Read Our Interview With Philippa Ballantine and Clara Carija!
Today I’m excited to be speaking with Philippa Ballantine and Clara Carija, the creative minds behind Alien: Inferno’s Fall. Fans of the Alien franchise are always thrilled by the latest works delivered to us from Titan Books and I can tell you that this one is no exception!
Before we dive into the interview, the synopsis for this novel reads as follows: “As war rages among the colonies, a huge ship appears over the UPP mining planet Shānmén, unleashing a black rain of death that yields hideous transformations.
Monstrous creatures swarm the colony, and rescue is too far away to arrive in time. The survivors are forced to seek shelter in the labyrinth of tunnels deep beneath the surface. Already the grave to so many, these shafts may become the final resting place for all who remain.
Hope appears in the form of the vessel Righteous Fury. It carries the Jackals—an elite mix of Colonial Marines led by Zula Hendricks. Faced with a horde of grotesque mutations, the Jackals seek to rescue the few survivors from the depths of the planet. But have they arrived too late?”
Horror Tree (HT): Thank you for joining us today! As a huge fan of the Alien franchise myself, I’m eager to what drew you to the world of Xenomorphs?
Clara Carija (CC): Thank you so much for having us! I watched Alien when I was really young, but my knowledge and obsession come from the joy I derive from finding meaning in symbolism and analysis of the script and visual parallels to classical pieces of art in the films. I also deeply appreciate the work it takes behind the scenes to make these films we love so dearly. I have great respect for art and skill.
Philippa Ballantine (PB): Aliens was my formative movie as a college kid. My roleplaying group watched it every time after we played, and we knew every line faithfully. We’d shout the words out, and those memories are some of my most precious. From there, I gobbled up every movie I could find.
HT: What can you share about ‘Alien: Inferno’s War’ that isn’t in the synopsis and won’t really fall into spoiler territory for the release?
CC: Since we joined forces as an antipodean alliance, we decided to focus on a plot thread mentioned in Nightmare Asylum 2182 Food Riots, then the Alien RPG spoke of the Food Wars, and I wanted to give a well-thought-out and plausible future history about the bombing of Canberra in the Alien Universe. Having seen the atrocities committed against people in their own sovereign nation and then facing the terrible reality of survival and escape. I wanted to put Australians in the position of being the asylum seekers for once; within the Alien Universe, there was a brief mention of the Jutou Combine in Alan Dean Forster’s Alien Covenant Origins. Being Chinese myself, I wanted to include that part of the universe and flesh it out. Together with Pip, we brainstormed ideas and possibilities, world-building before writing the story. I think that part helped develop our ideas, and I enjoyed being on the same page with a lot of directions Pip decided to take.
PB: It was a great collaboration. For me, it was a great way to explore a family under pressure, not just on the planet, but among the military too. I think we found some interesting angles to questions you often find in the Alien canon. The synthetics have always intrigued me, and they get plenty of time in this book. There’s a lot to chew over with them.
HT: In the novel, you were able to include characters Cold Iron Studios video game, Aliens: Fireteam Elite. How did that come about?
CC: Nicole Spiegel at 20th Century helped facilitate our multi-platform cross-collaboration regarding story and characters, my role was ensuring canon and character development were in line with any of their worldbuilding. Christ E’toile is a fabulous game writer with a strong sense of respect for canon and the franchise, it was an absolute pleasure to work together with him. Pip and I played a lot of the game to get the feel of the character.
PB: Aliens: Fireteam Elite came out at just the right time. Being able to play the game really fired up my imagination, and it was great to be able to tie it into what we were doing. Being able to collaborate with others, apart from Clara, wasn’t something I expected, but really delighted in when the opportunity came around.
HT: For the gamers who love the Alien franchise, this also includes a bonus game scenario for Free League Publishing’s Alien RPG; what can you share about that?
CC: I ensured that there was a tie between the RPG scenario and Aliens Fireteam Elite; our collaboration with Chris at Cold Iron ensured the continuity of the character would be accurately represented. The adventure plays like you’re part of the story. That’s probably my favourite part of the Alien RPG, which is seeing if you could make it in that universe. What decisions would your characters make, and how can that affect what’s happening elsewhere?
PB: The fact that the bonus scenario puts in you in among the action of Inferno’s Fall, is such a delight to me as a writer. I get so much joy thinking of people plunging into our situation, and experiencing it in a different way.
HT: Clara, this one will be going directly to you after the Alien RPG question; you’ve been a key resource on other Alien novels and Alien RPG. What can you share about your work and contributions to both areas?
CC: I have also consulted on Aliens Phalanx by Scott Sigler; with this, it was timeline and ship speeds, although my friend Brad at Aliens Gateway Station Facebook Group helped me with the calculations. And with Alien Into Charybdis, Alex White had hand-picked a group of super fans whom they dubbed the Lone Gunpeople. We all helped contribute information and were available for any discussion and question that could arise.
HT: Philippa, not to be left out, you’re responsible for quite a few series and stand-alone titles over the years. For someone looking to find more of your work, which would be your first to suggest to those who are coming from reading ‘Alien: Inferno’s War’?
PB: A lot of my writing has been classified as horror adjacent, and I revel in the description that often gets thrown my way, of ‘creepy writing.’ I would suggest the Books of the Order, which start with Geist. There’s plenty of creepy magic and mayhem in those books.
HT: You’ve both collaborated with other authors in the past in different aspects; how has it been working together, and has it differed from any of your past experiences in a major way?
CC: This was a much bigger role I was stepping into this time; I wasn’t just giving information or advice. We were building new parts of the universe and lore together, breathing life into a story and characters. Pip was a great mentor throughout this process, I feel so fortunate to have worked with her.
PB: I’ve co-written eight steampunk novels with my husband, Tee Morris before, and I love collaborating with other people. The process with Clara has been both similar and different to the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences series.
For the collaboration with Clara, it was more like working in a writers’ room on a TV show. We both sat down, worked out the characters, the story beats, and made sure the lore was accurate. Then I went off and wrote the ‘episode’— or rather the book.
With Tee, we went through the same process, but we ended up writing from our own characters’ point-of-view, and half of the novel each.
Still, this could not have happened without Clara. She has gone from strength to strength working on Alien projects, and I know that we will see more from her solo in this universe. When that day comes, I’ll be cheering her on, because she’s got amazing talent that deserves to shine.
HT: If Disney ever decides to mine the cinematic Alien franchise that they now own from purchasing 20th Century Studios and turn novels into either films or shows, do you have any dream casting for your characters that you’d love to see?
CC: This is a really hard question for me to answer because I love the films as is, I don’t really want anything to change.
PB: I will only say, I would want New Zealand, Australian actors to get the roles. With the talent in the Southern Hemisphere, that wouldn’t be hard to do!
HT: Outside of your own work, what is your favorite piece of the Alien universe (this can be a book, film, video game, board game, whatever you love the most!)
CC: It would have to be Alex White’s Into Charybdis and The Cold Forge, you can’t choose one without the other. It is absolute perfection.
PB: Clara stole my answer on this one. Alex’s work is solid, exciting writing. But Aliens will always be at the center of my love for this franchise. Such a pivotal moment in my life cannot be erased.
HT: Is there anything that you’re working on together or independently that you’d like to tease our readers with?
CC: I hope this isn’t the last we have seen of MAE, or any synthetics in the Alien Universe. They are starting to play a greater role than before; perhaps there’s a reason. People should think about threats other than xenomorphs. Like when your own creation surpasses you in intelligence. It’s never panned out well for other species’ survival, let’s just say that.
PB: All I’ll say, is I’ve loved working with Clara, and there is plenty of space to explore. Our long Zoom calls, have veered into that territory quite regularly.
HT: Thank you for joining us today, if you have anything that you’d like to share with our readership or that you’d like to plug, now is the time!
CC: Please support and buy all of Philippa’s books, she’s amazing, and we are lucky to have her.
PB: Clara is one of the kindest people I’ve had the pleasure to work with. Expect more great things from her.
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Stuart Conover is a father, husband, published author, blogger, geek, entrepreneur, horror fanatic, and runs a few websites including Horror Tree!