Alan Dean Foster interview: Alien: Covenant – Origins

Alan Dean Foster chats to us about writing the official movie prequel to Alien: Covenant...

Alan Dean Foster is a name that will be familiar to fans of quality fantasy and sci-fi novels. He’s the prolific author behind the Spellsinger series, The Damned Trilogy and standalone books such as Voyage To The City Of The Dead, Glory Lane and Drowning World.

Mr Foster is also well known for his work in movie and television novelizations and spin-offs. This part of his career began when George Lucas hired him to ghost-write the Star Wars: A New Hope novel, which also led to him writing the first expanded universe novel Splinter Of The Mind’s Eye. Since then he’s written books set in the Star Trek and Transformers universes, in addition to novelizations of The Thing, Dark Star, Outland and Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Fans of the Alien series will know him best for his novelizations of the first three movies, which expand greatly on the characters and universe, whilst incorporating abandoned concepts from the films such as Alien’s Eggmorphing sequence. After a negative experience writing the Alien 3 novel the author decided to step away from the franchise, but was recently lured back to pen Alien: Covenant and its prequel novel Origins. This book focuses on the attempted sabotage of the Covenant before launch; Sgt. Lope is tasked with finding the sinister cult responsible, while Hideo Yutani must weather attacks on his company, including the kidnapping of his daughter.

I recently had the pleasure of chatting with Mr Foster about Alien: Covenant – Origins, the challenge of writing a good novelization, and fleshing out the Yutani side of the nefarious Weyland–Yutani Corporation.

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How does it feel to be back in the Alien universe after so many years away?

Kind of like being in Deep Sleep on the ship: I wake up, and no time has passed for me at all.

Origins is your fifth Alien novel; is it a particularly fun series to play around in?

As is always the case with playing in someone else’s playground, it always depends on how much freedom I’m allowed. The more I’m left alone, the more enjoyable the project.

You’ve penned a number of movie novelizations in the past; what are some of the challenges involved with turning a screenplay into a compelling novel?

First and foremost, the reader must get a good deal more than exists in the screenplay: otherwise you might as well just read that. Fixing the science (where allowed), correcting lapses in story logic, expanding on the characters and especially their inner thoughts, and giving greater weight to interpersonal relationships are all important. In a novelization I have far more time, greater opportunity to provide insight into story and character, and an unlimited budget. All need to be utilized.

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I understand when you were approached about the Covenant novel there was already a plan in place for a second tie-in book. Was the story set at this stage, or were other ideas discussed, e.g. Shaw and David’s journey to the Engineer planet?

No story was in place and several alternate plots were discussed. The final story chosen was the one that I was asked to write.

Origins is your first original novel in the universe. How did you go about crafting the storyline?

There was a good deal of discussion between myself, Titan books, and Fox as to where the story could/should go. The more elaborate a movie franchise becomes, the greater the restrictions that come to the fore. Within what I was requested to write, I was given a great deal of freedom.

Do you have any favourite characters or sequences from the book? The Lope chapters seemed like a lot of fun to work on.

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It’s easy to write heroes and villains; ordinary folk are more difficult. I always saw Sgt. Lope as one of the most professional and competent characters in Covenant, but because of the number of characters and pace of the film, there wasn’t much time to delve into his personality. I consider him the blue collar champion of the film; somebody who’s really good at his job but doesn’t make a big deal of it. In Origins I also enjoyed linking him up with Rosenthal. And of course, creating an entire family backdrop and history for the Yutani side of Weyland-Yutani was great fun.

One notable omission from Origins is a physical appearance by the titular beast himself. Was there ever any talk of trying to fit the alien into the story somehow?

It was discussed.

Was there ever consideration of including details from Origins in the Covenant novelization, e.g. a reference to the attempted sabotage of the ship before launch?

As the novelization was written, completed, and turned in to the publisher before Origins was begun, the opportunity was never there. It would have been fun to have been able to do that, but publishing requirements and time considerations prevented the possibility.

If you had free rein to tell any story within the Alien universe, do you have a concept you’d like to explore?

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Oh yeah…but then, I’ve had them for decades.

A personal favourite novelization I’ve read of yours was The Thing, which is quite different from the final film. Was it surprising to watch the finished product and see how much it deviated from the script you worked from?

So often, important changes to a film are decided on the set or in post-production. I particularly would have liked to see filmed the ending in Bill Lancaster’s script, but as I understand it, it would have cost too much.

Do you have any favourite novelizations of your own out of those you’ve worked on?

I’m afraid I like them all, and I don’t really play favorites. But Alien was an especially difficult one because Fox would never allow me to see any images of the alien. If you read the book, there are no descriptions of the alien itself.

On the flipside, are there any of your original novels you’d love to see adapted into a film or television series?

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Don’t get me started. I’ve had, and currently have, a fair number under option, but I’ve been disappointed too many times already.

And finally, can you tell us about any projects you’re currently working on?

Strange Music, a new Pip & Flinx novel, will be out from Del Rey in November. Relic, a stand-alone SF novel, will come out from Del Rey next year. I’ve turned in Secretions, a novel based entirely on slime. And a few other things….

Alan Dean Foster, thank you very much.

Alien: Covenant – Origins from Titan Books is in shops now, and is available to buy from Amazon.