Exclusive Interview: “Alien: Prototype” Author Tim Waggoner
Like with Star Trek, Star Wars, and Halo, the Alien / Aliens universe has expanded a lot lately thanks to all the new novels, comics, and video games. All of which is coming together in the new Alien novel, Alien: Prototype (paperback, Kindle). In the following email interview, writer Tim Waggoner talks about how this story came to be, and how it connects to other Aliens running around the universe.
To begin, what is Alien: Prototype about, and how does it connect, both narratively and chronologically, to the Alien movies?
Prototype takes place after Alien but before Aliens. It’s the story of former Colonial Marine Zula Hendricks [from the comic books Aliens: Defiance, Resistance, and Rescue and the novel Aliens: Isolation]. Zula — already an experienced slayer of Xenomorphs — has been hired by Venture, a corporate rival of Weyland-Yutani. Venture specializes in tech and supplies for space colonization, and they have a testing facility on an otherwise uninhabited planet. Venture hires Zula to train a private security force that will be able to protect colonists from hostile lifeforms — basically, Venture’s corporate version of the Marines. Venture’s higher-ups have heard rumors that Xenomorphs exist, and they’re desperate to get their hands on one of their very own so they can exploit if for profit and hopefully out-complete Weyland-Yutani. They do acquire an Ovamorph, but the host in which the Xenomorph embryo is implanted has something wrong with him, and the resulting creature that’s born is not only unlike any Xenomorph that’s ever existed, it’s also deadlier. Zula and her group of barely trained personnel — with the assistance of Zula’s disembodied Synth friend Davis — have to try to stop the Xenomorph, not only before it can wipe out everyone in the testing facility, but before it can create others of its kind.
Who came up with the idea for Alien: Prototype?
The final idea was the result of brainstorming between myself, Steve Saffel at Titan Books, and Steve Tzrlin at Fox. From the beginning, the plan was to feature Zula Hendricks as the main character, and the story was designed to take place between the comic series Alien: Defiance and Alien: Resistance as well as after Keith DeCandido’s novel Alien: Isolation [all of which] also take place after the movie Alien and before Aliens. Fox was looking to create greater continuity between their Alien properties — movies, games, novels, comics, etc. The two Steves and I batted around some initial ideas, then I started working on an outline. After a couple revisions, the Steves approved my outline, and I was able to start writing.
Since I knew Zula was going to be my main character, I wanted to put her into a situation different from what she’d already experienced in Defiance. I decided it would be a challenge for her to assume a leadership position where she had to work with people other than Amanda Ripley and Davis — people who were untrained but were all she had to help her deal with a new Xenomorph threat.
And I wanted my Xenomorph to be different than any other that’s appeared in the Alien universe so far. Zula had already dealt with regular Xenomorphs, so I decided to give her a new one to fight. I used the idea that Xenomorphs take on certain qualities of their hosts, and — without giving away too much — I created a mutant Xenomorph that’s even deadlier than the usual breed.
Alien: Prototype is not the first novel you’ve written that’s based on a movie or TV show. You’ve written a bunch based on the show Supernatural, including Mythmaker and Children Of Anubis, as well as the Stargate SG-1 novel Valhalla. How did your experience writing Alien: Prototype compare to the other licensed novels you’ve written?
The creative process was more collaborative with Prototype than with other tie-in novels I’ve written, and that was fun. I’ve never had to make sure a novel fit in with a number of other properties, such as Keith’s novel and the comics. TheSupernatural novels I’ve done, while they do fit between specific episodes in specific seasons, were all self-contained stories for the most part. Zula wasn’t as well-developed a character as those in Supernatural and Stargate — she hasn’t been around for years and years — so that gave me more opportunity to present my own take on her. And since her character hasn’t appeared on film or TV, I didn’t have an actor’s portrayal to try and match. Because of this, I was able to create my own interpretation of Zula.
Speaking of making this fit in, are the Alien novels — and comics and games for that matter — considered canon, like how all the Star Wars stuff is canon, or is it more like Star Trek where the books, games, and comics have to adhere to the movies and shows but the movies and shows don’t have to follow the books, games, and comics?
The latter, I’d say. The movies are definitely canon for books, comics, and games to follow, but those other media will have no impact on any new movies that may be made — unless Fox decides to use any of those concepts. Fox ultimately owns all Alien-related material, so they can mine it for whatever ideas they want.
And are the Alien books canon to each other?
The Alien novels published by Titan are canon to each other, as are the comics Defiance, Resistance, [and Rescue], as well as recent games such as Isolation. Steve Saffel has worked hard to make sure they all connect and don’t contradict one another. Not all the various books, comics, and games that have appeared throughout the years from various companies connect to the current run of novels from Titan, though. Like any other fictional universe that’s been explored by different creators over many years, it’s best to treat canon as a loose, evolving thing and not worry about every little piece connecting perfectly. You’ll sleep better at night.
So how did this relation to canon impact what you wrote in Alien: Prototype? Like, did you have to change something because of what Mira Grant wrote in Alien: Echo or what Alex White did in Alien: The Cold Forge?
Since the Steves were in on developing the story for Prototype from the beginning, I didn’t have to worry about contradicting any particular element of continuity — which made writing the book a lot easier.
And did anyone from Fox say to you, “We need you to change this in your novel…and we can’t tell you why”?
Nope. As I said, working with the Steves at the outset prevented anything like this from happening. I did have a couple restrictions given to me by Fox. I had to be careful not to present my Xenomorph in a way that might make them seem sentient. I also wasn’t allowed to reference Prometheus — or any of its characters — in any way. That was a simple licensing issue, though, and it didn’t affect my novel since I hadn’t intended to use any of that material anyway.
As I mentioned earlier, Alien: Prototype is not your first novel. Are there any writers, or specific novels, that had a big influence on either what you wrote in Alien: Prototype or how you wrote it, but are unique influences on this story and not on anything else you’ve written?
I’m sure many of the science fiction novels that I read growing up influenced Prototype. Since the story is set on a planetary facility for testing space-colonization equipment and techniques, any novel — or TV show or movie, for that matter — that portrayed what it might be like for people to live and work in space influenced me.
One specific writer who was an influence on Prototype is Mike Resnick. Mike’s science fiction often focuses on characters who are at once larger-than-life but also grounded in day-to-day reality, and the futuristic tech is detailed just enough to make the story work — and his novels are often fast-paced adventures, too. I tried to bring all of those qualities to Prototype. I write horror and dark fantasy, mostly, but I’ve written urban fantasy and action-oriented novels as well. But the only science fiction I’ve done so far has been in media tie-ins like Prototype, and Mike’s work has influenced all those books.
What about non-literary influences; was Alien: Prototype influenced by any movies, TV shows, or video games? Besides the Alien ones, of course.
When I was growing up — back in the days before video games, DVDs, Blu-Rays, streaming content, and YouTube — most of my science fiction, fantasy, and horror came from comics, TV series, and my local once-a-week horror movie program Shock Theatre, hosted by Dr. Creep. Some of my favorite movies were monster-eating-people films from the ’50s and ’60s. And then in the ’70s, Jaws came out. All of these movies were influences I drew on when writing Prototype. At its core, an Alien story is about a monster eating (or at least killing) people and people trying to survive while they fight to kill it. Shows like the various Star Treks and Stargates were also an influence because they depicted groups of people who didn’t always get along but who ultimately had to work together to defeat an alien menace of some kind.
Now, along with Alien: Prototype, you also recently published the novel They Kill. What is that about?
They Kill is a horror / dark fantasy novel. Here’s the official description: Sierra Sowell’s dead brother Jeffrey is resurrected by a mysterious man known only as Corliss. Corliss also transforms four people in Sierra’s life into inhuman monsters determined to kill her. Sierra and Jeffrey’s boyfriend Marc work to discover the reason for her brother’s return to life while struggling to survive attacks by this monstrous quartet.
Given how close together they were published, I assume you wrote Alien: Prototype and They Kill around the same time if not at the same time.
Yes. I wrote They Kill first, then Prototype.
How did working on Alien: Prototype influence what you did in They Kill and vice versa?
They Kill was my version of the monster rallies I loved in my youth — films like House Of Frankenstein and House Of Dracula, in which multiple monsters appear and fight each other. So I had already been writing about monsters attacking people and battling each other before I started Prototype. Prototype, in turn, influenced the novel I wrote next, The Forever House, a horror / dark fantasy story that’s due out in March. Since I was working with a large cast of characters in Prototype, it got me ready to do the same thing in The Forever House. There are fifteen major characters in the book, and writing Prototype definitely prepared me to juggle that many characters. But writing has always been like that for me. Each thing I do informs the next thing I do, and so on and so on. In many ways, each novel or story is preparation for the next piece of fiction I’ll write.
So do you think people who enjoy Alien: Prototype will like They Kill?
They Kill has a lot of wild horror action in it, so that might appeal to people who enjoy Prototype. But it also is really, really weird, with some extreme content that might put off people who aren’t die-hard horror fans. So I guess my answer is…maybe?
Going back to Alien: Prototype, do you think it could work as a movie?
Sure! One of the things I tried to do with the novel was present a story that would feel like a cinematic adventure, one that would feel like both Alien and Aliens, my two favorites in the franchise. And I created my weird mutant Xenomorph to be what I hope is a striking visual image, especially in the way it fights and kills. So yeah, I think it would make a good movie. Hopefully, readers will think so too!
Finally, if someone enjoys Alien: Prototype, which of your original novels would you suggest they check out and why that one?
Maybe Nekropolis. It’s a fun, action-packed urban fantasy about a zombie detective who works in a city of monsters, witches, demons, and ghosts. It’s a love letter to all the horror movies I loved as a kid, and it’s the book I get the most fan mail about.
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