It’s no easy task taking the reigns of a beloved franchise and spinning a tale, even contained, that will please fans. But Alex White, author the most recent Alien tie-in novel, “Alien: The Cold Forge” which is out today from the mighty Titan Books, is confident his unique spin will take readers on an unexpected journey.
I sat down with White to talk about his new book and our mutual love of all things Alien.
Tell us how you got into writing?
I’ve always been a big movie buff and when I was in high school I used to complain to my friends about every movie we went to go see. So, understandably, one day they told me, “If you think you can do so well why don’t you write a movie.”
So I started writing movies in my study periods, went to college and did some independent screenwriting studies and found out I don’t really like the movie industry very much so I turned to writing novels.
Before we talk “Alien: The Cold Forge”, do you have a genre of choice? Or is your writing driven by an idea first, genre considerations second?
I always start with an idea first. That usually results in world that’s described as “genre-bending” when the intent was just to stay true to the original idea.
“Alien: The Cold Forge” is actually a perfect example. The idea came from a user experience conference I was at. Double came in with their latest telepresence robot and presented through it. It was essentially an iPad on a Segway with a face, where the face was the presenter. I thought that was so cool for an Alien novel, the idea of having a character go through a contaminated area in a telepresence robot and help other survivors and see how the other survivors would deal with that person and feel about that person when they didn’t have actual skin in the game, so to speak. So everything for the book sort of coalesced around that idea.
So when it comes to presenting this idea to Titan Books – who has a lot of these extended universe “Alien” books going back to the nineties – how much do you need to line up with what’s come before? Is there a story bible, do you need to connect to the cannon films?
Yes, I had to pitch to Titan and the idea needed to fit into the canon books they’re currently putting out. So I couldn’t just pitch any old thing, I had to really workshop the idea with the editor, Steve Saffel, before sending the pitch to FOX who have to give final approval.
Do you reach out the previous authors to let them know you’ll be continuing on in the world? Do you use their characters?
Oh yeah, though I was not allowed to use their characters. I could use movie canon characters if I wanted to, but they didn’t end up being very useful to the plot, so there are some passing references but that’s it. It’s mostly a self-contained story with some far-reaching, broader implications to the world.
I should say that only the five books that Titan have commissioned are considered canonical. The older, nineties books, belonged to Dark Horse all those years back. And they were extended universe cannon with their Earth War series where essentially Alien 3 never happened and Hicks and Newt were the main characters. So luckily I didn’t really have to compete with the whole back catalog of 20-some novels and all comics thankfully.
Some passionate Alien fans have felt, let’s say, underwhelmed by Scott’s recent Prometheus and Covenant and can get pretty vocal about their opinions. Does that translate to the book world? Dipping your toes into a big franchise, do you worry about Alien fans coming after you if they’re not happy with what you do in the world?
Well, I’ll tell you, surprisingly enough it can get pretty ugly. I was on a panel with an author who writes a Robin Hood series and I mentioned she mentioned getting death threats. I was shocked. Then the writer next to me who writes Arrow books said he’s gotten five for six and so on.
But if you think about it, the fans who read tie-in novels are really the super fans. They are the ones who care most about the franchise and that’s why I do appreciate them. Most of the feedback so far has been very positive… well, there was someone on Bloody Disgusting (yes, I read the comments!) who was saying the book would suck because it was the same plot as Alien: Resurrection.
But I want to say, here now, if you, commentor on Bloody Disgusting, are reading this, I promise you this is not the same as Alien 4, which I would also strike from the cannon if I could. That and the AVP movies.
Whoa, wait. Alien: Resurrection‘s got a lot to love! That production design is worth the return, love the cast, and that underwater scene is conceptually strong!
It’s got Michael Wincott doing what he does best!
Yes! That was when they were really starting to push the CG alien hard to mixed effect. And it seems like Scott’s been going down that road.
Watch the making of Covenant. There’s a lot more practical work going on then you might think. Go find the Adam Savage Tested stuff and see everything there. A lot of that set was real. It’s pretty amazing.
Alright, most important question time. Are you an Alien guy, or an Aliens guy?
Complicated question, complicated answer involving growing up. When I was a kid we weren’t allowed to have horror movies or action movies in the house. I lived in the middle of nowhere in Alabama where all the other kids around me were watching the most insane, violent, awesome stuff, and I wasn’t really allowed to. Then, finally, Terminator 2 came out and it won Oscars for its special FX so my parents took me to the video store and we rented it with some family friends and we watched it and my parents were like, “oh my god, if your mind ruined?”. No. It was amazing, I loved it and I wanted more.
That was when a friend of the family revealed he had a treasure trove of 80’s action movies, Predator, Alien, Aliens, Warlock… we watched Alien. I enjoyed it, I was scared, but Aliens was where it was at for me. It was easy to grasp the concepts, gives you a rush.
What makes Aliens so accessible is that all the stuff that was so subtle in Alien is turned up to 11 in Aliens. The evil corporation, Ripley, everything. It’s what Cameron does. Of course, now that I’m older I love Alien just as much. Especially after joining the corporate workforce, it really speaks to me.
Me too, man. Alex, thanks for your time and thanks for doing your part to keep the Alien franchise alive.
You got it, man.