Memories of Nostromo: Darrell’s story


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On September 30, 2017, The Nostromo Files launched “Memories of Nostromo,” a guest essay series. As I write these words, I realize that I have enjoyed Alien for nearly three-quarters of my life. A dubious milestone, but perhaps appropriate for this site. My fascination with the Nostromo grew out of a long tradition of science fiction rooted in a fertile imagination. If you have ever wondered “Why a Nostromo website?” then maybe you will soon see what inspired me to create this website not once, but twice in over a decade.

For the past eight weeks, I have shared the stories of others with you. Now, I will share my own.  

 

 

MEETING NOSTROMO

It was the summer of 1979. I stood in line with other weeknight moviegoers, poring fearlessly over the large dark theater lobby poster.

 

 

It showed a strange egg, its warty surface bisected by a crude laceration that emitted a noisome green-lit mist. The knobby thing levitated over the words “In space no one can hear you scream.” It was spooky, but I had seen the image many times before. I was certain I was ready for this. I mean, I already knew what was going to happen, right?

Right…

We took our seats and the lights finally went down. The hiss and pop of the film reel spinning up burst over the speakers and I was mesmerized. In less than two hours’ time, I emerged — shaken — from the theater. I realized (to paraphrase Ash) that I didn’t understand what I was dealing with!

But we’ll get more into that a little later.

My first memories of the Nostromo evoke the sound of Ripley intoning these lines like some cosmic incantation:

“This is commercial towing vehicle Nostromo out of the Solomons, registration number 1-8-0-niner-2-4-6-0-niner. Calling Antarctica Traffic Control. Do you read me? Over.”

These words, spoken so matter-of-factly as the Nostromo cruises past with the hiss of a giant deep-sea freighter, sum it all up for me: the Nostromo is not a heroic starship, but one whose battered hull speaks of strange places far from Earth, reached only after long lonely voyages through the hostile cosmic deeps.

My perspectives on the Nostromo have evolved over the decades, shaped by new information and the shared ideas of new friends. All of this built upon the foundation of my childhood imagination.

 

BEGINNINGS

I was born in the American Deep South in the mid-1960s in a state named after a French king famous for his big hair and the palace of Versailles. Like many children growing up back then, the magic of the Apollo space program and its heroes captured my imagination. We lived between Houston’s Johnson Space Center (with its Mission Control Center) and the Michoud Assembly Facility outside New Orleans (where the first stage of the massive Saturn V moon rockets were built). It was an exciting time to be alive.

 

 

I was 5 years old when my father called me into the living room to watch the first Apollo moonshot from his shared recliner. A few years later, we toured the space center, where we saw a post-splashdown Apollo Command Module and he bought me a framed commemorative picture of Buzz Aldrin.

 

 

Seeing the heat-scarred hull of that space pod was as much a wonder as the idea that three men had ridden it to a fiery return to Earth! That men had flown to the moon, landed there, and then returned was utterly fascinating.

 

Buzz Aldrin, Apollo 11 moonwalk

 

My framed and famous photo of a space-suited Aldrin looking at the camera while on a moonwalk encapsulated it all: the astronauts, the uniforms, spacesuits, rocket ships, excursion vehicles…the idea of going to the moon! It hung on my wall for the next 15 years. This is what forged in me a fascination of space and technology, which naturally lead to science fiction.

 

BOOKS, MOVIES, & TELEVISION

As the 1970s came around, I plundered my school and hometown libraries for books on these subjects. I discovered the evocative images painted by Chesley Bonestell, John Berkey and Vincent Di Fate that illustrated many of the books about space exploration. This also established my life-long love and support of public libraries.

As I grew older, I graduated to a teen’s library card. This opened up new horizons like Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Alan E. Nourse’s Raiders from the Rings, the mind-expanding vistas of Robert A. Heinlein’s Podkayne of Mars, Ringworld by Larry Niven, Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke, The Mote In God’s Eye by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle, Gateway by Frederik Pohl, and Frank Herbert’s Dune.

 

Dune was a favorite not only for its story and glossary, but also for the map of Arrakis! I could follow the story events as they unfolded. My father got his friends in the ad department at work to enlarge the map to poster-size for me. That was the second coolest thing on my wall!

 

Map of Arrakis

 

Books were certainly a stepping-stone for an imagination that would one day focus on the Nostromo, but moving pictures helped me make a quantum leap! The visual textures of movie models showed me more than I ever would have imagined on my own.

Our small town movie theater, the RealArt, did not get much in the way of science fiction in the early Seventies, so I found it on late-night TV showcases: Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Robinson Crusoe on Mars, The Omega Man, the Planet of the Apes movies, The Andromeda Strain, and Silent Running. It was interesting to see mirrored in film some of the topics addressed in the books I was reading. The late 1970s was still a time of social change and writers explored its cultural effects through science fiction.

 

The glory days of the RealArt Theatre: 1950s
Alas, all that remains of the RealArt Theatre, DeRidder, Louisiana

 

A RealArt Theatre calendar from 1985.

 

Fantastic, often-dystopic societies always caught my interest, but spaceships and future technology really fired my imagination. I was fascinated by Captain Kirk’s Enterprise, the Jupiter 2 of Irwin Allen’s Lost in Space, the Eagles of Gerry Anderson’s Space: 1999, the Discovery of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, the MacArthur and Lenin of The Mote in God’s Eye, and the Prometheus of Robert L. Forward’s The Flight of the Dragonfly. (The latter two books are marvelous tales and I recommend them for their imaginative worlds.)

Sometimes I found a book that included blueprints of the space vehicle in the story and I really liked those the most (Forward’s Prometheus is one such example). I imagined those spaceships as homes to the heroic characters for whom I had grown so fond, and the source of many adventures.

Of course, the Nostromo was also a home, but as I was soon to learn in the next wave of media, it was a place of a very different sort to people whose motivations and honesty I was not at all certain.

 

STARLOG & THE NOSTROMO

Cinematic science fiction provided a market for news and information about the movies, so periodicals stepped in to fill the gap. One of the most prominent was Starlog Magazine, and it did so admirably. Founded in 1976 by Kerry O’Quinn & Norman Jacobs and edited by David McDonnell, the monthly magazine was a leader in science fiction coverage. I followed the magazine since its debut and took immediate notice in 1979 when its editors released these articles about a new science fiction film called, plainly enough: ‘Alien’:

“Indeed, more than a third of Alien’s budget is being spent on secret activities that will result, insisted producer [Gordon] Carroll, in “the most remarkable effects ever seen.””

 

 

  • In May, the Veronica Cartwright interview appeared in Starlog #22

“It’s about 100 years in the future. We’re truckers in space, running around the solar system in this grungy ship, making deliveries between planets.”

This dramatic image of the three explorers at the foot of the Nostromo stuck with me most. What a hostile place they were visiting!

 

 

 

 

 

  • September’s “The Making of Alien” special in Starlog #26

 

 

The news, images and hints of story from the filmmakers and cast were as exciting as they were haunting, but together they primed me for the next step in my introduction to the Nostromo:

 

NOSTROMO & THE ALAN DEAN FOSTER NOVELIZATION

It seems that since the release of Star Wars, a movie novelization was a standard thing, often published a few months before the movie came out. ‘Alien’ was no exception.

When Alan Dean Foster’s novelization was published in March 1979, I got my hands on it and read it until the cover was quite worn. Fear joined the mystery and wonder in my mind as I discovered the fuller story: instead of a place of refuge, the fantastic image of the Nostromo spaceship was subverted by the nightmare of a creature of unknown origin, much as were the crew’s dreams of riches.

In many ways, this was not the Starship Enterprise!

 

My battered, yet beloved, copy of the Alien novelization.

 

The story goes that Alan Dean Foster wrote the novelization from an early script, so there are distinct vagaries in his descriptions of the alien, but oddly, this worked to its advantage on me: I was haunted by those references to something powerful and deadly reaching out for its victims, to passages like ‘light reflecting off eyes far too big for even a huge head’.

The absolute creepiest part of the book was what has become known as the ‘cocoon scene’, where Foster explained the horrid details of the creature’s wasp-like reproductive processes.

 

 

By the time I reached the place where Dallas begs Ripley to put him out of his misery, his “Kill me” plea is even more agonizing. It haunted my imagination long after I found that it was not included in the movie.

What I loved most about Foster’s novel was its inclusion of more characterization of the crew and some believable backstory to explain why the Nostromo hauls that refinery so far from Earth. One passage in particular (page 24 of the 1979 Warner Bros. US edition, to be exact) always reminded me of the Nostromo model’s beak-like nose:

 

 

This photo with Brian Johnson shows that nose-like feature and is one of my favorite photographs of the Nostromo model. Even now as I look at it with him so casually posed, I remember how dreadful it looked, and the shivers it gave me back in 1979. His team of model makers certainly did their job well on this ‘haunted house in space’!

 

 

The Nostromo is an oddly shaped ship, its crusty hull stained and scarred by countless voyages. Those angled atmospheric lifters seem as if they should be articulated, sliding neatly up into the nacelles when not in use (something that was not missed in the design of the Prometheus). The Nostromo was a vehicle that relied on brute force to make its way through the galaxy; nothing nice about it. It might seem odd to look for H. R. Giger’s explicit overtones in the Nostromo, but years later when I saw it in plan view, it reminded me of that offensive hand gesture that involves — ahem– flipping the middle finger:

 

It’s a bird…no, just a Nostromo…

 

But I digress…

NOSTROMO ON FILM

‘Alien’ was released to limited audiences in the United States on Friday, May 25, 1979. The general release was about a month later, on Friday, June 22. My 14-year-old mind was swimming with Nostromo on that warm Louisiana summer night, standing in line with my father outside the Charles Cinema in Lake Charles, Louisiana.

 

The Charles Cinema, Lake Charles, Louisiana. c. 1980

 

One of the things that can make our favorite movies so special is the point in our lives at which we saw them. My experience with Alien was no different.

 

The author, circa 1979

 

It was an exciting time for me: despite my father’s disinterest in movies, he treated me to this trip to see a film he knew fascinated me, knowing I was not quite old enough for admission without an adult.

 

 

From the first opening minutes, a sense of isolation and separation crept over me, heightened by the distinct lack of traditional science fiction-ey camera shots. For example: there was no beauty pass over a pristine white starship soaring elegantly through space. And who starts a space movie with an empty ship?

No, the Nostromo made its ponderous way through the star lanes like a dirty old freighter down the Mississippi River. It was a small thing against the backdrop of the galaxy. (And have you noticed this same imagery of spaceship-against-infinity in the first glimpses we get of the spacecraft Prometheus and the Covenant, in those movies’ opening sequences?)

Inside and out, tight camera angles make is difficult to tell exactly how big the Nostromo might be, or how it is laid out. This builds tension in a masterfully unobtrusive manner.  Even though the camera moved around, the bridge layout remained a mysterious visual jumble of electronics, papers, and tattered flight chairs. Similarly, the ship’s messroom is a confusion of archways, overhanging ducts, and ambiguous cabinetry.

Instead of a starchily pressed team of capable starship heroes, the movie introduced me to the crew whose soft and rumpled look belied the sharp conflicts that festered beneath shared jokes and offers of cornbread.

Each new scene stripped me of my sense of certainty, but my eyes never stopped drinking in the detail of this strange environment. I remember thinking that it had that ‘guts on the outside’ aesthetic coined by the Star Wars model-makers of Industrial Light & Magic. The lighting and set dressing matched the mood of the miniature shots and together make it very (very) easy to believe that this spaceship is real. The Nostromo quickly became a place of dread and danger, but that did not stop my fascination!

Like most of us, though, I was soon immersed in the story action and except for a handful of moments scattered throughout the movie, I do not remember noticing set details. (Except maybe for wondering where that alien creature might be hiding…)

Some high points in my memories of the tension, shock, and terror of the experience:

  • the creepy opening music over that pan of the ringed planet, raising the hair on the back of my neck;
  • that fearful hike by Dallas, Lambert, and Kane across the unknown planetoid and away from the safety of the Nostromo;
  • the revelation of the enormous alien derelict jutting grotesquely from the ravaged terrain, its scale shown by the moving trio of space suit lights;

 

See those three pinpricks of light down along the bottom edge of the image? That’s Dallas, Lambert, and Kane. Can’t you almost hear her griping from here?

 

  • the lewd horror of the face-hugger, the appearance of which I’d expected, but not its repulsiveness;
  • the ambient sound of the Nostromo, like a living mechanical thing;
  • the relief of seeing the explorers return only to be stalled by Ripley’s rigid denial of re-entry;
  • the soundtrack that sometimes hinted at space adventure before devolving into the disharmony of alien sounds, all used to great effect.

Experiencing these things on the big screen gave them an immediacy and intimacy I had not expected.

And we were was barely through the first hour of the movie! 

I soon realized that Alien was not like any terrestrial-bound horror movie I’d seen on television, like Psycho (1960), Rosemary’s Baby (1968), or The Birds (1963).

This new dimension of horror became more profound as the movie continued. From the book, I knew about when the ‘last supper’ would come, but its ensanguined climax left me as speechless as the shocked crew. And before I fully recovered from that, the terror of Brett’s gruesome death amid the dankness of the landing gear chamber shattered the last vestiges of my illusions of control. Like the crew, I suffered the painful loss of Dallas in that labyrinthine maze of air ducts. These were like physical blows, each successive scene diminishing the smug certainty with which I had entered the theater.

 

Who could not empathize with Parker’s incredulity at catching a glimpse of the alien?

 

I dared not look over at my father, for fear that he would take one look at me and his impatience with movies would have us out of there in a heartbeat. He remained stoic through to the end, except for one memorable grunt of disgust as we watched — along with Ripley — as the alien displayed its fearsome slime-clotted inner jaws from its camouflaged niche in the guts of the shuttle.

 

Whatever the alien was doing here, it was up to no good!

 

Throughout each scene,  it was obvious that the Nostromo had become a cold, heartless machine whose indifference was evident in the muffled (yet chilling) hiss-thump of the bulkhead doors closing in on Ripley as Ash played out his deadly game of cat and mouse.

The movie left me with the distinct inability to linger in dark places, afraid of that taloned hand reaching out to pull me towards those vicious teeth.

I was so frightened by pictures from the movie that I avoided most of the publications that came out later. I found I would stare at them with morbid curiosity, reliving the dread.

 

THE ‘REAL’ NOSTROMO

I have always enjoyed the way that Ridley Scott introduced us to his Nostromo, from that first long shot of the four-towered refinery to each consecutive cut that brings us closer in, we get tight shots that reveal detail but mask its larger form.

 

Nostromo’s bow, bristling with antennae and dishes.

 

I had never seen a ship with unusual spar-like antennae that seemed to sprout from every angle, or with a roughened hull dark and devoid of sleek lines. The thunder of its quad of angled thrusters that balanced the ship on blasts of flameless exhaust was so real, like the famous British Harrier jump jets I had seen on television. Even the short burst of engine fire signaling Nostromo de-orbit burn was new, far from the steady fire of ship engines depicted in Star Wars. The universe of Alien was battered and used as well, but the technology was much more mundane.

Television shows, in the interest of economy, rarely showed how its spacemen got off their spaceships. The Nostromo gangway-lift was nicely depicted with its support leg echoing the design of the larger landing claws. True to form, though, even its steady movement down to the surface was eerie, taking the crew from safety to something else never before seen. No fancy space ramp for the Nostromo! While the lift  might seem prudent for a star-faring freighter, it was too far from the safety of the airlock for my taste. Like Lambert, my perceptions were altered considerably by the appearance of the face-hugger.

After getting over the distinct absence of a Trekkian main viewscreen on the bridge, I fell in love with the way the Nostromo’s panoramic viewports framed the flight deck. It was reminiscent of photos I had seen of large ocean-going ships. One could argue that they were a luxury on an otherwise vast utilitarian vehicle whose crew navigated solely by instrumentation. Nevertheless, they certainly do look good. Close analysis of many aspects of the movie reveal that decisions were made to achieve a certain look despite its practicality or lack of realism. This was definitely a different kind of storytelling.

In the Nineties, I came across more behind-the scenes set photos and videos and so came to fully understand where Ash sat in relation to Dallas, Kane to Ripley and Lambert. The sets fascinated me, especially after I found and downloaded the deleted scenes (I did not have the Laserdisc from which they originated and had to settle for the tiny video formats that were the online standard back then.) Seeing the scene of Dallas, Lambert, Kane, and Ripley at the aft bridge station, listening to the alien transmission, was fascinating.

 

“Can we all hear that, Lambert?”

 

More detail was revealed in a later scene that showed Ripley’s hasty exit from the bridge after Parker’s call to blow the alien out the airlock belowdecks. I realized the sets were built more realistically than I could have ever imagined and those claustrophobic camera angles worked quite effectively to keep me from getting too comfortable in this well-used environment.

A-Deck, the topmost level, seemed homey enough with its white highlights that evoked a degree of science fiction decorum. However, once you climbed down those dirty ladders, the uneasiness grew from B-Deck’s somber corners down into the damp darkness of C-Deck’s garages and workspaces. The decrepit look of that lower deck reminded me of stories told by my uncles who worked on drilling rigs in the Gulf of Mexico during the oil boom of the 1970s and 1980s.

I’d heard of the dangers (and the shenanigans) that often occurred amid such overused machinery, even seen photographs of the oily drilling floor, of the equipment used to bring that “black gold” up from the depths, and of the recreational and sleeping spaces for the men hired to do the jobs. Hair-raising tales of the sea-sickening voyages on crew boats from shore to rig during high seas made me nauseous to think about being trapped on a ship at the mercy of things beyond my control. I factored in all of this as I re-watched the movie and mentally explored the Nostromo. It helped me imagine the ship as a real vehicle and not just a piece of fiction.

 

”Disengage from platform.”

 

Of particular interest was the umbilical that held the Nostromo in its firm grip, releasing it in a cathartic burst of gases.  This was heavy machinery at its greatest, and it reminded me fondly of Gerry Anderson’s mechanically inclined sci-fi TV shows.

I have always liked to ‘live’ on the spaceships that catch my interest, but it was not so easy to do with the Nostromo. I remember seeing photos of C-Deck’s battered stretches and feeling the loneliness of a crewmember who might have to inhabit them. These space men and women seemed very comfortable amid the exotic designs of A-Deck’s padded hatch coamings, but I remembered the horror of the movie and was hesitant to be so trusting of this weird new place. The accumulation of imagery and information about the Nostromo, however, were reaching critical mass…

 

BUILDING A VISION OF NOSTROMO

Looking at pictures of the Nostromo was exciting, but it didn’t bring the same satisfaction as that of handling a physical model of the ship. Problem was, there were none to be had until years later. One word can describe how I dealt with that frustration:

 

Lego!

 

Can the word be written without an exclamation point to denote the excitement those colorful bricks bring? There really is no end to the things you can make. Many Nostromos were built from memory with the hundreds of Lego building blocks I had accumulated as Christmas gifts and hand-me-downs from an older cousin. Each model I built was a little closer to what I could remember. They were each around 2 feet long; it would be much later that I would learn that three different miniatures of the Nostromo were actually built: 12-inch,  4-foot, and 7-foot versions.

Using a standardized modified-pyramid construction technique, I fashioned the central fuselage, two engine nacelles, and the hood-top structure. Of course, the fun of Lego was making parts that moved, which means my Nostromos featured landing gear that slid out of the hull and with a 90-degree turn, could be stuck onto the bottom.

I even made an oh-so-cool gangway-lift that put the ship in a class of its own. Replicating the Nostromo corridors was quite simple, which means I was able to build sections with sliding bulkhead doors. I often built a larger-scale gangway-lift to get in all the details, and so that I could give my Star Wars action figures a ride in the Alien universe. (If Darth Vader had really ridden that lift down to the surface, what a different movie that would have been!)

Visualizing and constructing the Nostromo helped me break free of the preconceptions I had of spaceships, biases that came from Golden Age science fiction novels that spent little time explaining the workings of the vehicles and more time on amazing adventures. Even Star Trek’s budget-driven decision to depict planetary landings via those magical transporters ruined my imagination. When Kirk did land in a spaceship, it was a van-sized shuttlecraft and not his mighty starship.

The vast size of the Nostromo became evident in the brief shot of Lambert moving against the bridge windows as she joins Dallas and Kane for the hike to the derelict.

I saw the film another half-dozen times at the theater with friends who were more into the gore and less into the sci-fi, but there is safety in numbers, right? I would be cool as a cucumber until Brett was killed. Then it was a challenge not to be caught with my hand over my eyes. My friends would laugh to hide their own fear. I would try to make light of it, joking that the crew should maybe send Lambert after the creature, since her terrified grimace  after Dallas was taken would surely have scared the hell out of the alien and saved them all a lot of trouble.

 

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Repeated viewings may have numbed the terror but my interest in the Nostromo waxed. Our small-town newsstand carried Starlog, Fangoria, and the occasional special issue put out by other publishers, like the Warren Presents Officially Authorized Magazine of the Movie Alien. I absorbed it all. It was disturbing, a stark contrast to the tone of behind-the-scenes coverage of Star Wars. It showed more of Giger’s artwork, and the eerie mechanical alien head. The editors chose to put on the cover that frightening photo of the alien staring out from the shuttle access corridor, so I never left the magazine lying around face-up!

 

“Who you lookin’ at?”

 

I bought my copy of The Book of Alien from a Waldenbooks bookstore in Lake Charles after eyeing it fearfully for months, afraid to linger too long in its latter pages where the alien was shown in full form.

 

Much creepier when it isn’t swathed in shadow!

 

The most memorable passage from the book is this one:

“[Michael] Seymour did a layout of the Nostromo where the various decks would be located, where the quarters would begin, end and intersect one another; this master plan included the bridge set, which Seymour feels was the most complicated aspect of the set design.”

 

 

Is it any wonder I began to dream of blueprints of the Nostromo? Also included in the book was an amazing Ron Cobb concept drawing of the ‘Leviathan’, which was strange-looking but seemed like it might actually work.

 

Ron Cobb’s ‘Leviathan’, an early concept for what became the Nostromo.

 

This is Cobb’s cross-section of the ‘Leviathan’. I have never come across another layout like the one mentioned in The Book of Alien, so I am not sure if a Seymour version exists, or if the writer meant the one here drawn by Cobb. (Click the photo and be amazed…)

 

After seeing the Leviathan cutaway and the amazing spaces within it, I knew I wanted to use every scrap of information I could find from which to extrapolate Nostromo’s innards.

The Starlog Spaceships Photo Guidebook was a favorite resource of mine, but it had been printed in 1977. By 1980, I was fully hooked on the Nostromo and when they reissued the fantastic Spaceships Photo Guidebook new edition, I was glad to see they included an entry for Alien.

 

 

The Alien Photonovel Book was another favorite I browsed in the bookstore. It was about the only resource for stills other than promotional photographs. It really puts you back into the movie, and I found myself drawn to those graphic shots of the alien’s tongue in action against Brett and Parker. I added the book to my collection last year and have been reliving that old terror.

 

NOSTROMO ON HOME VIDEO

In 1980, Alien was released in a format called Video Home System technology (better known as VHS). I did not own a VCR (excuse me: videocassette recorder) until I got married in 1986 to a fantastic lady who enjoys me enjoying science fiction. Watching the movie now came with the luxury of freeze-frame!

 

Alien on VHS (1980), front & back.

 

This was before anyone ever dreamed of the special features extras so common with today’s releases, so I was only able to glean details from the film itself and probably replaced that initial copy a handful of times over the years until the 20th anniversary of the film’s theatrical release, when 20th Century Fox upped its game with a release on DVD.

 

Alien on DVD (1999), front & back.

 

As you can see from the back cover, the disk included deleted scenes, audio commentary, artwork, photo galleries, and storyboards that all went into my imaginative vision of what the Nostromo must be like as a real space vehicle. In addition, the movie’s official website included thumbnail images of key set plans. Using all of this research material, I began to chart the corridors, finally able to figure a possible deck layout. It was very cool to watch the movie with a printed copy of the set plans and to plot where the cameras were located to get the shots we see in the film. The ingenuity of Michael Seymour (production design), Roger Christian & Les Dilley (art direction), and Ian Whittaker (set decoration) is evident in how successfully these sets were redressed for the different decks and different spaces. For example, did you know the infirmary and the engineering control room were the same set, just redressed?

 

NOSTROMO ON THE INTERNET

As the World Wide Web (aka Internet) took off in the late Nineties, I jumped aboard with both feet.  Equipped with a Packard-Bell personal computer and a dial-up connection, I searched the new frontier for information about the Nostromo, all at the blazing speed of — hold on to your hats! — 50 kilobits per second!

I found nascent Alien websites that included small sections about the Nostromo and other technology. I began to network by email, making contact with these webmasters and with other fans on the bulletin boards.  One very nice guy emailed me a hi-res scan of the Halcyon Nostromo kit instruction sheet, which showed the Nostromo from front, back, and side. This was in the days of dial-up, so you can imagine how long it took to download that mega-byte-sized graphic! It seemed like forever.

One day I found the Halcyon Nostromo kit on the website of the Intergalactic Trading Company in Longwood, Florida.

 

Current logo for the Intergalactic Trading Company, alive and well in the Sunshine State.

 

I paid $150 of my hard-earned cash to buy the kit, although I did not have the  advance modeling skills required to assemble its vinyl and PVC parts. Just holding those pieces in my hands — turning them over and following their clunky lines — was an education.

Finally owning the instruction sheet and its plan drawings, I set out to create blueprints similar to the “Booklet of General Plans” drawn by Franz Joseph Schnaubelt in the mid-1970s.

 

I still have my dog-eared first edition of Franz Joseph’s General Plans booklet, gifted to me by a thoughtful uncle impressed by his geeky nephew’s devotion to reading the family encyclopedias!

 

With the DVD extras, tidbits from the Internet, and the kit plans, I now knew more about the shape of Nostromo than ever before! It was possible to realize and understand the complex geometry of those thrusters, to identify the basic shapes from which the ship was built. In these latter days, I can see the fantastic boxy chunkiness of Chris Foss with touches of the industrial practicality of Ron Cobb — all combined with the creative artistry of Brian Johnson and his model builders.

 

A Ron Cobb design incorporating many details found in the final miniatures.

 

Then came Lee Brimmicombe-Woods’ Aliens Colonial Marines Technical Manual (1995), which included Nostromo stats that were sourced by many a  fledgling Alien site. Even today, it is hard to beat what Lee wrote.

 

 

Lee’s credible speculation about the technology on the Nostromo was fascinating and fed the part of my brain that thought beyond blueprints and deck plans to the possible inner systems of the giant machine. Since this book came out, I have harbored the dream of writing an expansion of Lee’s work: a technical guide similar to the manuals written by Franz Joseph (The Star Trek Starfleet Technical Manual, 1975) and Rick Sternbach & Michael Okuda (Star Trek The Next Generation Technical Manual, 1991).

 

 

My interest in the Nostromo continued as I saw its influence on science fiction cinema and television. I always returned to it…reviewing my notes and modifying my sketches, trying to figure out new angles and shapes.

Working in a newspaper production department was a boon for my blueprinting project, since it taught me the skills needed to make the blueprints without a sophisticated computer program. I copied the kit plans and using an X-acto knife, Liquid Paper correction fluid, scotch tape, a copier, and MSPaint, created camera-ready mechanicals. There was just one problem: the kit plans do not show the top or the bottom of the ship, so I had to fudge those by hand.  Here are what remain of my worksheets <cringe> in all their analog glory, with the final results:

 

 

To this day, I still grin when I see the ’hairy legs’ of the two aft rocket thrusters in the top and bottom views.  They look that way because I got tired of drawing panel lines and hurriedly sketched them in. Nobody was really going to see them, after all…right? (But they did manage to show up in Alien: The Archive.)

 

 

The accumulation of magazines, books, the model kit, and the DVD reached critical mass, I decided to embark on a new adventure in cyberspace, as we used to call it.  Since there were so many sites focusing on the creature or the film itself, I saw a gap in the coverage and I decided to keep to my interest in the Nostromo. Surely there were others out there wanting to find more information on the ship…all in one place?

 

THE NOSTROMO ONLINE

On December 7, 1999, The Nostromo Files website was unleashed using Netscape Navigator and a free site on Yahoo! Geocities.

 

Remember these?

 

 

<em>The original home page for The Nostromo Files. Note the screen resolution…</em>

 

The Overmonitoring Address Matrix, circa 2002. To keep the website experience as close to the movie as possible, I used Mother’s Overmonitoring Address Matrix as the template for my navigation menu. I replaced the alpha-numeric extension of each menu item with a code that showed when the page had last been updated.

 

The site featured an in-depth description of the Nostromo, its contemporary technology, extrapolations about things implied on-screen, links to other sites, blueprints, maps of the Zeta 2 Reticuli system, crew and flight plan information, as well as ship signage, rank insignia, a starship registry, and articles detailing the building of the Nostromo miniatures.

The Yahoo! Geocities version of the site ran from 1999 to 2002, when it was briefly hosted by some Swedish fans at linuxsweden before their hosting service folded. A modified mirror site kept it alive for a while.

And then, oblivion.

One summer day in 2009, while searching the internet for Nostromo information, I was pleasantly surprised to stumble over Graham (Space Jockey) Langridge’s USCSS Nostromo – Discussion Thread at Propsummit.com. He was creating a poster-sized plan of the Nostromo, and his thread was packed with discussion about the details of the ship, with photographs, diagrams, and speculation. All of this was fodder for Graham’s fresh and fertile imagination, which was ultimately expressed in his superlative Nostromo blueprint poster.

 

Graham’s Nostromo poster. Wow! Just “Wow!”

 

I joined the discussion and shared my quaint old drawings. Some of the board’s members had seen them years ago. This encouraged me to jump-start the old site. And as I did, I reconnected with old friends like:

  • Scott Middlebrook, who runs The Alien Universe Timeline and still serves as a tolerant and much-welcomed sounding board for my Nostromo ruminations since those old days when we pondered things in the undiscovered Alien universe;
  • Nathan, webmaster of The Alien Movies Resource website that set the standard for varied multimedia coverage of the film series and broadened my exposure to it all;
  • Mike Lynch, author of The Anchorpoint Essays site. He set the bar for creating original content based on the alien creature, in all its incarnations;
  • Willie Goldman, the mastermind behind AliensCollection.com, a site that catalogues many an Alien fan’s dream collection and put me in contact with great resources.

 

Along the way, I have made some new as well, people who have enriched my appreciation of the Nostromo in some very specific ways:

  • John Eaves, whose photos of his work on the Nostromo restoration project helped define my vision of the ship;
  • Adam Savage-Hill, a tenacious researcher of the Alien sets whose photos of his screen-accurate set models can sometimes be mistaken for the real thing;
  • Dominic Kulcsar, the writer behind the Alien Explorations blog that so thoroughly documents the film series and fills in the gaps in my own knowledge;
  • Johnny Kennedy, who documents Alien movie lore in his Strange Shapes blog, and also puts up with my occasional flights of fancy relating to the first film;
  • Graham J. Langridge, creator of the Alien blueprint posters and another sounding board for my ideas about the Nostromo. We will all enjoy his visions of it and other blueprints when Titan publishes his Alien: The Blueprints book next year;
  • Robert LePine, the accomplished Nostromo Builder, first model maker I encountered who has scratch-built not one but three versions of the ship;
  • Brian Wyvill & George Mallen, the men behind the Nostromo’s computer graphics who gracefully agreed to be interviewed early on, and the inspiration for the low-tech aesthetic for my website.

When I decided to relaunch The Nostromo Files in mid-2016, I made a conscious decision not to compete with the new breed of Alien fan sites so widespread on today’s World Wide Web. Nope, this is first and foremost a website that reflects my interests. I aim for it to be the kind of website a fan of the Nostromo might joyfully stumble across while searching the net, much as I did back in the 1990s. Whether or not this is a wise choice, only time will tell. If you choose to follow, I think you will enjoy the journey.

FINAL NOTES

The goal of this essay series was simple: to assemble a chorus of shared memories, insights, and enjoyment of this movie from men and women, young and not-so-young, people from different cultures…

…and you know what?

 

As this series concludes, my focus will turn to developing more content for the site’s Overmonitoring Address Matrix. You see, this project has re-invigorated my interest in restoring other portions of the website.

This old dog might have a few new tricks with which to surprise you in the years to come!  In the meantime, feel free to drop me a line using the INTERFACE 2037 comm-link on the OAM or message me through Facebook. I am always glad to hear from you. (And if you think you would enjoy fleshing out your Nostromo ideas on this site, well…maybe we should talk.)

So, to the authors of the ‘Memories of Nostromo’ essays:

Robert,

Graham,

Pedro,

Peter,

Scott,

Ari,

Eric,

Steve,

Dayton,

Aaron,

 J. M.,

John,

Cliff,

and Jussi:

Sincerest thanks for taking the time out of your lives to contribute to this backwater space-trucker’s dream, making this essay series a successful celebration, of not only this remarkable vehicle of the imagination, but also our…

…Memories of Nostromo!

 

Cheers!

 

Your friendly Nostromo Files archivist, Darrell (aka Fen Giddel). And yes, my wife’s coffee IS the only thing good on this ship!

TRANSMITTAL PROTOCOL 1809246(09)/DC>> END TRANSMISSION…


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