Deep Background.” He views the appeal of both Ellen and Amanda Ripley in that they're both strong, smart characters.
"Someone on Twitter recently described ALIEN as (and I'm paraphrasing here), "Nobody listens to the smart woman and then everyone dies except for the smart woman and her cat." One of the most appealing aspects of Ellen Ripley is that she cuts through the nonsense. "Nuke it from orbit, it's the only way to be sure" is one of the greatest moments in any action movie. Amanda is cut from the same cloth, with the added bonus that she's a brilliant engineer."
Handling the exhausting research process while crafting the story, DeCandido had plenty of help.
"Steve Saffel at Titan Books and Steve Tzirlin at 20th Century Fox Licensing both deserve a ton of credit for making sure I had all the information I needed," he admits. "Starting with the game script for Isolation, as well as stuff established in other ancillary media (DVD extras, other games, tie-in novels and comics, particularly the novel Out of the Shadow, and the comic book Defiance). I also rewatched all the movies in the franchise, just to get the universe in my head."
Now step inside our exclusive chapter excerpt taken from Alien: Isolation by Keith R. A. DeCandido, published by Titan Books. TM & © 2019 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All rights reserved.
“I just hope your ship’s still there,” Axel said, his voice low and carrying an undertone of menace. Amanda just ignored it. Verlaine had said she’d stay for twenty-four hours, before everything went to hell. The captain seemed like a straight-shooter. She wouldn’t just abandon them.
Then again, her mother had promised to be back for her eleventh birthday.
And her stepfather—
No. She cut that off at the pass. Dwelling on shit like that would just make her upset. That would cause her to make mistakes that she couldn’t afford. Switching the flashlight off again, she focused on following Axel, his shadowy form just a few feet ahead of her.
They approached the entrance to the transit center, a long, narrow metal platform. She knew this from her cursory study of the schematic, and it was confirmed when she spotted a terminal that must have been connected to an emergency power source. It glowed with green letters.
Beyond the terminal was a window that showed the tracks for the transit cars, as well as another that looked onto another long, narrow metal platform that, Amanda recalled from the schematic, was a mirror to this one. A catwalk crossed over the tracks.
“I’m not even supposed to be here,” Axel muttered, and she wondered what the hell he was talking about. “My shipping-out papers were for a week ago.” As understanding dawned, for the first time, Amanda felt a pang of sympathy for the man. If the timing had been just a bit better, he would’ve missed this entirely. That was a frustration she empathized with.
Not enough to say so out loud, but still—
Axel stopped dead in his tracks.
“It’s powered down!” he shouted. “Those assholes cut us off!”
What happened to keeping it down? she thought, but she held her tongue. He was agitated enough. Amanda followed his gaze and saw a wire that ran from this console up through a pinhole in the bulkhead and across to the tracks on the other side.
Axel was working the nearer console. He called up a status report on the screen, which confirmed that the two had been linked. To open the door, both consoles would have to be operated simultaneously. If they were to escape, she would need the man’s help, after all.
“I’ll activate this one,” Axel said. “You go ’round and do the other at the same time. The system’ll tell us what to do.”
Nodding, Amanda jogged across the catwalk. He called out after her.
“Hurry, Ripley, they could be here any minute!”
Then why don’t you shut the fuck up? she thought. Why the hell do I need help from this jackass?
Dropping down on the other side, she stepped up to the console and entered the activation sequence. With her hand hovering over the big red button that would complete the process, she looked back across and waited for a signal from Axel.
Why is it always a big red button? she wondered. Maybe it’s for civilians who’d be too stupid to know what to do otherwise.
C’mon, Axel, give the signal…
As if on cue, Axel held up his hand and mouthed the word ready? He probably said it out loud, but they couldn’t hear each other through the two windows. Amanda just nodded in response.
Raising three fingers, he mouthed the countdown.
Amanda hit the button. Her console indicated that power was restored to the door. With a feeling of triumph, she looked across to Axel, and a wave of terror hit her. He was looking in her direction.
There was a man sneaking up behind him, holding a wicked-looking crowbar.
“Axel, behind you!” she shouted.
What? Axel mouthed.
The man raised the crowbar, and brought it down on his head.
“Dammit.” Amanda sprinted back to the catwalk and across the tracks. As she ran, she could see the man standing over Axel, who was writhing on the deck, hand to the back of his bald head. She drew closer, and could hear the man talking into a radio.
“This is Jenkins—I’m at the transit center. Get over here, I found the thief.” Letting go of the radio, Jenkins kicked Axel in the ribs. “Fuck you, asshole—think you can fucking steal from us?”
Coming up behind him, Amanda raised her K92 and returned the favor, hitting Jenkins on the back of the head.
“Ow! Fuck!” Jenkins staggered forward, then turned around to face her. “Jesus, two of you? I’ll—”
He was interrupted by the report of a weapon, which blew a hole through his head, spraying blood on the bulkhead.
“Fuck!” Amanda jumped back.
“Let’s go.” Axel held the smoking revolver. “There’ll be more coming.” Climbing to his feet, he opened the door that led into the transit center. But Amanda didn’t move. She couldn’t stop staring at Jenkins’s dead body on the floor.
Hurting him was one thing.
But killing him?
“We need to go,” Axel said, “now!”
Amanda still couldn’t make her limbs move. Then she heard voices in the distance, and realized it was the sound of Jenkins’s buddies. In a flash she knew what they would do when they saw the body.
We have to get out of here.
The voices became clear as a small group came into sight.
“Jenkins, where are—hey! There they are!”
“What’s going on? Jenkins, what’re you—”
“He’s dead! They killed him!”
“Get ’em. Shoot ’em now!”
A bullet pinged off the metal floor, and another struck the console. As more shots rang out, she ran after Axel, impact after impact coming dangerously close. More shouts rose up behind her. They were out for her blood.
This would be a shitty way to die, she thought furiously. Then again, up to now it’s been a shitty way to live, so what the hell?
She caught up to Axel and they ran past more consoles and toward the transit hub. Once they were inside, Axel hit a switch, closed the door behind them, and then locked it. Amanda was grateful for the chance to catch her breath, then she turned on her companion.
“You killed him!”
“Fuck that,” Axel said. “He was going to kill me.” He said it as if it was the most obvious thing. “You saved my life.”
“You’re not welcome, asshole,” she shot back at him. “What right do you—”
Without warning Axel grabbed her by the shoulders, leaning in. Amanda could smell his fetid breath again, which somehow had gotten worse.
“This is about survival,” he said. “Do you understand?”
Amanda shrugged out of his grip and moved away from him. She did understand, to some extent, but still couldn’t…
“You hear something?” Axel looked up.
“I—” Amanda cut herself off as she did hear something. Something… odd. It sounded like a snake slithering around, maybe. She looked over at him, and noticed some gunk on the arm of his jacket. “What’s that?” she asked, pointing at it.
Axel stared down at it. “What the fuck have I got on m—”
Then something sharp burst through his chest, as if from the inside, blood spraying out in all directions. Amanda threw herself back as some of his blood landed on her cheek and neck. Transfixed, she stared as the sharp protrusion—was it a tail?—impaled Axel like a giant spike.
His face was a portrait of shock and pain.
And then he was gone. The tail—or whatever it was—pulled back into the shadows, taking Axel’s body with it. His blood was hot and sticky on her neck. She palmed at it frantically to get it off. Somehow she found her voice as she wiped away Axel’s blood.
“What the hell was that?”