Paul Scanlon and Michael Gross | The Book of Alien; Lee Brimmicombe-Wood | Aliens: Colonial Marines Technical Manual (Titan Books)

To put it another way, they’re both nerds’ delight, but for different sets of nerds.


Paul Scanlon and Michael Gross | The Book of Alien
112 pages. Titan Books, 2012. $14.95 (paperback)
Lee Brimmicombe-Wood | Aliens: Colonial Marines Technical Manual
160 pages. Titan Books, 2012. $19.95 (paperback)
In case you haven’t heard, there’s a new entry in the Alien film franchise this summer: Prometheus, directed by Ridley Scott and starring Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, and Charlize Theron. If you haven’t seen it yet, or even if you have, now is a great time to get back in touch with the first two films in the franchise: Alien (1979) and Aliens (1986). Titan Books has recently re-released two books related to these films, and both will be of interest to fans of the films, although possibly to different subsets of the collective fandom. To put it another way, they’re both nerds’ delights, but for different sets of nerds.
The Book of Alien was originally published in 1979, and focuses on the production design of the film. It’s loaded with behind the scenes details about how the film’s creators arrived at its look and feel—this was long before the massive use of CGI, of course, so what you see in the film was really built, whether as sets or as miniatures. If nothing else, reading this book will give you an appreciation for the combination of inspiration and craftsmanship required to imagine a coherent science fiction universe, translate that universe into art, and then translate that art into models and sets that look convincing on film. As far as I’m concerned, the art of creating space aliens hasn’t advanced much since 1979, and the art of presenting them on the screen has actually gone backwards (case in point: just compare the original Alien with last summer’s Cowboys & Aliens), so spending some time contemplating the art and craft of the original Alien is definitely worth your while. 
The Book of Alien is packed full of sketches (many for designs that were not used) and production stills. Although this is primarily a visual book (off-hand, I’d say it’s about one part text to four parts pictures) it also offers up some choice tidbits about how the film was made (when H.R. Giger says he wants bones, he gets bones). There’s an endearing handmade aesthetic to this book which may not be entirely intentional (in truth, there’s more than a little fanboy vibe about it) but I’m more than willing to forgive that shortcoming in return for the wealth of information it provides about a truly influential science fiction movie.
Aliens: Colonial Marines Technical Manual, originally published in 1995, ties in with the second film in the franchise and takes quite a different point of departure. In the world of this book, the Colonial Marines are real, and this is the insider’s guide to end all insider’s guides about their history, weaponry and vehicles. It’s full of technical diagrams and straight-faced descriptions livened up with asides from the trenches, providing a fun counterpoint that meshes well with the pseudo-military vibe of the whole undertaking. So, while the manual assures you that the Caterpillar P-500 Power Work Loader is "a rugged and reliable alternative to conventional forklifts, rigs, and cranes," PFC Steve Kerns wants you to know that they’re really "freaken temperamental beasts" that need at least two hours of maintenance per week. You can see some samples of the book’s art here: | Sarah Boslaugh

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