Apologies for spoiling a movie you should’ve seen 31 years ago, but one of the big shocks of 1992’s Alien3 came when Bishop from Aliens showed up, only it wasn’t that Bishop, it was Michael Bishop Weyland, the creator of the Bishop android. And while he wants the queen growing inside Ripley, he also wants his ‘droid back.
In the following email interview, Napper discusses how he came to write this book, as well as whether the real Bishop, iconic actor Lance Henriksen, has gotten his copy yet.
To start, what is Aliens: Bishop about, and when and where is it set both in relation to reality as well as the movies?
Aliens: Bishop follows directly after the events of Aliens and Alien3. All together, these three take place over a period of no more than a couple of months, in the year 2179.
Aliens: Bishop is, of course, about the synthetic we all know and love from the second movie in the series, Aliens. The novel is also about his creator, Michael Bishop, who we first meet in the closing scenes of Alien3. The inciting incident, at the start of my book, is Michael reactivating Bishop.
So it will be of no surprise to your readers that the novel is about the synthetic’s search for identity, for belonging, his internal struggle, and the perennial science fiction question of what it means to be human. But it’s also about empire. The Chinese, the Colonial Marines, and Weyland-Yutani are after the secrets contained in Bishop’s mind. What we get in Aliens: Bishop is a (spectacular) clash of empires.
Plus, of course, plenty of xenomorphs hissing, drooling, and stalking their way across the page.
Where did you get the idea for Aliens: Bishop?
I was asked to do it. My agent was submitting a new novella of mine called Ghost Of The Neon God (which will be out June 25, 2024). It went past the desk of Steve Saffell at Titan US. Steve said “no,” as they weren’t in the market for novellas, but became interested in me when he realised the novella was about an artificial intelligence. He’d heard good things, as well, about my debut, 36 Streets. His next question to my agent was: “Does he like the Aliens franchise?” You see, Steve also happened to be the guy who oversaw the whole Aliens tie-in novel line.
So, the original idea came from the publisher. But outside the central relationship between Bishop and his creator, everything else — the new POV characters, the setting, the three intertwined plotlines — came from me.
Like the movies and the books, Aliens: Bishop is sci-fi space opera story…
I wouldn’t call Aliens — any of the films — space opera. I’d call Alien science fiction / horror, and Aliens science fiction / action, for example. For Aliens: Bishop, if I were to give it additional labels, they would be military science fiction and thriller, with a dash of cyberpunk.
Aliens: Bishop is your second novel after 36 Streets, though you also have a short story collection called Neon Leviathan. Are there any writers, or stories, that had a big influence on Aliens: Bishop but not Streets or any of your stories?
The cinematic universe, of course, of Aliens, was the most influential. Most particularly the second film, Aliens. The pacing of that movie and the creative choices of the director, James Cameron, were bold, and I took some ideas from that.
There’s also a short story about Bishop in an anthology called Bug Hunt that I found very useful. It’s called “Broken,” written by Rachael Caine.
Finally, the performance of Lance Henriksen was crucial. I studied every scene he was in, in Aliens and Alien3. He’s an excellent character actor, and I think his interpretation of the synthetic (and the creator of the synthetic), is quite nuanced. He imbues Bishop with a gentle humanity.
Speaking of which, did you get in touch with Henriksen about the book, maybe for his feedback or advice on the character?
Lance was a huge influence on my writing of the character, as he should be. I have not spoken to him directly, but he has a copy of the book, and has talked about it on social media. He clearly is proud of the Bishop character, and pleased that the synthetic has been given a third act. I’d love to meet him, or speak to him in an interview. We shall see what happens, down the line.
Now, in the interview we did about 36 Streets, you said that you set it in Hanoi, as opposed to Hong Kong or Singapore or West Orange, New Jersey, because you had lived there. “I prefer writing about places that I have lived, and therefore know more deeply.” Obviously, you’ve never lived in outer space, so what was it like for you, writing about a place you haven’t lived, and therefore don’t know “more deeply”?
Though more than just living there, the point about Hanoi (and Vietnam) is that its history, culture, and its future, lend themselves to a cyberpunk novel, and the types of dark and moving themes that can make cyberpunk powerful.
I suppose the thing about the Aliens universe is that we do know what living in space is like there. We see it in the ships they build, the food they eat, and the technology they have access to. For example, artificial gravity and faster-than-light travel both exist in that alternate reality.
I did have to do a lot of additional research into some specifics of action in space. For example: What happens to wounds in a zero-gravity environment? How does explosive decompression work on a spaceship? A good resource for this, actually, was the TV (and book) series The Expanse. The authors have put a lot of thought into making combat in space realistic.
And finally, I have POV characters — in addition to Bishop — who are from China, Vietnam, and Australia. I can write in a very informed way from those perspectives.
In short, to answer your question, in science fiction you should write what you know, but you also should write what you wantto know about, what you’re passionate about.
There’s a new Aliens movie in the works, and a new TV show, not to mention new novels and comics and probably a new video game. Do you think Aliens: Bishop could work as a movie, TV show, or game?
It won’t be made into a movie, but it certainly could be. It’s a cinematic novel, as some reviewers have already observed, insofar as it can easily be imagined on the big screen. I thought it as such when I was writing it. Not so much because I wanted it to become a movie, but because that is my history with the Aliens universe: an overwhelmingly a visual, cinematic experience, rather than a literary one. I think, in particular, I imagined Bishop on the screen while I was writing.
So, is there anything else people need to know about Aliens: Bishop?
I walk a fine line between the new and the old. If you want Bishop, and Colonial Marines, and firefights with xenomorphs, you’ll get it. If you want artificial intelligence, and explorations of what it means to be sentient, and the venal machinations of Weyland-Yutani, you’ll get that, too.
But I also explore some of the lesser-known aspects of the Aliens universe. The Chinese Empire and the aftermath of The Dog War. The Australia Wars. The Great Rebellion. We go far deeper into the character of Bishop, yes, but we also go a little broader as well, seeing other parts of the vast universe of Aliens.
Finally, if someone enjoys Aliens: Bishop, which of the other Aliens novels would you suggest they check out next?
The Cold Forge by Alex White is very good. The antagonist is superb.