October 2019 saw the release of Alien: Prototype, Titan’s eight original novel set within the Alien series, and Tim Waggoner’s debut into the Alien universe! We were lucky enough that he agreed to answer some questions about his time working on the novel! Beware some story spoilers!
AvP Galaxy – Thank you for joining us today, Tim! I would just like to thank you for taking the time to talk to us about your work on Alien: Prototype. Before we begin geeking out about Prototype, could you tell us a little about yourself outside of Alien?
Tim Waggoner – I’ve been writing for over thirty years, and in that time, I’ve published close to fifty novels and seven collections of stories. Much of my work falls into the category of horror and dark fantasy, but I’ve written a number of media tie-in novels for various properties. I also teach composition and creative writing at Sinclair College in Dayton, Ohio.
AvPG – We have something of a tradition where we love to hear about the first time our guests ever encountered the franchise that they got to play with! Do you recall the first time you ever came across our favourite acid-blooded extra-terrestrial?
TW – I was a teenager when Alien came out. Back in those days, there was no Internet or social media platforms, so horror and SF fans got news of forthcoming movies from magazines like Starlog and Fangoria. Or we might learn about a movie from seeing its trailer on TV. I was aware of Alien from these sources, but what impressed me most was reading a review of the film by a critic in a local newspaper. The critic made the film sound super suspenseful and scary, and I couldn’t wait to see it!
AvPG – One of the on-going friendly arguments we have in our community is the endless debate of skull vs. no skull. As in do you prefer H.R Giger’s original Alien design with the human skull visible or without? What is Tim Waggoner’s stance on the matter?
TW – No skull. Giger’s original design is cool, but there’s something about the blankness of the no-skull design – with no visible eyes or nose – that I find much creepier.
AvPG – While not quite as extensive as the likes of Star Trek or Star Wars, the Alien series has enjoyed an active afterlife thanks to the Expanded Universe. I assume you’ve read Zula’s series but I’ll ask you about those later! Other than those, had you read any of the previous comics or novels before working on Alien: Prototype?
TW – Some on and off over the years. Tim Lebbon’s Alien: Out of the Shadows is a favorite, and I had the chance to read Keith R.A. DeCandido’s Alien: Isolation before it was published so I could better match my book to his, and I enjoyed that one a lot. I also read Aliens: Defiance for the same reason, and I thought that was a lot of fun, too.
AvPG – Though she’s appeared briefly in the recent adaptation of Alien: Isolation, Prototype is really Zula’s big novel debut! Can you tell us about bringing her to life in prose form? Did you read Aliens: Defiance or talk to Brian Wood about the character?
TW – As I said above, I did read Defiance, as well as Keith’s novel. Titan editor Steve Saffel and Fox head of licensing Steve Tzirlin wanted to have as much continuity between the novels, comics, and games, so they both had a hand in coming up with the basic story for Prototype and refining it – which of course includes how Zula would be portrayed.
Other than that, I took what had been established about Zula’s character – that she’d been injured on her first mission and was seen as a failure by the higher-ups in the Corps, that she had to fight hard to recover from her injury, and that no matter what anyone else thought of her, in her heart she was still a Colonial Marine and always would be – and built my portrayal of her from these qualities. I think she’s a fascinating character, and she was a lot of fun to write!
AvPG – How did you come to be involved in writing Alien: Prototype? Did you pitch Titan a Zula Hendricks novel?
TW – Steve Saffel and I had been talking for years about working on a novel together. One day he asked if I’d be interested in doing an Alien or Predator novel, and I said sure, since I’m a fan of both franchises. A few more years passed before he asked me to write a novel about Zula that would be set between the events of Isolation and Alien: Resistance.
AvPG – It’s natural for any creative piece to evolve from inception to completion. To what degree is always interesting to me. Were there any major changes to the book from pitch to release?
TW – As I said, both Steves and I batted around ideas for a while, and I wrote a couple versions of the outline before I got the go-ahead from both of them to begin drafting the novel. There was some discussion about including Amanda Ripley in Prototype as a minor character to forge a greater sense of continuity between my novel and Isolation. We couldn’t find a satisfactory way to do that, so the idea was dropped.
As I started writing the book, though, an idea occurred to me how to make Amanda a presence in my novel (in a small way), and without asking either Steve, I went for it. Luckily, they liked what I did. Another change was that originally the security force Zula trains in my novel practiced fighting actual alien lifeforms other than Xenomorphs. We decided that undercut the uniqueness of the Xenomorph, so I changed the practice aliens into robots designed to mimic alien threats colonists might face, which I think works much better.
AvPG – Alien: Prototype is really notable for a lot of the things you did with the Alien. Early on, one of the things I really liked was you actually describing the egg as emitting some sort of pheromone that compelled potential hosts into come closer, literally explaining that movie trope. Can you talk a little about your decision to include that?
TW – In the Alien movies, people always walk right up to Ovomorphs and stand there while they open slowly and then a facehugger shoots upward at them. The characters always look enthralled, almost entranced when they go up to a Xenomorph egg, and I thought, what would attract them to it and keep them there long enough for a facehugger to emerge? I thought a pheromone lure would be a good explanation, although I only present it as one character’s theory, not as established fact. But if that tidbit makes it into official Alien lore, that would be cool!
AvPG – Prototype really went all in on the DNA reflex theory and took the plot in a direction I was never expecting. The concept of inheriting a negative aspect of the host’s genetic make-up was really fascinating. How did that story angle come about?
TW – When Alien 3 came out, my favourite part was that the Xenomorph in that film came from a dog host and had some canine qualities. So when I was thinking about what kind of Xenomorph threat I could put into my novel, I wanted something different, something that hadn’t been done before, something that explored the idea of drawing on a host’s genetic material in a unique way.
In Koji Suzuki’s novel Ringu, the ghost Sadako (major spoiler alert here) is a combination of the spirit of a girl and the smallpox virus she was infected with. This is why Sadako’s curse has an incubation period and why it must be spread (something the film versions don’t really touch on). I loved this concept, and thought the same basic idea might work well in the Alienverse.
AvPG – Another interesting angle that you took with Prototype was presenting the conflicting instincts within the Necromorph thanks to the drive of both itself and the cellular necrosis. Did you find it challenging portraying the Alien from that perspective, and did you look at some of the other internal portrayals of the Alien for inspiration?
TW – It was a blast to write about the conflicting impulses driving the Necromorph! Since Xenomorphs aren’t sentient, at least not in any way humans would recognize, it was a wonderful way to create conflict within its character. It was something of a challenge to write scenes from a non-sentient creature’s point of view, but I think those scenes turned out pretty good (at least I hope they did).
I didn’t base my portrayal of the Necromorph on any other writers’ work. I focused on their basic drives – to kill, to eat, to reproduce, to survive – and created the Necromorph’s “personality” from those traits, along with the cellular necrosis’ drive to spread itself as widely as possible.
AvPG – The Necromorph did remind me a little of the Boilers from Aliens: Colonial Marines. I was wondering if that was an intentional similarity?
TW – Nope! I’m not familiar with them. I’ll have to look them up!
AvPG – Not only did you go all out with the phenomes and the Necromorph, you also went for eggmorphing! That was a huge surprise as it’s just not an aspect of the Alien series that gets revisited often. Why egg morphing?
TW – I wanted to absorb as much information about the Alienverse as I could when I was in the early stages of plotting my novel. I read lots of articles on the Internet, and eggmorphing was one of the concepts I came across that made a lot of sense to me. If Xenomorphs are the deadliest species the galaxy has ever seen, if their prime drive is to rapidly exterminate all life other than their own kind, they would need to reproduce quickly.
If they could only reproduce via a Queen, then individual Xenomorphs aren’t that great a threat. Sure, they’ll kill a lot of people before they’re stopped, but after that, the threat is over. But if they all can produce Ovomorphs, even if only in a limited way, there’s a chance a Queen will be born from one of their eggs and then a colony can be established. Eggmorphing seems only logical for a species as devastatingly deadly as Xenomorphs.
AvPG – Was there anything that you wanted to do with Alien: Prototype but were unable to?
TW – It would’ve been cool if Davis had a body. Then he could’ve played a more active role in the story. I thought about giving him a temporary one, but in the end, I thought he would be more help to Zula as a disembodied intelligence in Prototype. Still, it would’ve been fun to write Zula and Davis in battle together.
AvPG – Now that the book has been out nearly a month, how do you feel about the response to it?
TW – So far people seem to be enjoying the book. I wanted to write an Alien book that’s a fun ride with lots of great monster-killing-people action, but which also has characters readers care about. From what I’ve seen of reader reaction, it looks like I succeeded.
AvPG – Would you be interested in returning for another Alien novel? Do you have any stories left in the Alien world that you’d still like to tell?
TW – Sure, I’d love to write another Alien novel! But that’s up to the editors at Titan Books. If reader response to Prototype is strong enough, perhaps I’ll be lucky enough to get to do another book.
AvPG – And that’s actually everything from us! Before we sign off, is there anything you’d like to share – any thoughts or anecdotes – that we didn’t give you the opportunity to share?
TW – One of the things that I wanted to do with Prototype is give readers a sense of what it would be like to live and work in space. The original Alien focused on people trying to get a job done and make some money, and I wanted to tap into that idea. The biggest frustration for me in writing an Alien story is that warp drive hasn’t been invented yet! It makes coordinating story action between different locations in the galaxy a pain when travel between them is so slow. You can’t have your heroes leave one planet, race to another that’s in danger, and get there in time to save the day. In the Alienverse, they’d arrive weeks, months, or even years later. It’s a limitation that makes the stories more realistic, but which also makes them more challenging to write. Of course, if there was warp drive, Xenomorphs would spread throughout the galaxy faster and easier, so maybe it’s a good thing characters in the Alienverse don’t have it!