The Waking Edge - 1989
Alien Horde - Simon Bradshaw
(page 9/10)


Alien Horde

Simon Bradshaw


(Editor's note: Since this article was written, Bill Gibson has decided not to script 'Aliens III', after a change of director. Of course, some of his ideas already produced may still he used, as the project is continuing. Anyway, Simon's article is still worth reading, so I've included it anyway.

Having had a quiet few days recently, I popped down to the local video shop to get out a couple of my favourite SF films. I came back with the classic Alien and its sequel (or in this case plural) Aliens. Now that the third film is in production, scripted by cyberpunk superauthor Bill Gibson (Neuromancer, Burning Chrome, Mona Lisa Override etc) several interesting questions spring to mind, not least of which is....what will the title be? Aliens's stumbles rather than trips off the tongue, while Alien III not only ignores the absence of 'Aliens II' but may well find itself snubbed by a public increasingly feeling that cinema programmes sound like the Grandstand football results (...and at the Hammersmith Odeon: Star Trek III, Superman IV.).

More seriously, with as intelligent a scriptwriter as Gibson, we can hope to see a look at some of the loose ends and unexplored possibilities of Alien/Aliens. To an extent, Aliens did this, telling us a lot more than the original film about the life cycle of the creature. My feeling is that Gibson will probably expand a lot on the society of the Earth of the 'Company' (which is itself a typical 'Zaibatsu' or corporation-state typical of Gibson's 'Cyberspace' trilogy). Only time will tell! Meanwhile, it may be of interest to look at some of the comments and thoughts that have come up in the discussions I've had on the two films.

As I've said, Aliens added a lot to our knowledge of the aliens lifecycle (incidentally, the eponymous nature of the title makes writing about the creature a pain; here a small 'a' and non-italics means the actual nasty/nasties). In Alien, we saw how the alien starts off as a pod containing a 'facehugger' which implants an embryo alien into the first host to approach it. The embryo then rapidly grows within the host until it makes its characteristically gory entrance (or, from its point of view, exit!) whereupon it continues to grow at a prodigious rate until it is man-sized, after which it goes about its business of killing everything that moves.

alien

This begged the question of the origin of the pods. In the pre-release version of Alien there was a scene, just before Ripley sets the Nostroemo to self-destruct, where she finds the cocooned Brett and Dallas, the latter at least alive. This scene remains in the Alan Dean Foster novelisation where it is strongly suggested that the eventual product of the cocoons will be a pod. In Aliens, an alternative (and in my view, superior) explanation is provided: the alien queen. How the exceptionally large and oviparous queen originated is not, however, made clear.

My first theory was that the first alien to be produced somehow specially treated a pod in a manner analogous to the way an ordinary bee larva is specially fed to produce a queen. The fatal flaw in the theory is that it would require the colonists to bring several intact pods back from the derelict vessel. That they would try to do so is not unlikely, but given the apparent sensitivity of the pods, it seems doubtful that they would have succeeded.

A much more likely hypothetical lifecycle supposes that, in the absence of any other aliens, an alien grows into a fully developed queen. This then starts to reproduce pathenogenically, ie without having to mate. I shall later explain the validity of this assumption.

Reproduction is by laying pods, as seen near the end of Aliens. The queen then hunts down and brings back a live host, which is cocooned near a pod (as Newt was at the end of Aliens). The pod then produces a 'Facehugger' which implants an embryo in the host. This develops and emerges as another alien. Now for the big assumption: in the presence of a queen, other aliens do not develop into queens, but stay in the 'predator' state. How this is done is irrelevant; perhaps it is by a pheromone released by the queen, or perhaps only relatively old pods, triggered after a queen is likely to have died, will give rise to a queen.

We now have plausible scenario for Aliens (in my view, at least!). A colonist (sent out by The Company to investigate the derelict) discovers a pod and is attacked by a facehugger (a scene where this occurs is written into the ADF novelisation). He or she is taken back to the colony for medical treatment. An alien makes it's gory appearance and runs off. Then a re-run of Alien would follow as the creature grew; but in this case it evades capture in the vast atmosphere processing plant and grow into a queen. It then starts laying pods, and either hunts for hosts, or waits to be discovered. Soon there are subservient aliens being produced, which hunt down more potential hosts or distribute pods to spread the infection - this would explain why the colony medical centre held records of attempts to treat infected hosts. Fairly soon the exponential increase in alien numbers would force the colonists to the defensive until they were cornered and captured. With no humans apparent, the aliens would then become dormant until disturbed by the arrival of the Colonial Marine squad.

As far as I am aware, this theory does not conflict with anything seen in the two films, and explains such loose ends as the origin of the queen. As to the origin of the actual aliens, I'll return to my remark that the alien queen need not mate to reproduce. The answer is that the aliens are sexless. To the objection that they could not have evolved without the natural selection and genetic exchange required for effective evolution, my answer is that they didn't evolve at all; they were designed! The alien is such an unlikely creature (with acid blood, the ability to adapt to different environments and host species etc) that I can only conclude that it is a genetically engineered weapon species. The aliens do very well as a weapon; they eliminate all enemy life within the area they are used (and delivering one pod is enough!), but cannot breed without hosts and so only as many are produced as there are enemy to kill. Presumably, their originators could control or easily destroy them once an area had been cleared.

Who then originated the aliens? They may not even be a contemporary species; who knows how long a pod could survive on or under the surface of a planet, protected from cosmic radiation (although if the rest of the physiology of an alien is anything to go by, whatever it uses as a DNA analogue is probably quite unaffected by ionising radiation!) Perhaps the originators are long extinct, destroyed in some prehistoric war of which bio-weapons like the alien are the scattered remnants. Interestingly, at least two well-known SF horror writers have postulated such a situation, namely, Larry Niven and Howard Phillips Lovecraft. The aliens fit very well into Niven's 'Known Space' history; they are just the sort of weapon the Tnuctupin genetic engineers would have developed for use against the Slavers (which would imply that amongst all their other characteristics, aliens are immune to telepathic control!) Like the others, state trees, sunflowers and bandersnatchii, they would be 'Relics of the Empire' from a billion years ago. Of course, if you didn't believe a pod could survive that alone, you can always postulate a rather large stasis box .In case Niven fans object that the future of Alien/Aliens is not that of Known Space, the Slaver War has been used outside that history - by Niven himself, who put it in the Star Trek universe in an episode of the cartoon Star Trek series that he adapted from his short story 'The Soft Weapon'.

As for H P Lovecraft, isn't the alien a perfect Cthulhu pantheon style nasty? Indeed, Hans Giger's original design for the alien was based on drawings he had done inspired by the Cthulhu Mythos. Even taking the more SF rather than fantasy element of the Mythos, the aliens fit well within the history of the Elder Ones described in 'At the Mountains of Madness', they were advanced in bio-engineering such creatures as the Shoggths, and I don't doubt for a moment that an aspiring Lovecraftian writer could concoct a plot involving the Elder Ones developing the alien as a weapon against some extraterrestrial enemy. The a sequel to 'At the Mountains of Madness' could be filmed in the Alien series, starting with an Antarctic mission discovering a strange pod frozen in the permafrost....oops, I think that idea was used in 'Dr Who and the Seeds of Doom' - not to mention 'The Thing', or rather Cambell's novella 'Who Goes There'. Come to think of it, the Krynoid would feel at home in the Cthulhu Mythos just as much as the alien - But I digress!

To quote the infamous critic, Well There You Have It. I've examined the loose ends in Aliens, developed a not unreasonable life history for the creatures and even tied them into Known Space and Cthulhu Mythos. But if Bill Gibson comes up with a better scenario in Alien's or whatever, I'll concede defeat, And if Ridley Scott thinks my ideas are better and sues me for trying to upstage him, I'll deny I wrote a word...