The Genius of the Derelict

Version 1.6 of 25/10/2020-10:32 p.m.

"I've never seen anything like it" --- Ash, after seeing the derelict on screen

In 1979, the movie Alien ([1]) set the standard for science-fiction horror. The principal designer of all the major features, including the (now famous) xenomorph ([2]), was the Swiss surrealist and designer H.R. Giger ([3]), who won an Academy award for his work on this film ([10]).

hans ruedi giger
Swiss surrealist and designer H. R. Giger ([3]) (source unknown)

Giger needs no special introduction. One only needs examine his site's guest book ([4]) or some of his paintings to get a good idea about how influential this man has become in the genre of good horror fiction.

In the movie Alien, a group of space travellers lands on an unknown moon, LV-426 ([5]), after a mysterious signal is intercepted by the ship's mainframe and find a derelict spaceship carrying a cargo load of strange eggs. The pilot of the derelict has been dead for millions of years and has been fossilized, but the eggs are in stasis and the crew accidentally activates one, causing the infestation of the spaceship with a deadly alien life form, now named "xenomorph".

Giger was called in as an "artist in residence" to supervise and help with the artistic aspects of the film. In doing so, he kept a diary where he collected relevant material, such as draft sketches and paintings of the various features, including the derelict. This "diary" was augmented later with photos of the movie replicas used by the production team and its contents were compiled into the book "Giger's Alien" ([8]):

giger's alien
Fig. 1: Cover for book: "Giger's Alien", published by Galerie Morpheus International

The book has several pre-production paintings of the derelict by Giger:

alien derelict 2
Fig. 2: Pre-production painting of the derelict, by H.R. Giger
alien derelict 3
Fig. 3: Pre-production painting of the derelict by H.R. Giger.
alien derelict 4
Fig. 4: Pre-production studio model of the derelict.
alien derelict 5
Fig 5: Post-production model of the derelict, with various features exaggerated.
Original Image Source: Lune Rouge
alien movie derelict on acheron
Fig 6: the derelict sitting on moon LV-426 ("Acheron") as it was shown in the film Alien.
alien derelict 7
Fig. 7: Pre-production painting of the derelict's bottom side, showing the three vaginal entrances, by H.R. Giger.

Giger also provides for a view of the derelict in what appears to be its "alive" state:

alien derelict 6
Fig. 8: Pre-production painting of the derelict (alive), by H.R. Giger.

The book also contains paintings of the derelict's pilot and cockpit:

giger's derelict cockpit
Fig. 9: Pre-production painting of the internal view of the cockpit dome of the derelict, behind the pilot, by H. R. Giger.
giger's derelict pilot painting
Fig. 10: Pre-production painting of the derelict's pilot, by H.R. Giger.
giger's derelict pilot model
Fig. 11: Larger-than-life-size model of the derelict's pilot, as it was shown in the movie Alien.

Several articles have appeared which tried to explain the derelict, although none is considered canon and none manages to explain what exactly the derelict is. In addition, with the exception of the second Alien film (in which only a very brief appearance of the derelict is made, which initiates another infection), none of the subsequent films about Alien referenced the derelict again, so its existence remains a mystery. Wikipedia has some interesting information on the (supposed) species ([6]) which pilots the derelict ([7]), although little or nothing of substance is known about it.

Some interesting facts can be extracted from the book "Giger's Alien". For example:

  1. It is clear that the derelict was intended as a sort of an organic bio-ship. This is supported by the fact that the pilot of the derelict is fused to his cockpit chair (Figs. 9-11), using bio-mechanical means and the fact that the interior of the ship consists of a conglomeration of bone-like organic elements (Fig. 11a). Hence, the entire derelict and the pilot are one single entity. This is of course in accord with Giger's general bio-mechanical style.
    alien derelict interior
    Fig. 11a: derelict interior with Kane (John Hurt) on his way to the egg chamber, as it was shown in the movie Alien.
  2. The derelict's right "arm", displays two protrusions, which in more detailed pictures in the book, appear to be either weapons or thrusters of some sort (Figs. 2-6 and 8).
  3. The original paintings also show two additional protrusions, one on the left arm and one on the right arm, near the back side of the derelict, which also appear to be thrusters of some sort (Figs. 3 and 5). Such thrusters could conceivably be used for rotational movement.
  4. The orientation of the pilot in the cockpit is not clear (he could be facing forward or backwards relative to the derelict "arms"), hence the derelict's orientation is also not clear, although it is reasonable to assume that if the protrusion on the right arm is a weapon, the orientation must be such that the ship travels with its "arms" extending forward. This is also supported by the fact that the derelict displays three vaginal portals/entrances on its bottom "forward" side (Fig. 7), as well as five additional ones at the front of the left "arm" (shown in the book only).
  5. The device on top of the pilot appears to be either a "telescopic device" or some other scientific device related to the ship's controls. It is reasonable to assume that it may be either a telescope or spectroscope (or both), since it appears to be almost in contact with the pilot's eyes (Fig. 10).
  6. The pilot's chair allows the pilot a full 360° panoramic view of the space above the derelict, using the "telescopic" device (Figs. 3,5,9,11). This is in agreement with the existence of the circular dome showing on Figs 3-5. In view of Fig. 9, it is reasonable to assume that the material of the dome is transparent to light, allowing the pilot a full view of the space outside.
  7. The three vaginal entrances (Fig. 7) lead directly to the cockpit and are always open, which implies that the derelict is not sealed against space vacuum. This is also supported by the fact that the pilot is directly connected to what seems a life support "breathing" tube, which is attached to his nose (Fig. 10). The previous lends support to the fact that the derelict can survive in a wide range of environments.
  8. Since the pilot's fossilized chest shows a sign of "chest-bursting" (Fig. 11), it follows that the pilot has fallen victim of his own cargo. The question is, what was this cargo doing there in the first place.
  9. Detailed paintings by Giger and replicas shown in the book, indicate a meticulous placement and positioning of the eggs in the cargo bay area. In particular, the eggs are shown having been arranged in neat rows and columns next to what appear to be turrets or division barriers. These division barriers seem to be positioned directly below a strange wall mechanism which either supports the eggs or generates them:
    alien egg-chamber
    Fig. 12: Egg chamber of the derelict as shown in the movie Alien
  10. The eggs are in stasis but they are alerted to the presence of nearby life forms by a blue laser signal which emanates from one of the egg chamber walls. Since this signal emanates from one of the walls, it is reasonable to assume that it has been placed there by the derelict on purpose. In the book, a plethora of what looks like worm or polyps-like life forms are found dead on the floor, near the eggs. They appear to be either dead facehuggers (the nymph stage of the xenomorph) or external life forms which the eggs failed to infect (Fig 12a).
    alien egg-detail
    Fig. 12a: Egg detail from book 'Giger's Alien', by H.R. Giger.
  11. The crew of the Nostromo went to the planet because the Nostromo's mainframe computer supposedly detected a signal from the derelict. According to the novelization of Alien by Alan Dean Scott ([11]), this signal was a warning. In fact it was not only a warning, but once fully decoded, it included full details about the whole xenomorph cycle. Hence at some point, it appears that the derelict is trying to warn travellers about the kind of cargo it is carrying.
  12. The above is in contradiction with the fact that the derelict included the laser mechanism to alert the eggs for the presence of external life forms. If the derelict truly intended to warn space travellers about the danger of approaching, it should have also shut down any mechanisms which supported the eggs, rendering them benign. Neither could the derelict set up the egg-alerting laser in a short time, such as the time it would take the chest-burster to come out of the pilot.
  13. The three vaginal entrances on the front of the derelict appear to be equipped with an elaborate and intricate network of wires and tubes which reach all the way to the derelict's dome (Figs 2 and 7). This suggests that anything going through the vaginal entrances is noticed by the derelict's pilot.
  14. The above discrepancies give credence to the hypothesis that the derelict is far from benevolent and was very likely intended as a bio-ship intended to "bombard" alien worlds with xenomorph eggs, probably in hopes of exterminating entire civilizations. This seems to be partly supported by Giger's own painting of an "alive" derelict, (Fig. 8), in which the very ground upon which the derelict stands appears to be receding in horror. It also seems to be supported by some pre-production models, such as that of Fig. 4, which actually show tons of piled up bones from a plethora of extraterrestrial life forms, just close to the derelict (The little light brown dots on the bottom in front of the derelict in Fig. 4 are skulls of alien life forms. Also in Fig. 7). These bones would naturally be the remains of any life forms which attempted to enter the derelict, but were subsequently killed after leaving from the vaginal portals by the emerging xenomorphs.
  15. The above lends credence to the hypothesis that the xenomorphs are a direct bio-mechanical creation of the derelict, which is also bio-mechanical. This seems to be supported also by paintings by Giger which show egg chamber wall details, with some wall features indicating that the eggs were created by the derelict itself and upon formation they landed nicely on the bottom of the egg chamber in neat rows and columns, arranged by the collective mechanisms of the derelict.
  16. An overall view of the derelict's operation can now be hypothesized: According to the novelization by Dean Alan Scott ([11])[1], the derelict has been dead since at least one million years prior to Nostromo's landing. This lends credence to the hypothesis that whether there are more like it or not, the particular device/entity appears to be amongst the oldest organisms in existence, having extensive knowledge of science and technology to the point of managing to grow itself into a self-sufficient bio-mechanical state in the form of a ship, complete with offensive weapons and having the ability of interstellar travel. As it travels, it simply "scans" entire star-systems looking for planets to infect. This could be achieved for example by scanning light sources for the presence of the spectrum of organic molecules via its telescoping device. The presence of organic molecules in star spectra usually betrays super-giant stars of class K and M, hence is a good indicator of the presence of older and more advanced civilizations around these stars. Once it finds life, it simply travels and lands on the corresponding planet, waiting for extraterrestrial life to come and examine it. In that sense, it resembles a giant spider, weaving its web on every planet it visits, akin to a giant uterus which gives birth to death.
  17. Having landed on Acheron, it exterminated all life there (as witnessed for example by the tons of skulls and bones around it in Fig. 4), but one of its creations escaped its attention and infected the pilot. Seeing its own demise and prior to dying, it chose the best way to ensure that even after its death it remained as deadly and malignant as possible, by setting up a warning beacon to (supposedly) warn other species about itself, knowing full well that curiosity is often a universal trait and usually a bad advisor.
  18. The derelict's horror doesn't end here. What happened for example to the creature which killed the pilot and burst out of the pilot's chest? Nobody knows, since the moon visited was barren of life, but drawing parallels from most subsequent sources which reference the evolution of the xenomorph like [2], emergent xenomorphs tend to acquire the biological traits of the host organism. If this happens to be the case, it is safe to assume that the organism which burst out of the pilot's chest must necessarily be a mini copy of the derelict. A mini derelict escaping into outer space and nowhere to be found.
  19. To conclude the derelict's horror, Giger provides for a final mysterious painting in the book "Giger's Alien", which appears to be depicting the actual creator of the xenomorph eggs and cycle (Fig. 13):
    alien hieroglyphics
    Fig. 13: Painting of the the creator of the xenomorph cycle, by H.R. Giger.

    In the middle we see the actual cycle of the xenomorph, and on top we see a horrifying creature, probably of female gender, resembling the Egyptian goddess of night, Nut ([9]) (Fig. 14):

    goddess gebnut
    Fig. 14: Egyptian depiction of goddess of the sky, Nut.

    It is interesting that the posture of the female creature which gives birth to the xenomorph eggs is very similar to the posture of the Egyptian goddess Nut. It is also interesting that Nut was a symbol of "resurrection" and "rebirth". Finally, the most interesting aspect of this last painting, is that the general posture of the xenomorph creator resembles very much the shape of the derelict. Beside the fact that she is of bio-mechanical nature, the eggs are emerging from her belly which nicely corresponds to the derelict's dome, while her hands correspond to the right derelict "arm" (indeed, the right derelict "arm" resembles the satanist's sign (Fig. 3)) and her legs correspond to the left derelict "arm" (the left derelict "arm" looks like a distorted "foot"). Her posture suggests mocking or defiance of the goddess Nut (or some other such benevolent creature), as if she is able to "re-generate" or "resurrect" part of herself via the xenomorph cycle, using only technology of her own.

  20. Based on the above, one is very tempted to conclude that the derelict is either the male of the species or a direct manifestation of this female creature using whatever materials it has at its disposal to organically grow itself, hence the structural differences between Fig. 3 and Fig 13. Because spiders are traditionally female, the author tends to believe the latter.
  21. Note that this painting is a visual description of the very warning signal which the derelict emitted according to the novelization of the movie Alien by Alan Dean Scott.

The Derelict and Zeta Reticuli

The unknown moon the derelict was found on, LV-426, is identified in the movie "Alien" as a moon orbiting a planet in orbit around either ζ1 or ζ2 Reticuli. Wikipedia in [12] has a small section on this star system, which supposedly bares some connection to UFOlogy. In particular, this star system has been identified as a trading route (whatever that means) for the Greys, and in particular a "star map" for those "routes" is given by Betty Hill and Marjorie Fish. The discussion section of the corresponding page, has some pro and con arguments for this connection. This "star map" can be seen to be bogus if one replicates the viewer location relative to the two stars of the binary system. The following map is the view given by Celestia ([15]) for the ζ12 Reticuli system:

zeta reticuli from Celestia
Fig. 15: Celestia view of the ζ12 Reticuli system, with the binary pair having similar orientation to the "star map" given in Wikipedia.

One easily sees that the stars which Celestia identifies as neighbors to the system, have nothing whatsoever to do with those of the "star map" in Wikipedia. Even the constellations are different. Hence the Grey "trading routes" and the corresponding "star map" are wishful nonsense at best. It is fairly interesting however, that Nancy Lieder, the author of ZetaTalk identifies the origin of the extraterrestrials she writes about, as ζ12 Reticuli ([14]).

LV-426 from Celestia
Fig. 16: Celestia view of ζ2 Reticuli, with main planet Livenum (with rings) in (blue) orbit around it and planetoid LV426 in (red) orbit around Livenum. The orbit of Nostromo around LV426 is also shown. This is similar to the approach in the movie Alien (at time: 14:54) - except that LV426 is somewhat larger in the movie, which also shows a second satellite planetoid called Narcissus (grey orbit around Livenum).


It is hard to try to psychoanalyze Giger's work, lest one desires to end up in the loony bin. Nevertheless, the inquiring mind can gain a unique perspective of the horror that lurks in his mind via his work, using careful and judicious observations. Although the above analysis is nothing but a bunch of materialized inferences and hypotheses based on a fictional object, the derelict, for me, remains one of the most horrifying things I have ever seen in my life. It's like it was custom made to scare the living daylights out of me. It is interesting to note that one of the original paintings of the derelict (Fig. 2) was stolen before 1986-87 ([13]) prior to an exhibition, while after the movie premiered, religious zealots set fire to the model of the pilot (Fig. 11), believing it to be the work of the devil ([1]).

Most people who have seen the movie Alien find the xenomorph itself (Fig. 1) pretty disturbing, but there is something totally and undeniably horrifying about the derelict itself. The details shown in the sketches of the book "Giger's Alien" imply that its design and function are related to something totally and unimaginably malignant by any human standard of the definition of "malignancy". Perhaps "malignancy" is not even the right word here. The derelict goes beyond that. It encompasses an entire system of systematic obliteration of life which goes beyond any human definition of evil. There is a certain mysterious evil repulsiveness about it, which my mind fails to grasp due to its immensity, but at the same time there is also a certain horrifying attraction for its intended purpose, which no doubt stems from our innocent curiosity as a species. The derelict looks (and "feels") so inconceivably sinister, that it is perfectly conceivable that its canon behavior as depicted in the first Alien movie (sitting supposedly "dead" on Acheron for example) may itself have been a pretense, hence its eventual disappearance from all subsequent Alien movies.

I think it is good that this object exists only in our fantasies. Wait: Let me rephrase that: I think it is good that this object is dead, even in our fantasies: Personally I would find it extremely disturbing to share the universe with this object/being/thing, whatever the heck it is.

Generally speaking, that's sort of a characteristic trait of Giger's biomechanical style: I don't think there are many (intelligent) people who would like to see Giger's worlds being realized, because if such was the case, they would be in a heck of a lot of trouble. Case and point: The derelict. That's the genius of Giger: Being able to generate this kind of feeling and imagery with his work.


  1. The author was informed that Ridley Scott is preparing an Alien prequel as of this writing, hence the reader can expect basically two scenarios: Either the film will espouse some of the above ideas (likely without credit) if it wants to generate some mild interest or it will be based on a completely different scenario, in which case the movie will likely be a fluke. There certainly exists nonsense even in [11], for example, where Dean Alan Scott writes: "Ash describes the Space Jockey's race as a noble people and hopes that mankind will encounter them under more pleasant circumstances". Or in [6], where we find: "The Book of Alien notes that the actors and crew felt instinctively that the Space Jockey was a benign creature, though they could not say why". Huh?! "Noble people"? "benign creature"? "under more pleasant circumstances?" Are these people totally crazy? If Giger reads these characterizations, he will cringe in horror[2].
  2. The above analysis was written in 2001. In 2012, Ridley Scott produced a prequel which violated many of the intentional designs by Giger, even as Giger himself was consulted for Scott's new designs before he died in 2014. More about this prequel in the author's review of Prometheus at imDB.


  1. Wikipedia's "Alien", the movie (online).
  2. Wikipedia's "Xenomorph". (online).
  3. Wikipedia's "H.R. Giger" (online).
  4. Official H.R. Giger site (online).
  5. Wikipedia's LV-426/"Acheron" (online).
  6. Wikipedia's "Space-jockey" (online).
  7. Wikipedia's "derelict" (online).
  8. "Giger's Alien, Film Design, 20th Century Fox", by Galerie Morpheus International (All the paintings of the book can be accessed from the Little Giger database (online), by entering: Search: Books, Popup Menu: Giger's Alien and clicking: Start Search)-(Book courtesy of Fotios Rouch).
  9. Wikipedia's "Goddess Nut" (online).
  10. IMDB's "Awards for Alien" (online).
  11. "Alien - In space nobody can hear you scream" Novelization of the movie script, by Dean Alan Scott, 1979 (Book courtesy of "N.A.SA.").
  12. Wikipedia's "Zeta Reticuli" (online).
  13. Giger's "Missing, Lost and Stolen H.R. Giger Artworks" (online).
  14. ZetaTalk's "Zeta Reticuli" (online).
  15. Celestia (online).