Alien And Philosophy edited by Jeffrey Ewing and Kevin S. Decker (book review).

This time, the ‘Alien’ films get looked at in 19 chapters about their philosophy from various people. As much as I wanted to see this film covered in the ‘And Philosophy’ books, I would have thought it would have been prudent to have waited until after ‘Alien: Covenant’ had come out if for no other reason to get some more insight into how director Ridley Scott was going to play Weyland-Yutani and android issues in it.

It’s hardly surprising that the androids are examined first. Oddly, Chris Lay pays more attention to David and Ash than to Bishop and Call as to whether they are really more than artificial people which is odd because they all have their differences in programming. One thing common to them all that he appears to have missed is that they have a pride in what they are. He also misses the fact that David’s fixation on the film of ‘Lawrence Of Arabia’ is to do with Laurence not Peter O’Toole or he might have pursued other films he acted in. Imagine how he might have reacted to O’Toole in ‘How To Steal A Million’, ‘The Night Of The Generals’ or even ‘Murphy’s War’.

It’s hardly surprising that much of the next section of chapters looks at Weyland-Yutani itself. Oddly, for an American book, you would think its writers would understand what is true for the ‘Company’ also applies to many current American corporations where all its employers, including members of the board, feed into the company philosophy as long as it’s successful. The only difference is those who don’t tend to be fired than killed…mostly. No attention is given at all to the military unit in ‘Alien: Resurrection’.

When it comes to Carter Burke, I wish they had done some more analysis than just see him as a slimeball. I tend to disagree with them that he ruined Ripley’s chances at the hearing as it was own outburst that ended up with her being told she would have psychiatric care. Burke was cautious enough to have a small investigation by the settlers on LV-426 as even he doubted what Ripley said, although there was an ulterior motive if proven right. Of course, things changed when they got there. Likewise, his pointing out the cost of the processing station and such is also as much company pride as anything. Burke is as much indoctrinated by the company as any of the artificial people are. A demonstration of total obedience where the reward is greater status and money for obeying orders is just corporate policy and a way to rise through the ranks. In some respects, Burke might have considered the xenomorphs as nothing more than legendary hype from long ago as none have been captured and wasn’t going to commit more than a Marines unit to go and investigate.

The analysis of Newt is also a little off, forgetting how feral she had become until she met Ripley. I often think people forget the penultimate survivor found by the marines on their visit to the xenomorph lair and how many other colonisers might have survived so long by hiding in the ducts until finally captured. William A. Lindenmuth should have read a little deeper into why Jim Cameron deleted some scenes from ‘Aliens’ original release was to bring the film time down a bit for general release. In comparison to Ridley Scott’s ‘Alien’, where the deleted scenes weren’t really necessary, with ‘Aliens’, they added more depth.

Likewise, I wish there had been more analysis of the colonial marines. I don’t tend to see it as arrogance with Ripley that they can beat anything. All the ‘bug hunts’ they’ve been on before would show they thought it was just something like it again. Louis Melançon’s analysis of Gorman not learning his team’s names isn’t totally fair. All he did was mistake the names of Hicks and Hudson. In uniform, they look alike. Hardly a calamity.

One thing that has never come out of all of this elsewhere and here is whether nuking the colony site would actually destroy the Engineers’ spaceship. Even if it was destroyed, the eggs themselves are below ground and would probably have survived.

I should point out that a lot of these writers do repeat some things so I’m only highlighting names when it’s directly their mistakes. With Gregg Littman, I do have to wonder how often he had seen the film of ‘Alien’. If I don’t do this analysis, those who have equal knowledge to me will wonder why I didn’t. Firstly, it’s not true that we don’t have anything like creatures laying eggs inside other insects or larvas to eat them as we do have wasps who carry out such activities. He centres ‘Alien’ as being based off Lovecraft and nary a mention of Van Vogt’s ‘Voyage Of The Space Beagle’ who was the first SF author to have an alien creature stalking and killing through the air vents of a spaceship. Lovecraft certainly didn’t do that. As to faster-than-light space travel, it is a given SF trope that hasn’t been totally ruled out even in our reality. Although it’s not shown in the film but in the novelisation, the young xenomorph did help itself to the Nostromo’s food supplies during its growth stage.

Littman totally misses the point when Dallas asks about his chances rather than that of the crew with Mother as he was just about to go into the vents. I think at that stage any crew member would be more concerned about their own survival. My next comment goes beyond Littman because other writers make a similar mistake. Mother was not a co-conspirator with Ash on the alien’s survival or it would have easily have vented the Nostromo and killed the crew or prevented Ripley detonating it. I often wondered why Ridley Scott didn’t give Mother a human voice interface but I suspect it would have drawn comparisons to the HAL 9000. Although it was fast, the alien didn’t bite Brett’s throat but forehead in his attack. Oh, in case any of the other writers think they got all lightly, Alexander Christian didn’t spot his mistake in quoting dialogue from ‘Alien’ and called Brett ‘Red’.

If anything, I was surprised none of them really examined the queen alien or its off-spring for its own philosophy until one of the last chapters by Jeffrey Ewing although there is the odd hint that it isn’t an animal. It does absorb aspects of a creature it absorbs DNA from. Some of its shape details owe a lot to the bio-suits of the Engineers and we’ve seen similar details from the cow in Alien3 and so on. If anything, there isn’t as much analysis of the ‘Prometheus’ film as there should have been and especially about the motivations of the Engineers. I’m still not wholly convinced that they were making a biological weapon until we come across an opponent that they might have been preparing to battle. If anything, this looks like an experiment that got way out of hand. I doubt if the xenomorphs have bonded with more than a couple species.

Oddly, you would have thought there would have been some analysis in-depth of Ellen Ripley herself but this is missing. Maybe they think she’s been analysed enough elsewhere or can’t think of anything much beyond her desire to survive.

Don’t think I’m having a total dislike of this book. Much of the analysis is well-considered where it goes and will make you think, it’s just where there are major mistakes they are really big ones and the editors should have picked up on as they are all supposed to be fans of the ‘Alien’ franchise. As with all of these books, they are designed to make you think and so you shouldn’t be a passive reader. I suspect if you met these people, you would be debating with them.

GF Willmetts

May 2017

(pub: Wiley-Blackwell. 350 page indexed small enlarged paperback. Price: £11.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-119-28081-1)

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