In a movie — like, say, Alien — the person writing the screenplay and the person who came up with the story are not always the same person. Or people. Like, say, Alien, which has a screenplay by Dan O’Bannon, but a story by O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett. But you don’t usually see this with novels, even novels connected to such movies, as, say, Alien. Or at least you didn’t until now, and the release of Alien: Inferno’s Fall (paperback, Kindle, audiobook), which (as it says inside) is, “A novel by Philippa Ballantine” and has a “Story by Philippa Ballantine and Clara Čarija.” To find out what this means for Philippa, Clara, and, of course, you, dear reader, check out the following email interview.
Philippa Ballantine, Clara Čarija.
To start, what is Alien: Inferno’s Fall about, and when and where does it take place in relation to the Alien movies?
Philippa: Inferno’s Fall happens in 2185 / 86. So the events of Aliens happened only five or six years ago, but this poor mining colony has no idea about what is bearing down on them. They’re plenty busy dealing with the problems of existing in the corporate environment.
Alien: Inferno’s Fall is the second book of three in a series that started with David Barnett’s Alien: Colony War and will conclude with Alien: Enemy Of My Enemy by Mary SanGiovanni [out February 21, 2023]. How does Inferno’s connect to those two, both narratively and chronologically?
Philippa: It is the middle book of the series chronologically, and the events surrounding it are part of a historic time period, not really explored in depth in canon — at least so far.
Narratively however, they contain different characters and events. I think reading all three together however will give a nice broad overview of the Colony War.
In my interview with David Barnett, we discussed how Alien: Colony War also has a connection to Alex White’s novel Alien: Into Charybdis. Is there a connection between Alien: Inferno’s Fall and Alien: Into Charybdis as well?
Philippa: David’s book and ours are definitely occurring during, around, or just after the same time period. Alex’s books are wonderful, and there may be some connection, but it isn’t a direct follow up or a sequel.
And should we read anything into the fact that the xenomorphs on the cover look more like the one at the end of Prometheus than those in the Alien movies?
Clara: I think that’s a fair assumption to make with the limited evidence at hand. But I can say with confidence you have never seen a xenomorph like this before.
Philippa: We definitely don’t want to spoil any surprises, but Clara is right. I think this book expands out some new threads and threats that are heavily implied in the movies.
While the Alien stories are always sci-fi, they often incorporate other genres as well. Alien was a sci-fi horror story, Aliens was a military sci-fi story, and so on. How do you describe Alien: Inferno’s Fall, genre-wise?
Philippa: That’s one of things I love about this universe, there is plenty of room for all kinds of stories. Aliens was very formative in my college years, and part of the story is told from the military point of view. The other portion is told from the viewpoint of regular people, just trying to get by mining and looking out for their families — think of LV-426 before instructions arrived from Burke in head office.
I’m also very proud of the different kinds of characters in this book, and especially the number of New Zealand, Chinese, and Australian characters we have. I think those kind of people in that kind of situation add a real richness to this universe. Genre-wise I might be tempted to call it family horror; all kinds of families get into trouble in this book.
So, where did you get the idea for this story?
Clara: I wanted it to be very much inspired by the Australian and New Zealand unity, especially in the Alien universe after the 3WE wanted to quash any idea of Australia becoming an independent republic. With so many nuclear resources it was a risk not worth taking. Canberra got nuked, we wanted to imagine Australia coping with its own people becoming refugees, considering the inhumane treatment they undergo when seeking asylum on our shores.
Philippa: I think the unity of Australia and New Zealand was the starting point. Figuring out where those two nations fitted in the Alien universe was a lot of fun.
Clara: I am so grateful for being introduced to Pip and working with her, we both really enjoyed the process of bouncing ideas off each other.
Philippa: I’ve collaborated with a number of people before, and that blending of ideas is one of the best things about it. Clara brought a lot to setting, as well as creating some characters that inspired me even more. A New Zealander and an Australian working together just seems to be the perfect combination for this project.
Philippa, Alien: Inferno’s Fall is not your first novel. Are there any writers, or specific stories, that had a big influence on Inferno’s but not on any of your other books?
Philippa: I am an old school horror fan, and I’ve always liked disaster movies, where things go wrong and people have dig deep to find solutions. I am also big fan of found family stories. I think with the current situation of the world, those are the kind of tales that offer hope.
Yet it’s hard to put a thumb on the gumbo of ideas that whirl around in an author’s head, but I am sure there is a bit of It and The Shining by Steven King in there somewhere. The books of your childhood and early adulthood have a tend to have a fast grip on people. Not coincidentally, that was also when I first watched Aliens. That mix of horror and action is hopefully what readers will find in Inferno’s Fall.
How about non-literary influences; was Alien: Inferno’s Fall influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games? Aside from the Alien ones, obviously.
Philippa: I played a lot of Alien: Fireteam Elite. It seriously came out at just the right time for this book. It provided some fun inspiration. Apart from all the movies and other media in the universe, a lot of body horror cinema filled my imagination. John Carpenter’s The Thing resonated with me; being trapped in an isolated situation, while having to deal with not on the monster, but other people. Chaos and danger bring out the best and the worst in people. I found that movie riveting and terrifying.
And what about your “furry clowder of cats”? What influence did they have on Alien: Inferno’s Fall?
Philippa: We have three cats. Benedick, who is our little rescue cat, and Viola and Sebastian, who are brother and sister. They are Siberians, who shed an enormous amount of fur. Viola is a fluffy ginger, and I’m not entirely if she was in Jonesy’s position which side she would choose…
top to bottom: Sebastian, Viola, Benedick
Clara, you previously consulted on the Alien novels Aliens: Phalanx by Scott Sigler [which you can read more about here] and Alex White’s Alien: Into Charybdis [which you can read more about here]. How did your work with them differ from your work with Philippa? Because you’re listed on Titan’s website for Inferno’s, and are doing this interview, but you’re not listed on the site for either Phalanx or Charybdis, which makes me think you were more involved in Inferno’s story.
Clara: With Phalanx, I just gave a few ship speed calculations with the help of Brad from Aliens Gateway Station Facebook group. We are big into the science of the series, and made sure any travel time was calculated correctly for departure.
With Into Charybdis, it was a group effort, I was part of a group called the Lone Gun People and they’re listed in the back of the book. We all contributed in different ways.
But with Inferno’s Fall, it was a partnership, and I took on a more important role of co-author to the story.
Did you learn anything working with Scott Sigler or Alex White that you feel had a big influence on what you did with Philippa on Alien: Inferno’s Fall?
Clara: I can definitely say Alex’s books were a big influence, there’s a few technological pieces mentioned. With Scott’s book it’s too far outside of the timeline to matter to Inferno’s Fall.
What were some of the things — Alien and otherwise — that influenced your work on Alien: Inferno’s Fall?
Clara: I spent a lot of time reading comics, Zula’s arc I was already following because I really love Davis and his relationship with Zula. I drew inspiration from The Divine Comedy, the Aliens comics from Dark Horse, and Prometheus, and worked in some lore from Aliens: Fireteam Elite.
So what was your biggest contribution is to Alien: Inferno’s Fall?
Clara: Names, Easter eggs, and some elements we had discussed in our brainstorming session we came up with together.
As I mentioned earlier, Alien: Inferno’s Fall is the second book of a series that includes David Barnett’s Alien: Colony War and Mary SanGiovanni’s Alien: Enemy Of My Enemy. There are some people who are eagerly awaiting the latter so they can read all three back-to-back. But do think this is a good idea or a bad idea?
Philippa: Our book is a slice of action spanning many worlds. I think reading them all doesn’t need to be done all at once, but I know some people will certainly do that — which is fine. Once a book is out there, it belongs to the readers more than the authors.
Now, like David Barnett’s Alien: Colony War and Mary SanGiovanni’s Alien: Enemy Of My Enemy, Alien: Inferno’s Fall comes with an exclusive game scenario for Free League’s Alien RPG. Clara, did you work on that as well?
Clara: I only made a few suggestions as to how to tie in Aliens: Fireteam Elite, and I worked closely with Chris to make sure the weapons and origin story would fit in with what they had planned. The scenario was all Drew; I only made some suggestions to ensure it tied to existing lore.
So, is there anything else you think people should know about Alien: Inferno’s Fall?
Clara: I think people will have their assumptions challenged. I put a lot of Chinese mythology into the story, and made it intertwine with a lot of the Alien universe aesthetic. I hope people have the courage to have the conversations that will come from analyzing the political atmosphere in the Alien universe. How it’s a dire warning for us as a species in terms of survival.
Philippa: I believe it shares the hopes and dangers of all the Alien universe movies. Humanity is both its own greatest enemy, and its own greatest hero. It just depends on the choices that lie ahead. No matter how dark the book gets, there is hope in working together.
Finally, if someone enjoys Alien: Inferno’s Fall, what Alien novel that you had nothing to do with would you each suggest people read while waiting for Mary SanGiovanni’s Alien: Enemy Of My Enemy to come out?
Philippa: I’d agree. I loved both of Alex’s books [The Cold Forge and Into Charybdis]. I think they brought some really new and interesting things to the table, while cementing the elements that people love there too. Alex’s writing is excellent, frightening, and challenges assumptions. Personally, as a reader I love those kind of books.