Alan Dean Foster On Early Days of Movie Novelization Business and His ‘Alien’ Reissue


In 2010 I wrote about my fond memories of Alan Dean Foster’s novelization of Ridley Scott’s 1979 film ALIEN, and confessed that it was the first full-length adult science fiction novel that I could remember reading. Now Titan Books has reissued Foster’s ALIEN and plans to reissue his adaptations of ALIENS and ALIEN 3 as well. In addition to Foster’s novelizations, the company is publishing brand new ALIEN adventures from authors Tim Lebbon, Christopher Golden, and James A. Moore, plus reissues of all kinds of awesome ALIEN and ALIENS non-fiction that has been out of print for years – I plan on finally getting my own copy of the Aliens: Colonial Marines Technical Manual ASAP!

It’s been over 35 years since Foster’s ALIEN novel was published, so I thought I’d catch up with him and see how things have changed since then.

I think I’ve told you before that your ALIEN novelization was the first full-length science fiction novel I ever read. I think that I was in second grade. I can’t imagine that I’m the only one who started reading sci-fi because of a good novelization or spin-off paperback. Do you ever think about those kinds of things?

I continually get letters from readers who say (confess?) that reading the novelization of an SF film is not only what started them reading SF, but what started them reading books. That renders meaningless all the nonsense I get about “It’s only a novelization”.

I finished the book well before I saw the movie. When I DID finally see the movie, I was a little disappointed that some of the cool stuff you had written about weren’t in the film. Were you?

Of course. Much of what was in the book that was not in the movie was in the screenplay. When ALIEN was realized, there were no such things as DVD’s of director’s cuts. And naturally it would have been cool to see some things filmed that I invented.

How did you get the job novelizing the movie? Who were you back then, personally and professionally, and how have you changed since?

By the time I was asked to do ALIEN I had done numerous novelizations and had acquired something of a reputation for being able to do a good job on such projects in a very short period of time. In the case of ALIEN, it was written in three weeks. As to who I was back then, I like to think I was the same person I am now…the main difference being that the hard drive was not nearly as full.

Did you think that the film was going to be a big deal? What is it like to realize that you’re connected with one of the most iconic and influential science fiction series to have ever been released?

No one attaches terms like “iconic” or “influential” to a film before it’s released. One hopes for “successful”. I did know the film was going to be at least that when I watched it in the company of a whole audience full of booksellers, writers, and such at the ABA conference in Los Angeles the year of the film’s release, and they screamed like kids at the appropriate moments.

What was the novelization process like back then? What has changed as far as working with all of the stakeholders involved? (Directors, studios, screenwriters, publishers, and your own work.)

Not much as changed in the writing of novelizations, with the important exception that it is now possible for the writer (if the studio is willing) to see at least a rough cut of the film while the writing process is taking place. More critically, back in the day of ALIEN the studio and other stakeholders rarely if ever became involved in the novelization process. Nowadays, everybody wants a say…or at least the opportunity to review prior to publication. It’s not as straightforward as it once was…and therefore harder on the writer.

Did you ever get to meet screenwriter Dan O’Bannon or director Ridley Scott?

Dan O’Bannon had lunch with my wife and I in Pasadena, but I didn’t get much of a chance to chat with him. He was too busy trying to pick up our other lunch companion; Shary Flenniken, the creator of the wonderful cartoon strip Trots & Bonnie. Don’t know how that worked out. Haven’t met Ridley Scott. Pity.

Does the internet’s capacity for instant criticism mean you have to sweat some of the small stuff that you could have just let go before?

As a professional, I have always prided myself on sweating the “small stuff” whether a million people are going to read it, or no one else but myself. I simply can’t let things like that slide, even if it costs me time for which I am not being compensated. There might be a kid in Ohio who would catch the mistake yet never write me about it…but I’d know.

We’ve talked plenty about the past. What do you have going on right now?

Just finished work on an interactive Lovecraftian app, THE MOANING WORDS, for the French software company Byook. Working with a trio of independent producers in Beijing, Sydney, and Hong Kong in an attempt to get some things, both original and based on existing books, filmed.