Rich Erlich, English 112

StGd Aliens Novel          30/VI/91, 02/VIII/97

 

 

Study Guide for Aliens as Novel

 

 

CITATION:

Foster, Alan Dean.  Aliens.  New York: Warner, 1986. 

         Based on the screenplay by James Cameron, from the story by James Cameron et al., using characters developed by Dan O'Bannon and Ronald Shusett (Alien 1978). 

 

 

MAJOR CHANGES FROM FILM:

         Dialog cleared up and cleaned up (in terms of taboos).

         Nightmare motif stressed more.  Obscene birth motif stressed more.

         "Mommy" from Newt to Ripley clearer.

         Glimpse of Newt's family going to explore (first) alien craft--which appears in the screenplay I consulted but not in the film. 

 

There are many other differences, so don't depend upon the film for the novel or the novel for the film: they're two closely related but separate works. 

 

NOTES: (1) See Study Guide for Aliens as film for castlist and other information.  If I haven't supplied you with the study guide, request it.  <112, First Semester 1991: I've supplied it among the films.>  (2) I will use "A" with the title Aliens and "a" with generic aliens.  (3) For paraphrases and such I'll use {{Continental Quotes}}.

 

 

BRUTE FORCE CRITICISM, by Chapters

 

I.

         [1]:

                  The Narrator is "omniscienct," able to see even into dreams.

                  Note both Jones and Ripley as descendants of killers: A popular theory during the 1960s and at other times is that of Man the Hunter, armed and dangerous (cf. 2001).  If you might be interested in this theory, you can ask me for readings (and/or dates for discussions when I'm teaching S.F.).

                  Dream/Nightmare motif begins.

         2:

                  The Narrator is omniscient and doesn't limit the omniscience to major characters: we get a paraphrase of the thoughts of the captain of scout vessel.

         3: Major motivator identified: Money.

         6: The Narrator asserts (?) that Ripley has changed from her Alien adventure (my phrase).  Does she change again in the course of Aliens?

         7: Carter Burke introduced, and introduces himself with a joke about the Company.  (Note: "The Company" can echo "company store," "company town" and is CIA jargon for the CIA.)

         9: The phrase "obscene birth" appears explicitly, near a reference to machines.  Listen for organic/inorganic juxtapositions. 

         10: Space philosophy: the cosmos as indifferent, empty, malign.

         11: Ripley had a daughter (very different from film).  Note a kind of time paradox with hypersleep travel: Ripley is younger than Ripley's daughter. 

         12: Burke advises Ripley on the upcoming hearing and tells her to stay unemotional.  That's a good strategy, but note Ripley's response to it. 

         13: Note the Company and other agencies bureaucratic vs. reality. 

Note Well: The Company is a bureaucracy; the Interstellar Commerce Commission runs a bureaucracy; the Colonial Administration is a bureaucracy; and the Colonial Marines are a bureaucracy: i.e., organized in what's supposed to be an efficient hierarchy, with rules, procedures, doctrines, etc.  "Reality," however, may be centered on an Alien queen.

         16: Bureaucracy vs. emotion (e.g., pain and rage as emotions). 

         17: We get Ripley's full name and the sentence against her.

         18: KV-426 has been named now: the planet is called Acheron (the name of the River of Woe in Hades). 

 

II.

         Whole chapter: Not in the release version of film.  Is it absolutely necessary?  Film audiences had no problem supplying some scene like this in their own imaginations--or just skipping it.  Consider this chapter when thinking about the differences between novels and other forms: the length of novels allows them to provide more information, which can be a good thing,

         [20]: Immortality of the Company (a loaded line for readers very familiar with George Orwell's 1984 where the [very evil] Party is immortal). 

         23-25: Money as motivator. 

         25: Get full name of Newt (Jorden) and reference to "Monster Maze" game.  How does the game change? 

         26: The (small "a") alien craft combines the organic and the technological in ways that are interesting but also oddly disturbing.  (We Western humans like to distinguish between organic and mechanical.) 

         29: The facehugger form of the Alien combines mechanical and organic in a way that a lot of critics find highly disturbing.  Examine your own reaction.

 

III.

         29: Some justification for all that smoking in Alien: no nicotine in the cigarettes.  Still, is it plausible that people in the future will continue to smoke cigarettes?  Nicotine is hardly the only health danger of smoking (see p. 30).  Is there a point here about social class today more important than plausibility about drug habits of the future?  

         30: Ripley on Earth, among the lower orders; enter Carter Burke and Gorman.

         31: nervous Nellies: Loaded term.  US Pres. Lyndon Johnson used it to refer to people who had qualms about his Vietnam policy.  (Johnson lead us deeper into warfare in Indochina, which we eventually lost, losing over 57,000 Americans and killing some 2 million Indochinese.) 

         32: Burke praises human/machine alliance in the Colonial Marines and asserts their ability to handle anything.  Remember that Burke is a Company man and a bureaucrat and that we've just had a Vietnam allusion--and that Burke's sort of cockiness frequently gets shot down ("ofermod undermowed" to quote a poem I didn't write but did publish and have a claim on the rights).

         33: The Company getting into terraforming, which Burke identifies as a form of vast real estate dealings.  (Check out image of big-time realtors.)

         35: Ripley's insistance on xenocide, total extermination of the Aliens they find--which Burke opposes to scientific curiosity (and gives his word on that).  In a 1950s movie, the upshot here would be quite conservative and arguably fascist (Peter Biskind, Seeing Is Believing); how does it come across in the context of Aliens and in our era?

 

IV.

         [36]-40: Meet the Marines.  Are they clean-cut Green Beret types?  The slightly funky World War II movie platoon: ethnically diverse, pretty much apolitical, dedicated to victory, tough but nice?  Some postModern combination?  (In the film they're very postModern: i.e., very funky--the opposite of clean-cut, slick, smooth, white, streamlined, modern.)

         41: Ripley and Bishop: Possibly the worst betrayal in Alien was by Science Officer Ash, who turned out to be an android.  Still, does Bishop deserve the treatment he gets from Ripley?  Is it progress for her to come to like Bishop?  (Compare and contrast Ripley on Bishop and Aliens.) 

                  Bishop's preference for artificial person is a joke on our tendencies to euphemize.  Still, the little joke may become complex: e.g., is a more of a person than, say, Carter Burke?  If he can prefer one locution to another, is he probably a person in some sense?  (And if I keep refering to him as "he" and not "it," am I advertising my acceptance of him as probably a person?)  Note how the Narrator handles Bishop. 

         43-44: Ripley on Aliens. 

 

V.

         45: High-tech. automation for navigating starships--and a relatively low-tech. powerloader.  Keep your eye on Bishop and that powerloader.  (Why a Caterpillar powerloader?  Continuity and change for one thing.  We don't have powerloaders, but when we do, Caterpillar will make them.)

         46-47: More on those wild and crazy Colonial Marines--and smartgun operators as the weirdest and, in a sense, purest.  Note attitude toward guns as bodily extensions.  (Might one get more specific on that extension?  [In the male vocabulary in English "weapon" and various weapons have been a way to say "penis" from at least the 1590s (e.g., Romeo and Juliet)].  Note the powerloader as a direct, nonsexual, extension.) 

         48-49: Some description of Marine scene (consistent with film); Ripley as powerloader opperator.

         50: The bit on prerecorded bands and possibly sharp sticks may be an allusion to (and slap at?) Robert A. Heinlein's Starship Troopers (1959), which gave the S.F. world enemy Bugs and a rah-rah picture of warfare.  (Real Question: I think better of these people for being anti-rah-rah, but I'm Vietnam generation.  How do you respond?  Would you prefer them clean and neat, respectable and well dressed, marching off smartly?)

         53: Acheron vs. Earth's bureaucracy. 

         55: Hick's sleep as Ripley's goal. 

         56: Wierzbowski (with a Polish name) kids Crowe (English name) about wanting his "mommy."  Note ethnic diversity--and mommy motif.

         57-58: Note what we call in the Film Crit. Biz mise en scene: what things look like.  Sounds to me like the film: postModern, funky, functional, ugly.

         59: Sgt. Apone as professional; Vasquez's movements robotic. 

         59-60: Explicit identifying of Acheron with Hell.  The humans have now passed through a gateway into a new, and far worse, world. 

         60 f.: Marines advancing.  Keep track of how long they advance.  (About half of the film is their retreat.) 

         62: All's quiet on the Hadley front: A play on the title of the famous antiwar book and film (USA 1930), All Quiet on the Western Front, where it's not that quiet that the hero can't get killed by a sniper. 

 

VI.

         66: Be sure you picture what the facehugger forms of the Alien look like and what they do.  (In Alien, the imagery suggests rape and impregnation.)

         68: labyrinth: a maze; cf. Monster Maze game.  In Greek myth, there was a hybrid monster--the Minataur--in the center of a stone labyrinth. 

         69: Newt-2 in novel (first we see Newt in film). 

         70: nest--relatively safe containment? 

         71: solido of the girl: continuity and change; people still keep pictures, but the technology is more advanced.  (Newt = Rebecca Jorden.  [Significant name?  All I can think of is Rebecca, Mother of Israel, and Rebecca of Sunny Brook Farm.  And I don't know anything for "Jorden."])

 

VII.

         73-74: Ripley cares for Newt, starting with cleaning her off.  Note Ripley with Newt vs. Burke and the Marines with the computer--but don't oversimplify that scene: the computer's finding "PDTs" is and important human thing. 

         74: Rank in military and Company hierarchies. 

         75: newt: The animal is a kind of salamander, known for complex ways of handling the larval stage and adulthood: some become adults while looking to layfolk like they're still larvae; some have two adult stages. 

         75-76: We meet Casey, and Newt says she doesn't want Ripley for a friend; Newts friends tend to get killed and (therefore) desert her. 

         76: Ripley on Newt as adult.  Ripley's promise to Newt to "stay around."

         77: Newt/computer hinted at again: near-simultaneous breakthroughs

                  Apone's reference to girls: gender bigotry?  What do you make of the hive metaphor?  (Are humans more like the Aliens than we care to think?)

         78: Newt on mazes; Narrator in praise of the Company's machines.

         80-86: Descent into the Mechanical Maze/Monster with "bowels" (81).  Note descents and ascents: Heroic things to do (e.g., Odysseus, Odin, Christ). 

                  Note very well the description of the lowest level: you get suggestions of a hive, nest, maze, jungle, nightmare, center of a web, hell.  Add a heart of darkness, and you've got most of the standard associations. 

         83: Burke on Aliens' tearing apart expensive things, juxtaposed to Ripley on colonists. 

         84: Note Vasquez and Drake's potentially disastrous disobedience in keeping their smartguns operative vs. (?) Hick's use of personal, appropriate technology in bringing along a shotgun.  (Cameron said he wanted to comment in his film about inappropriate high technology used by the US in Vietnam.  Given the nature of the Aliens, Cameron's comments seem honest: his film is far from a moral commentary that it was wrong for the US to kill in Vietnam.)

         85-86: The Heart of Darkness: teratogenic: "monster-forming" is my guess.  Picture this; it hits a lot of metaphorical nerves.

         86: That apparently twitching wall is the turning point of the novel.

 

VIII.

         [87]: Aliens/machines (with some suggestions of insects).

         88: Narrator describes Vasquez as a High-tech harpy and Drake as a new-wave neanderthal.  A harpy is a mythological female figure like a huge, nasty-tempered bird of prey; "new-wave" here would mean something like "punk."  Homo sapiens neanderthalensis = an ancient subspecies of humans who were destroyed by and/or interbred with Homo sapiens sapiens; we often slander Neanderthals by thinking them brutish. 

                  Note body-parts becoming extensions of the weapon (cf. Robert Ardrey on human beings as a biologic invention suited for weapons). 

                  Dietrich and Frost become casualties.  ("Casualties": killed, maimed, seriously injured, captured, or missing in action.)

         89: Note Hudson's {{Run away!}} (in my paraphrase) as good advice.  Wierbowski and Crowe become casualties. 

         90: Note problems in trying to design technology for the unknown.  Or battle tactics.  (Possible MORAL: flexibility is important.  [Possible subMORAL: the last thing bureaucratic organization is is flexible . . . .])

         91: Ripley to the rescue!  Note Narrator on her motivations.  (If you don't find them plausible, why do you think heroes do what they do?  [Note: a friend of mine told me that one of the more common responses from a hero who's just done his heroics is "I did what?!?  And you #$%*&* let me!?!"  I.e., they don't think at all.  Or, they get {{possessed}} and just do what they do because--something--makes them do it.])

         92: The entrance to the station may be gaping to suggest a mouth: {{Hellmouth}}?  Note that at least since the Book of Jonah in the Bible--and it was hardly original there--Sheol (the pit, grave; Hades) has been {{the belly of the beast}}.  Suggestion: in addition to our terrors of rape, monstrous impregnation, being teared apart, and such, the Aliens threaten us with being devoured and held alive inside monstrous guts.  (Men fear rape?  Any who've been threatened with prison do.  [Unless they're too dumb to fear.])

         93: What's your opinion of Gorman?  The APC?  (If it got down to a choice, would you save the Man or the machine?)

         94: Death of Drake. 

         95: Narrator cites primal fears in analyzing for us Newt's scream.  Note very well the idea of safe containment, as opposed to the threatening containment of being cocooned.

                  Detailed description of Alien mandible and such.  (Would you like to hear the Aliens' side of this encounter?  Perhaps Alien adults have to overcome a good deal of revulsion to place eggs where the facehuggers will impregnate humans.  Perhaps like the ichneumon wasp they just do what they do, parasitizing other creatures for the sake of their young--in the process ridding the neighborhood of various pests.  [Consider such grotesque thoughts in dealing with any work which presents xenocide as desirable.])

         96: Burke helps save Gorman.  (No creature is 100% bad?)

         97: The APC was designed to be invulnerable: Ha!  Juxtapposed with this idea: Newt, intelligently hiding. 

         99: Gorman paralyzed (different from film?).  Hicks in charge by a Marine {{basic}}: the Chain of Command. 

 

IX.

         100-101: Bishop studying Alien facehugger with scientific curiosity definitely reinforced with very unscientifically interested concern.  (In old scientific theory, investigators, ideally, are disinterested.) 

         101-02: Spunkmeyer's thoughts on Bishop.  The Narrator's omniscience is very handy here; Spunkmeyer introduces AI--Artificial Intelligence--casually, which is appropriate since AI is fairly commonplace in his world.  What other information do we get in the first full paragraph on p. 102?

         102: Note Vasquez's feelings and her correct thoughts on {{SOP}}: standard operating procedure(s).  How useful is SOP when the situation is unique? 

         103, 105: Cameron is big on the US not using proper equipment in Vietnam--and wanting to say something about that in his film.  How seriously should we take the idea in the novel?  Are the Aliens just a technical problem?

         103-07: Counsel on {{How to Proceed Without All of Us Getting Killed}}

                  103, 107: Ripley on nuke 'em from orbit, then Hicks.  (Same as film.)

                  103-06: Debate between Ripley and Burke.  Note their reasoning.  Ripley wants to cut their losses and destroy the Aliens and get out.  Burke wants to save the Company's investment and profit himself--oh, yeah, and the Aliens are blatantly a species of much scientific interest. 

                             the larger picture / What's done is done: Loaded phrases.  {{The Big Picture}} (126) is a cliche used by people who claim to work in a larger context than the common folk: {{You may be upset that your son was killed by friendly fire, but that's because you lack The Big Picture, in which view the casualties from the operation were well worth while.}}  When national security is claimed, people may say one needs The Big Picture to make rational decisions--but refuse to give it to you because it's a secret.  The Big Picture was the title of a 1950s propaganda series by the US Army, picked up by J. Whitney Brown (sp.?) for the name of his routine on Saturday Night Live.  /  "What's done is done" is a cliche, but coming right after the Big Picture bit, it may hint at usages by a couple of {{ancestors}} of Burke: Shakespeare's Richard III and Lady Macbeth. 

                  105: Note Burke's temptation of Ripley.  One of his other ancestors is Shakespeare's Iago in Othello. 

         109: Deaths of Spunkmeyer, Ferro, loss of the dropship and the APC.

         110: take point: lead the squad.

         113: Note Narrator on android psychology.  (Does the Narrator distinguish too radically between looking uncertain and being uncertain?  With several options to weigh, why couldn't an android be uncertain until they are weighed?)

 

X.

         114: Note Hudson's image of himself as a hard-case: i.e., {{a hard-assed, macho muthuh}}--or whatever the current slang for a tough guy.  Note how easily that hard case cracks.  (Is there a theme of flexibility in Aliens?)

         115: Emergency beeper: keep your eye on this device. 

         117-19: Ripley and Newt dialog:

                  Should we become like empty-headed dolls or plastic people?  Might there be some cases where that's the cost of survival?

                  Are monsters real?  (I certainly believe in Carter Burke . . . .)

                  118: Specific on impregnation by Alien and normal gestation.  Some hints about Ripley's marriage, divorce, daughter. 

                  119: Note technology protecting Newt from {{ghoulies and ghosties and long-legged beasties . . .}}.  Does this magic work?

         120-22: Discussion of Alien biology.  Aliens come from creatures that have gestated in living human bodies that have been impregnated by facehuggers that come from eggs.  In which case--where do the eggs come from?  Insect analogy suggests, From a queen. 

         121-22: Question of Alien intelligence.  Before the end of the novel, determine what you think about that.  If they are intelligent, is it ethical to kill them?  All the more reason to kill them since they're more dangerous smart than as just little biologic machines, running on instinct? 

         122: Burke's plan to bring back an Alien facehugger.  Ripley/Bishop.

         123-26: Ripley and Burke Confrontation (longer than in film).

                  123: Burke on the Marines' operation.

                  124: Burke on the law (and avoidance thereof, with Company help).

                  125: Ripley on Burke's Company Directive 6-12-9, 5/13/79 sending out party to inspect alien derelict.  Question: Do you agree with the film critics who sees blaming Burke like this undermining the attack on the Company--by making it look like individual villains cause all the harm?  (But even when bureaucracies do great evils, aren't individuals still responsible?) 

                             Note Burke's failure to understand Ripley's moral outrage.  Like Shakespeare's Richard III wooing his sister-in-law to wed her daughter, after killing two of her sons: {{Hey, what's done is done.  What's the problem?  We still can do business.}}

         126: Burke on getting the government off his back. 

 

XI.

         129-30: In the great thriller tradition, our heroes are about to be relieved in part of the necessity to nuke the installation from orbit: it's going to blow up on its own in about four hours.  (

         130: Hudson vs. Vasquez on the Corps. 

         131: Ripley explores options; cf. Burke (126)--??? 

         131-32: Note Bishop's quiet, "I'll go" and his claiming to by synthetic, "not stupid."  As the Narrator presents Bishop's thoughts, Bishop is cool, especially if you know at least the folklore that W. C. Fields's headstone says "On the Whole I'd Rather Be in Philadelphia." 

         133-34: Ripley/Bishop--she still thinks of him as more machine than human.

         134: Narrator on Bishop on Bishop and the biologic humans--and on Ash from Alien and the horrible possibility of malicious reprogramming. 

         135: Narrator on Bishop on Aliens.  Is human society totally different from a hive?  Are we a chaotic hive, as Bishop thinks?  If individuality is the source of that chaos, is individuality a bad thing?  Work through the logical possibilities, including that chaos might be good.  (Recall that you've been programmed to consider Order good and Chaos evil.  In SF, that {{truth}} may not be a given, and it may not be true. 

         137: Note frosty as a positive word among the Marines.  If {{cool}} is good, "frosty" is even better.  And where does that put {{warm}} emotions?

                  Hicks gives Ripley weapons training. 

         138-39: Narrator on Bishop on Bishop and Aliens.  Note Bishops pacifism, and his desire to survive. 

         139: Cut to Hicks and Ripley, and weapons. 

         140: The humanity of Burke--technically.

         141: Ripley takes nap with Newt. 

         142: Bishop at tower, preparing dropship.  Note Narrator's hedging on whether or not Bishop might and have other secrets. 

 

XII.

         143-49: Facehugger Attack on Ripley and Newt in Med Lab

                  146: Newt calls Riply mommy.

                  147-48: Note rape imagery.  (ventral = front.)

         150-51: Burke's scheme and Ripley's vision of him as inhuman.  (Does Ripley flatter our species?)  Note very well Ripley on humans vs. Aliens, where Aliens might have the moral edge: not destroying other aliens for a percentage.  (The line in the film is rougher in language, using a taboo word.  Do you find it odd that it's {{cleaner}} in print?) 

         152: They cut the power: What do you think of Alien intelligence?  Of their intelligence vs. ours, at least as manifested in technology? 

         154: Dante: The first part of his Comedy is set in Hell.  Poe: Edgar Allan Poe, early American author of, among other things, horror stories. 

 

XII.

         Final Alien Attack

                  155: Burke identified again as the Company rep. 

                  157: Death of Hudson

                  158: Burke still schemes; note his ideas on bishop.  Note that Burke is stung, suggesting he'll be impregnated.  Is that just?  Is it an improvement upon the film, where Burke may just be killed outright?  (I think he's impregnated in the film, but, if so, it's not stressed.  The more rigorous members of an early audience were disappointed when it seemed Burke was just killed cleanly: "Too fast . . . .")

                  159 f.: In the Monster Maze

                  162-63: Death of Gorman and Vasquez.  Vasquez throughout is who she is.  Does Gorman develop, at least enough to die well--and with Vasquez.  Should we prefer a developing Gorman to a consistent Vasquez?  (The postRomantic idea is that we should prefer the developing character.  If we accept that preference, is there a problem in the male director of the film and the male author of the novel--that they can't picture a woman as a Self and capable of development?  [Do minor characters ordinarily develop?])

                  164: Ripley and Newt calling for each other, with Newt calling Mommy.

                  167: Note comparison between combat armor and insect exoskeleton.

                  168: With 26 minutes to go--another emergency: find Newt.

 

XIV.

         168-69: Note Hellish imagery and the APC as a symbol for overconfidence and a misplaced faith in . . . technology.

                  The Arming of the Hero--plus Bishop making the obvious argument.

         169-70: On Bishop's ability to feel. 

         170: First names for Ripley (Ellen) and Hicks (Dwayne).  Significant? 

                  Ripley will go to the lowest level, the 7th (a {{magic}} number). 

         170 f.: The Descent of the Hero.

                  171: She's alone in the elevator; she goes to the bottom, as far into the bowels as one can go.  Note Hellish imagery, and allusions; note disturbing blending of mechanical and organic.  (The novel is dedicated to H. R. Giger, the designer for Alien, who excells at such disturbing blends.) 

                  172: Note well-used cliche of count-down to disaster. 

                             Carter Burke in Hall; Ripley gives him a primed gernade (definitely not in release version I saw of the film).  Justice?  Mercy?

                  173: Switch to Newt's point of view.  Rescue by Ripley.

                  174: the alien queen: note description.  Nasty, but a worthy adversay for Ripley in the film.  Is the queen admirable in the novel? 

                  174-75: Ripley blasts everything nonmechanical.  Purification? 

                             Is there a disgust with body-stuff in the descriptions?

                             Should we see Ripley performing a kind of massive abortion plus {{D&C}} as {{Dusting and Cleaning}}--but with fire? 

                  175 f.: Escape from the Belly of the Beast

         Ascent to the (Mother)Ship

                  177: Apparently safe containment inside the metal bottle of the dropship.  On Sulaco, Bishop and Ripley caring for Hicks (Bishop standing, Ripley kneeling--which may save her life).

                  178: Ripley compliments Bishop--followed by appearance of queen and skewering of Bishop (with android {{blood}} spilling).

                  179: Again note Aliens/machinery: queen fits right in. 

                             Arming of the Warrior-Matron, Part Two: Ripley gets into mechanical exoskeleton of the powerloader, making her the queen's equal in strength (but disturbingly like an insect queen? reassuringly working class?).

         180-82: {{The Battle of the Big Mamas}}:

Note well that the Warrior Maiden is common enough in literature since ancient times.  The {{Big Mama}} bit is a joke from a Science Fiction Research Association Conference, but it stresses an important point: both the queen and Ripley are mothers. 

                  180: Note that the queen is also biomechanical, and that both Ripley and the queen are called dragons.  Is Hicks St. George?  He's in a coma.  And Bishop will have to {{pull himself together . . .}}--no full males available. 

                  181: Note machine powerloader, biomechanoid queen, and human Ripley struggling.  Bishop's upper half--only--saves Newt. 

                  182-83: Ripley, Newt, Bishop, and Hicks start their return home.  Consider whether their injuries--and healing--are thematically significant.