My dad saw the 20th Century Fox film Alien during its original theatrical release. He found it so fascinating and unsettling that he decided to tell me the entire movie in an expanded beat by beat synopsis, during a long car trip. When he finished, I said, “Tell it again, Daddy,” because I too was fascinated and unsettled by it, but wanted to “see” it again, if only in my head. So he told it all again.
I loved the story of Alien, but had no desire to actually see the film. You see, this very same father had then recently taken me to see the late`70s theatrical re-release of Jaws, and it had been enough to permanently warp my fragile little six-year-old mind. I knew for certain then that movies could be scary and sleepless nights invariably followed. For days. No, it was far safer to have your dad tell you the story without things jumping out at you.
I avoided horror movies for years, to the point of turning off TV commercials for films I knew would be terrifying. (The Shining being a chief example. The TV spots told you NOTHING about the plot, but the stark, icy imagery and sinister announcer voiceover was enough to tell me I wanted none of that. I still haven’t seen it to this day, which is truly a crime of laziness at this point.) In the mid 80s, I began to take a distant interest in horror. I was an avid reader of Starlog Magazine, so I read a lot about scifi-based horror movies. Ghostbusters and Gremlins, tame as they are, let me know I was capable of surviving the occasional scare. And then, in 1986, Aliens was released and I felt a burning need to see it. The idea of Ripley returning to fight not only a similar alien, but multiple aliens, was delicious. However, I was still too much of a wuss to actually buy a ticket. Instead, I hatched a different, safer plan. I bought the movie novelization by Alan Dean Foster.
In the `80s, movie novelizations were ubiquitous. If you released a movie, it got a novelization. I’d read several, having been trained to reading adaptations by Target Books Doctor Who novelizations. Alan Dean Foster was a particularly prolific writer of novelizations (as well as his own original sci-fi novels). If it was sci-fi and wasn’t adapted by Peter David, chances were pretty good it was by Alan Dean Foster. I not only bought his Aliens book, but purchased Alien as well to read first, just to refresh myself on the story I’d only been told before. I found the Alien novelization every bit as fascinating as my dad’s telling, but it was also a bit different because it contained scenes that did not appear in dad’s because they weren’t included in the theatrical release. (They were filmed and appear in the directors cut release of Alien, but aren’t necessary unless you’re just curious to see them.) After reading Alien, I felt safe enough to rent Alien on VHS. And because I knew where the scares were coming, I was able to just sit back and enjoy the story from almost a clinical standpoint. It quickly taught me how to hack the horror movie viewing experience–how to see the movie’s creators pulling the strings, through music swells or sudden silences, to bring about the scares and effectively tell the story. I then devoured the novelization of Aliens, and found it as good as the first movie if not even better. And when Aliens was at last available for home video rental, I snatched it up and loved it. No sleepless nights necessary.
Aliens was my gateway drug to horror. After seeing it, I was all about a horror movie. I poured through neo classics like the Friday the 13th series, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween, and–still my favorite–The Thing. I then went back and began watching older fare such as Phantasm, which is just a masterpiece of weird. Thanks, Alan Dean Foster! I owe you a debt I hope now to help repay.
As you may have heard, in 2012 @disney bought 20th Century Fox and their entire catalog. As such, they also bought the rights to the publishing of the novelizations of the Fox movies, including all of Foster’s Alien books as well as his Star Wars novels and novelizations. These books are still in print and make money for the corporation. However, according to Alan Dean Foster himself, as soon as Disney were the owners they ceased paying him the royalties on those books that he is contractually owed. According to him, they have since been ignoring most inquiries concerning this from him, his representatives, and his writers guild. What little communication has been had was for Disney to demand he sign a nondisclosure agreement, meaning regardless of the outcome of any negotiations, he would not be allowed to speak of it publicly. This is a standard practice following negotiations, but prior to is not normal. Having exhausted other avenues, Foster has decided to speak out about the matter. It is very likely that he is far from the only author being affected by this behavior on Disney’s part.
In the interest of fairness, I have tried to find Disney’s side of all this online, but Mickey’s lips appear to be sealed.
If you like Foster’s work, or just don’t care for monolithic corporations behaving badly, I invite you to join me in letting them know about it. Check out the story I first learned of this at the link below. There are multiple others on other platforms now.