This article comes from Den of Geek UK. It contains spoilers.
Author Alan Dean Foster will be a familiar name to Alien fans, having penned the well-regarded novelizations of the first three movies, in addition to his prolific output of original and tie-in novels (including the novelization of Star Wars). Foster stepped away from the series after a bad experience on the Alien 3novel. That film’s producers rejected several additions he attempted to make the story, such as Newt being kept alive but remaining in a coma in her damaged hypersleep pod throughout the story.
Fans were excited when it was confirmed Foster was returning for the Alien: Covenant novelization – in addition to penning an original book set in the same universe. This novel would be his first original tale for the franchise and was said to be a prequel to Covenant. The natural assumption was the book would cover the period between Prometheus and Covenant, detailing the journey of Shaw and David to the Engineer planet. The film left many unanswered questions about this period, and it seemed like ripe material for a prequel story to explore.
Unfortunately Alien: Covenant – Origins is not that story. Instead, it tells of a group of fanatics attempting to sabotage the Covenant mission before launch, as they fear colonization of other planets will draw the attention of hostile lifeforms to Earth. Thus, Hideo Yutani – the stoic chairperson of the newly merged Weyland-Yutani Corp. – has to deal with corporate espionage and attempted kidnappings, while Covenant’s security chief Daniel “I know wheat” Lope chases the cult throughout futuristic London.
Fair warning: despite the title, no actual Xenomorphs appear in this story. Maybe the biggest surprise – and disappointment – of Origins is that it isn’t a horror or sci-fi at all. It’s a thriller. There are a couple of chases, shootouts, and a dash of gore, but nothing that could be described as frightening or horrific. The main thrust of the story revolves around the Earthsavers, a group of a half dozen clichéd villains determined to stop the Covenant mission. Their belief is drawn from Duncan Fields, an overweight slob who has disturbing dreams of bizarre creatures ripping apart the world if the mission succeeds. His brief visions are the only mention of the title beasts in the book.
The story jumps between a few stories: Yutani as he deals with attacks on his company, Lope chasing the cult, Daniels prepping the ship for launch, and the cult’s comically inept plans to halt the mission. The Lope section is the most entertaining, as the character’s dry wit and interplay with new recruit Rosenthal make these chapters breeze by. Their investigation takes them to a futuristic strip club and later into a huge shootout on a farm – with the insane reveal the surrounding animals have been wired to explode. The book fleshes out Lope a little more too, who didn’t get much in the way of development during the movie, outside of being knowledgeable about wheat.
Fans will probably be more concerned with how Yutani plays into things. The series has thoroughly explored the Weyland side of things in the past, from Charles Bishop Weyland in Alien v Predator to Prometheus’ Peter Weyland, but the Yutani side of the coin hasn’t had much time in the spotlight. Those expecting any shattering insights will be disappointed. Yutani is presented as a stoic, intelligent businessman who is ably supported by his daughter Jenny. The problem is nothing terribly exciting happens with the character. Many of his chapters feature long, dry conversations in board rooms or offices, where the same information is repeated.
The most exciting thing that occurs in these passages is when three futuristic ninjas invade his tower, taking out security with sleek upgrades of standard ninja weapons. It’s quite silly, but also a lot of fun. Jenny is kidnapped but soon makes her escape, and the rest of Yutani’s time is left worrying about the Covenant launch. This particular threat lacks any real tension for those who saw the movie since it’s obvious the ship will launch just fine. If nothing else, it’s intriguing to have an Alien story where Weyland-Yutani aren’t shown as villains. They’re just a corporation protecting themselves and their employees from harm, and their tactics are quite even-handed.
This brings us to the Earthsavers, and what a bunch of chancers they are. The chapters dealing with these fools border on parody, with their efforts to stop the launch becoming more laughable as the story unfolds. Their attempt to sneak an intruder onboard fails when she freaks out during the job interview; they hire an assassin to kill Yutani, who turns out to be an old friend who warns him of the hit and then they share a drink; and so on. Scooby Doo villains pose more of a threat, and Yutani bursts out laughing once he realizes what a joke they are. Their last-ditch attempt to stop the Covenant is their best effort, and for those wondering why the ship only has one lander in the film, Origins holds the answer.
There’s some time spent with the Covenant crew too, including James Franco’s Captain Branson – who is named Brandon in the book. He and his wife, Daniels, deal with a crazed cult member who threatens to sabotage the ship in early chapters, but that scheme is foiled easily. Any time the story jumps back to the Covenant, it mainly involves Daniels dealing with admin and supply deliveries. Turns out preparing a colony ship is hard work. The book at least gives an insight into the dire condition of Earth, explaining why the crew are eager to start fresh in a brand new world. London, in particular, is in bad shape. It’s covered in thick fog are some areas toxic. The Thames is described as a “brown worm of water,” and Big Ben has been replaced by a hologram.
It’s easy to see why the events of Origins aren’t mentioned in the film. They’re just not terribly compelling. Imagine reading a Star Wars prequel novel detailing Luke’s time on Uncle Owen’s farm a few weeks before A New Hope. Sure, you’d meet familiar characters, visit the Tosche station, and maybe see him hit a few womp rats with his T-16, but is it information you really need? That’s the problem with Origins: as a standalone adventure it fails to excite, and as an expansion of the Alien series it doesn’t tell you anything worth knowing. That, combined with the absence of the famous monster, makes it hard to recommend. For fans of Foster’s work or hardcore franchise completionists only.
Alien: Covenant – Origins is available now from Titan Books.