Alien3 – the unproduced screenplay by William Gibson (novelisation by Pat Cadigan)

Goodness, what a lengthy title, even if I did edit it down somewhat. And I couldn’t superscript in the headline, unfortunately.

This took me quite a while to get through, because although it’s a novel and not a movie, it was meant to be a movie: and all movies are too long.

So this was too long. If it was a movie, it would be at least half an hour too long, like most of them are. You could shake this novel and lose that half an hour. There are a few too many characters, for example. Maybe too many p.o.v. characters, but certainly too many in general. I won’t go on before firing off the spoiler horn™, as my podcast friends call it.

Spoilers follow

You have been warned. Everybody knows that the original Alien3 was no damn good. You will find some people willing to defend it, I’m sure, because the universe is infinite and full of monkeys, but most right-thinking people were out of that movie as soon as Newt and Hicks turned up dead.

Alien3 had a long and painful development process, and along the way the producers commissioned and then rejected a couple of screenplays by renowned science fiction author William Gibson. If you’re dedicated, you can find them online. This here novelisation is by renowned science fiction author Pat Cadigan, a person I like to imagine always wears a cardigan when she writes.

So why wasn’t this made? And why did they choose instead the utter shit that they did?

Now, if you know your science fiction you know that Gibson was not the natural choice for something like this. His brand of cerebral cyberpunk thriller might make a decent movie, but how that would fit with the Alien franchise, I don’t know. Dan Simmons would have been around at the right time, as would Cadigan herself. Orson Scott Card, maybe? Or, hell, just someone who could write a decent screenplay.

So what happens here? Well, Ripley and Newt and Hicks and Bishop all survive, but (and here’s your first clue as to why this was rejected) Ripley is in a coma, and does not feature except as an unconscious figure in a clinic. Newt is around for a bit, but is then sent off by Hicks on a ship bound for Earth. And given what goes on here, we should say a doomed ship.

Hicks is the protagonist. Bishop his supporting player, though they don’t get many scenes together. Which is a bit like DeNiro and Pacino in Heat, which is why I’ve always thought that was shit too.

The survivors from Aliens are picked up by the denizens of two different space stations: one of them some kind of communist workers’ paradise, the other owned by The Company. To cut a long story short, on both stations, people decide to run experiments on the weird alien DNA and hijinks ensue.

In one case, of course, The Company are entirely responsible; in the other, it’s just a cold war arms race scenario.

Aliens are everywhere, but there no longer seems to be any rhyme or reason to their lifecycle. One of the things I quite liked about the first two films was the sense that the aliens made a sort of sense. Queen lays eggs, eggs hatch facehuggers, facehuggers spawn chestbursters, chestbursters become drones who feed the queen. But in this hot mess, the aliens can apparently grow inside any organism who comes into contact with the weird black stuff that is their highly adaptable DNA equivalent, and there can be multiple queens, and apparently more aliens than there ever were host bodies. It’s all a bit much. And the weird black stuff seems very reminiscent of the shit that turned up in Prometheus and Alien: Covenant, in case you were wondering where those films got their shit ideas.

All of this is because we start with the problem, if they killed the alien queen at the end of Aliens, how can there be another film with more aliens? The answer is, *waves hands*. This is a shame, because I suppose with an evil Company in the picture, there are any number of ways that you could get more aliens. And presumably, if they left eggs behind on one planet, they could have left eggs behind on any number of other planets. Or it could have turned out that someone on LV-426, before they all got killed, had previously fired off a drone with an alien sample on board. Which just so happens to arrive at the space station here as Hicks and co are rescued.

As I mentioned above, there are a few too many characters here, so that it’s hard (without them being on a screen in front of you played by different actors) to differentiate them or care about them—especially as most of them get killed. And especially as none of them are Ripley. One thing’s for sure: there seems to be a rule that only a maximum of three humans can be left alive at the end of the film. And it being a movie, anything that can go wrong does go wrong, all authority figures are useless, The Company is evil but also stupid, and only Hicks (or Bishop) can save them.

Cadigan is not a bad writer, but the 428 pages of this novel do drag a bit, so it’s a shame she didn’t have better source material to work with.

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