Alien: Covenant – A Science Fiction and Fantasy Movie Review

I saw Alien in the theater in 1979.  It was one of the earlier movies produced with Dolby Sound and the theater in Times Square was extremely proud of their superb sound system.  And that was all that the movie can be said to have excelled in.  It was without a doubt the loudest movie I have ever been exposed to before or since.  Watching the movie back then I determined that rather than make a scary monster movie they made a painfully loud monster movie.  So, whenever the monster was about to jump out of the dark, they would turn the volume to eleven and the audience would jump out of their seats holding their ears in pain.  I guess they figured we might mistake burst eardrums for fear.  The movie is basically shot in the dark and you can never really see the monster when it’s killing someone so it’s really not scary, just annoying.

In the mid-eighties James Cameron was paid to make a sequel to this film with a troop of “space marines” added to bump up the body count and allow Sigourney Weaver to become a female Arnold Schwarzenegger and hopefully add some more sequels to the franchise.  Admittedly Alien 2 was better than the original but that’s not really saying much.  Then they made a third one which really sucked and finally a fourth that most normal people just ignored completely and so it was hoped that the series had died its natural death.

But sometime in the 2000s someone had the bright idea of having the creature in the Predator series meet up with the Alien creature and this spawned a new series of bad sci-fi movies.  But at least these weren’t “serious” science fiction films, whatever that means, and so the “integrity” of the Alien franchise was maintained.

In 2012 they dragged the director of the original Alien, Ridley Scott back to make a prequel called Prometheus.  It included a bunch of crap about how humanity was the product of genetic engineering by an advanced race called the Engineers.  And this gets all mixed up with the Alien monster showing up on a planet where one of the Engineer’s ships is holed up for some reason and the Earth crew’s android turning evil.

Well anyway in 2017 they made a sequel to Prometheus called Alien: Covenant.  Here a human colony ship headed for a new world intercepts a message and finds one of the characters from Prometheus and starts falling victim to the alien monsters again.

So, what’s the best way to say this?  Oh, I know!  It’s the same stupid story from 1979 all over again.  It’s exactly the same plot and even the same character stereotypes.  There’s the plucky young woman with a knack for killing monsters on space ships.  There’s the android who is fascinated by the creature and will allow the humans to die in order to learn more about the creature.  And then there is the rest of the crew who are just fodder for the creature on a killing spree.

That’s all there is, over and over and over.  Save yourself the trouble.  It’s not fun and it’s not interesting.  The characters aren’t great, the special effects are no better than any other CGI sci-fi movie and you already know the plot from the beginning.  Hollywood, try to come up with something different for once, please.

The Voyage of the Space Beagle – A Science Fiction Book Review

This is the story of a research space vessel travelling through the universe in a great scientific endeavor obviously named after Darwin’s ship HMS Beagle.  The ship is filled up with scientists of various disciplines; chemists, physicists, biologists, etc.    But one of the scientists is a generalist, or to be precise a Nexialist.  This man, Elliot Grosvenor is the story’s protagonist and the book is just as much about his struggle to proselytize his fellow scientists about the wonders of Nexialism as it is fighting various interstellar monsters.

This Nexialism is akin to the synthesists that Heinlein sometimes mentions in his writing.  They are able to rise above the narrow expertise of the subject matter experts in each of the sciences and see the big picture.  Gregory Kent, the head of the Chemistry Department is Grosvenor’s nemesis.  He uses all methods normal or criminal to prevent Grosvenor from spreading the gospel of Nexialism but, inexorably, Grosvenor’s string of victories in figuring out the nature of the threats that each of the alien monsters presents bring more and more of the scientists on his side until by the end of the story Grosvenor is able to take control of the mission and bend it to his purpose.

Interestingly one of the monsters, the Ixtl, is the source for the creature in Alien.  The creature takes its victims alive and implants an egg in each to reproduce its kind.  The other threats are less frightening; a cat-like predator, a hive mind that sends out its thought telepathically and finally a giant gas cloud that feeds off the life of a whole galaxy at a time.

Re-reading this book so many decades later it’s plain to see that as a kid I never noticed how badly A. E. van Vogt’s writes people.  In some ways it reminds me of the phenomenon I sense in Lovecraft’s writing.  There is a fertile mind that can create images that are striking but the dialog and the characters are flat and lifeless.  His human characters are not very interesting.  But a ten-year-old boy isn’t really interested in reading deathless prose.  Surprisingly, his monsters are livelier.  Perhaps he wrote from the point of view of the aliens.  And the science fiction in the stories can be quite entertaining.  The scientists have to jury rig all sorts of science projects to outwit their enemies in each chapter and the technical mumbo jumbo is a lot of fun.

So, do I recommend this book.  Let’s do it this way.  If you are from the literary camp of science fiction then forget it.  The Space Beagle won’t work for you.  If you like space opera of the old school then by all means give it a shot.  Just don’t get mad if you find out A. E. van Vogt isn’t Bill Shakespeare.