My favorite day of the year is Alien Day. (Okay, so it’s one of my favorite days, but look it’s easily right up there with Halloween.) In honor of the creepy, dust storm–ravaged planet of the original Alien (1979) film, LV426, the Alien franchise designated April 26th as Alien Day, and every year they invite fans of Alien to join in and celebrate their favorite “monster in the house but the house is a spaceship” movie.
Ever since the success of the original film, the Alien franchise has expanded by leaps and bounds. It is now comprised of the four original films (Alien, Aliens, Alien3, and Alien Resurrection) as well as the two most recent additions (Prometheus and Alien: Covenant). But it’s not just movies! The Alien franchise now also encompasses video games, graphic novels, and books! Lots and lots of books, in fact.
So grab your flamethrowers, your cat carriers (Hi, Jonesy), your motion detectors, and your space suits. Let’s get Xenomorph-y!
Alien Books for Adults
Alien by Alan Dean Foster
You might be thinking “Why on earth would I read a movie novelization when I can just watch terrifying cosmic space horror?” And granted, you have a point. However, you might just want to give Alan Dean Foster’s novelizations of the Alien franchise films a read. This isn’t a fandom test, you’re not more or less an Alien fan if you read them, but often a movie’s novelization has more freedom to flesh out a universe that, on screen, suffers from time restraints and the sharp cut of the censor’s scalpel. That’s definitely the case with Foster’s Alien, as well as his three other novelizations for the franchise: Aliens, Alien3, and Alien: Covenant.
…that’s only three films, Jessica.
If you’re counting off films in your head, you may be wondering about the two that are unrepresented: Prometheus, and Alien Resurrection. Well, the novelization of Prometheus was written by Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof, released only in Japan, and is apparently a thing of which we do not speak? Instead Foster wrote an original prequel to Covenant, Alien: Covenant Origins, which leads up to the events of the film and explores the world the colonists of Covenant left behind. And as for Alien Resurrection, I thought it deserved an entry of its own.
Alien Resurrection by A.C. Crispin & Kathleen O’Malley
So, Alien fans are legendarily split on the matter of Alien Resurrection. Objectively it’s just not a great film (Joss Whedon wrote it and… well take from that what you will). However, while some Alien fans deny its very existence, and others just embrace the absolutely bananas plot, still others love this fourth installment of the Alien franchise. But when it comes to the novelization, there’s something special worth noting: it’s one of the only original novelizations written by a woman! Two women, actually, though Kathleen O’Malley was not credited on the cover. It’s not the first book in the Alien franchise written by a woman, nor the only one, but since women writers in the franchise are few, it’s definitely worth highlighting! And, so the reviewers say, Crispin and O’Malley’s novelization goes a long way towards salvaging this odd (very odd) film.
The Complete Aliens Omnibus: Volume One by Various Authors
See Jessica write a list of Alien Franchise books…see Jessica fudge it a bit so she can include even more books than it says in the title. There are seven Complete Aliens Omnibuses, and between them they encapsulate all of the Alien franchise novels published between 1992 and 2008, which is something like 15 novels in total. These Omnibuses, added to the four original novelizations (Alien through Alien Resurrection), comprise the entirety of both the first and second Alien novel series. And, happy day of happy days, the anthology series includes works from all five of the franchise’s female authors: S.D. Perry, Yvonne Navarro, Diane Carrey, A.C. Crispin, and Sandy Schofield (Sandy is actually a two person team of Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith). The novels in these Omnibuses span the width and breadth of the Alien universe, stretching its boundaries and giving it a marvelous depth of detail beyond even what the film series presents. Other authors involved include: Steve Perry, David Bischoff, Robert Sheckley, Michael Jan Friedman, John Shirley, and B.K. Evenson.
Alien: Out of the Shadows by Tim Lebbon
That brings me to this glorious first book in a fairly recent canonical trilogy of Alien novels. I actually listened to Out of the Shadows as a dramatized audiobook and let me tell you, if you’re out walking (or running) hearing that Xeno hiss in your ear will get you moving. Tim Lebbon’s novel tells the story of Chris Hooper and the crew of the mining ship Marion. The Marion is locked into orbit above LV178, mining for trimonite, when two Very Bad Things happen nearly simultaneously. A shuttle crashes into the ship, bearing the still cryosleep-locked form of Ellen Ripley (who has been sleeping for much much longer than she knows), and from deep within the mines comes a new kind of evil the miners never expected. This book? So good. So twisty. So deathy. It’s followed by two other books in the “Canonical Alien Trilogy”: Alien: Sea of Sorrows by James A. Moore, and Alien: River of Pain by Christopher Golden.
Alien: Cold Forge by Alex White
A recent novel in the Alien franchise, released in April 2018, Alex White’s Cold Forge takes place in the aftermath of Aliens, and the destruction of the Hadley’s Hope colony on what used to be LV426. But the Weyland-Yutani company—the ever-present evil corporation that lurked in the background of the original film but which has increasingly taken center stage as the Alien franchise has progressed—never gives up. Not when their end goal is to finally weaponize the deadly Xenomorph species and, one can only presume, basically make so much money they can buy the whole of space. You know, as evil capitalist corporations do. So they turn their attention to remote station RB-323. But there’s a spy aboard who may not be interested in helping Weyland-Yutani succeed, and the threat of a Xenomorph outbreak is always at hand. Part corporate espionage, part space horror, White’s novel is definitely a fascinating new expansion of the Alien universe.
Alien: Prototype by Tim Wagonner (October 29, 2019)
From the sound of the synopsis it looks like Tim Wagonner’s forthcoming Alien book might just be a sequel to White’s 2018 Cold Forge. In Prototype, corporate spy Tamar Prather has stolen a valuable—and deadly—Xenomorph egg and turned it over to Weyland-Yutani’s competitor, Venture. Zula Hendricks, a former Colonial Marine, has to infiltrate Venture and get it back. But when the egg hatches and impregnates a human test subject, every human being on the planet, including Hendricks, will finds themselves in terrible danger.
Aliens: Bug Hunt by Various Authors
Not ready to commit to a full-length Alien novel yet? Don’t worry! You can still get your fill of all that screaming, bloody, good-time Xenomorph fun with Aliens: Bug Hunt, an anthology of fifteen short stories by authors from the Alien franchise and beyond, set during the events of all four original Alien films and featuring everyone’s favorite Colonial Marines. This “bug” infested volume includes stories by well-known genre fiction authors such as: Rachel Caine, Christopher Golden, Brian Keene, Heather Graham, and Jonathan Maberry (also the editor), among others!
YA Alien Books
Alien: Echo by Mira Grant
Can I just say: Ahhhhh OMG a YA Alien Novel! Okay. Okay. I’m good. I’m just so excited that the Alien franchise has finally broken into the YA sci-fi/horror market and is introducing its fascinating universe to younger readers. On top of which, they recruited Mira Grant to write their first YA book, which is just so fantastic because when it comes to sci-fi and horror, Grant has all her bases covered. Echo is about Olivia and her twin Viola, the daughters of two prominent xenobiologists known for their work on “obscure alien biology.” Their family has been hopping from planet to planet all their lives, and space isn’t always the friendliest of final frontiers, but this most recent colony world poses a threat more dangerous than any they have encountered before. And the only thing more dangerous than the creatures themselves may be the family secrets Olivia’s parents have been keeping.
Alien Picture Books
(Yes, you read that correctly.)
Alien Next Door by Joey Spiotto
I am obsessed with this book. I’m serious. I haven’t bought it for myself yet but I honestly don’t know what I’m waiting for because it is the cutest darn thing I have ever seen. The synopsis for Joey Spiotto’s Alien Next Door invites Alien franchise fans to come “see a new, caring side to the legendary science fiction monster as he tends to Jonesy the cat, endeavors to keep his house cleaner than the Nostromo, and searches for his place on a cold, new alien world: Earth”—and yes, it is every bit as adorable, and darkly humorous, as you might think. If you’re looking for a book for your monster loving little one, I would probably stick with C for Cthulhu, but for your own amusement, definitely take time to “awwwww” over this absurdly lovable Xenomorph.
Jonesy: Nine Lives on the Nostromo by Rory Lucey
Did you think I was done bringing you the Alien franchise cuteness? Oh no, my friends. No no. Rory Lucey’s Jonesy is the oh so adorable depiction of Nostromo ship’s cat Jones as he lives his life onboard. The events of Alien are retold through the eyes of Jonesy as he goes from chasing space rats to hiding from the biggest, meanest rat of them all. Like Alien Next Door, Jonesy is a darkly humorous look at the Alien franchise, and a definite must read if you love one brave orange space cat.
Books for Fans of the Alien Franchise
If you’ve been keeping track in the first half of this list you might have noticed that, while there are a handful of women among the Alien writers, it’s still a largely male list. It’s also completely white. Though the Alien franchise has a fairly good record for starring female leads, and including characters of color in its films (I’m making no judgement value on the level or quality of that representation, however, because I think it varies from movie to movie), its written universe is cultivated entirely by white people and predominantly by men. So part two of this list will take a look at ten books written by either a woman, an author of color, or or someone who fits both categories. These novels are are written in the same spirit as Alien, whether that means scary space adventures, tense meetings with alien species, or the dangers of expanding the human race out beyond the stars.
Parasite by Darcy Coates
Strange alien life forms on a remote rock in space? Check. Breaking protocol to investigate said life forms with blatant disregard for the safety of yourself or others? Check. Parasitic aliens? Check. But the aliens in Darcy Coates’s Parasite don’t just hitch a ride in the human body before making a violent exit via the chest cavity. They actually wear their victim’s body like a skin suit and adopt their personality. Quick to spread, nearly impossible to detect. Slowly the great network of space stations begins to go dark, communications collapse, defenses crumble, and the extinction of the human race seems almost inevitable.
Toxic by Lydia Lang
If you’ve watched the original Alien you are familiar with the “gothic house in space” look of the set, as the xenomorph stalks its way through the massive refinery the Nostromo is towing. So when I heard that Kang’s Toxic also featured a massive, largely empty ship—in this case a bioship, a living ship that is slowly dying as the story progresses—I signed right up for that mission. Hana was raised in secret on Cyclo, and lived in secret until the day that everyone, including her mother, simply vanished. Fenn signed on to a suicide mission tasked with monitoring Cyclo’s death to save his sister’s life. As the ship grows sicker, both Hana and Fenn must work their way through the Cyclo’s secrets and its past in order to discover what happened to its crew.
An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon
Alright you got me. In reality this is post is just a means for me to talk about Alien and my second sci-fi love: complicated space ships. The HSS Matilda of Solomon’s An Unkindness of Ghosts is definitely complicated. Described as being organized much like the hierarchy of the antebellum South, the Matilda is stratified by color, with dark-skinned sharecroppers like Aster dismissed as inhuman and relegated to the low-deck slums. Like the many haven-seeking colonists of the Alien franchise, the Matilda is supposedly headed to a mythical promised land. But before they can make it there, the ship may well be torn apart by civil war and old secrets.
Lilith’s Brood by Octavia Butler
Lilith’s Brood is a collection of the three novels of Butler’s Xenogenesis series, and while it is not actively frightening I wanted to include it on this list because the central aspect of the series is a run in between humanity and an alien species. The Oankali don’t want to make xeno-dinners out of humans, however. They are driven by a need to heal others, and mean to rescue Earth by swapping genes with mankind (I reaaaaaaally want to make some sort of alien sex joke here, but darn it, I am a professional). The children born of these strange unions are unmistakably alien, yet undeniably human as well.
The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling
This one is high on my 2019 book buying list, because like Alien, Caitlin Starling’s space horror novel is all about being alone in the dark. Though reliant more on psychological terror than the potential dangers stalking the shadows, The Luminous Dead tells the story of Gyre Price, who lied her way onto a cave expedition guaranteed to pay enough to get her off her planet. She’s working in tandem with a surface team, including Em who knows more than she’s saying and has goals that Gyre is not privy to—which is unfortunate as the suit that Gyre is wearing deep into the underground can be entirely controlled by the surface team: her air, her bodily functions, and—with a little pharmaceutical assistance—even her mind.
Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor
Like Lilith’s Brood, Lagoon is not necessarily a horror in the sense of the Alien franchise. Instead it’s a tense thriller documenting an encounter between humanity and extraterrestrial life as a massive object falls from the sky and lands in the ocean off the coast of Lagos. The descent of this impossible object unites the lives of three strangers—a marine biologist, a rapper, and a soldier—as they band together to save their country and their world. Whether it’s bloodthirsty xenos, sex-happy healers, or some great unknown that throws Earth into chaos, stories like those found in the Alien franchise or in Okorafor’s Lagoon are all about that what if question of human meets alien.
Sanctuary by Caryn Lix
Lix’s novel takes its cue (and its place on this list) from a less gifted but still oft beloved member of the Alien franchise: Alien3. Like Alien3, Lix’s novel takes place in a prison that finds itself caught between a prisoner rebellion and a deadly, evil threat from the darkness of space. Sanctuary is a prison for super powered teens too dangerous to be kept on earth, and Kenzie has trained her whole life to become one of its elite guards. At least until she’s caught in a riot and finds herself trapped within, and her escape plans are sidelined by something far more dangerous than the inmates.
The Three Body Problem by Liu Cixin
Liu Cixin’s novel is both a chance for me to slide a SFF novel in translation onto my list and to work in a novel that touches on the “science explores (and possibly transgresses?) the limits of nature” theme that is featured in several of the Alien films and novels. Ye Wenjie witnesses the death of her physicist father after he refuses to denounce the theory of relativity, and is arrested on her own charges of sedition and sent to work in a research facility that searches for alien intelligence. Years later her research for the facility, a complex game involving the titular physics problem, and a string of suicides become tangled up together.
Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee
Aside from its absolutely gorgeous cover (just look at it, would you?), Yoon Ha Lee’s Ninefox Gambit has so much to recommend it to Alien fans. Though there aren’t any rampaging monsters, there is however an ominously named Fortress of Scattered Needles (which has been overtaken by heretics and must be reclaimed) and a mad war tactician who may be as dangerous as he is helpful to Captain Kel Cheris in her attempts to retake the fortress. Dark, tense, fascinating, and complete with controlling space organization (this time the Hexarchate), Ninefox Gambit was an easy pick for this list.
Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson
Did you think I was going to go this whole list without including one book about evil A.I.? Yeah no. Not after Ash. And Archos is for real like his evil cousin or something. Even wider reaching than Nostromo‘s mainframe A.I. Mother, and twice as malicious as ol’ Android Ash ever was, Archos is a powerful yet childlike A.I. who assumes control of the planet. It can control everything from transportation to communication. Small, ominous “glitches” proceed a massive takeover that comes to be known as the Robot War. Don’t trust your smartphone. Not even your microwave.