Seventh grade sock hop. Eighth grade formal. Homecoming. Prom. Various weddings of acquaintances and close friends. What do all these things have in common? They all involved me, stuttering and muttering through excuses as to why I’m sitting morosely at a table instead of tearing up the dance floor with some sweet implemented dance innovations like the “Thrust Generator,” “The Potato Digger,” or “The Naughty Frog.” I can’t dance. Like, at all.
I told you that story to tell you another one… Aliens: Phalanx author Scott Sigler, in the interest of all Aliens aficionados everywhere, has specifically requested that reviews of his new book from Titan Books be free of any type of spoilers. With a heavy sigh, I’ll place my drink carefully on the table, and make my way to the dance floor since I’ll have to sashay and swirl around this review, as per Sigler’s request. Sigler has produced a work of fiction in the Alien universe so far removed from the usual that my endeavors to convince you to read it (and you should!) while at the same time avoiding the dreaded spoiler will be a Gene Kelly in-the-rain type effort.
I’ll start by telling you right off the bat that there are no heavy firearms with armor piercing ammo in Alien: Phalanx. Nobody jumps in a Class IV loader and engages in a tech-fueled, metal-on-carapace fist fight with a giant queen bitch alien. The opposite is, in fact, true. Sigler instead immerses us in a world with swords and armor, a race of people forced to sneak in the wilderness to avoid the “tooth tongue” in order to maintain medicine, trade and food betw
een primitive safe-holds scattered across the planet. The aliens hunt, and the only chance of survival is to remain silent, keep hidden, and trust in luck.
As with all Alien franchise explorations, that luck runs out. Against all odds, the fate of humanity in the balance, a final fight looms on the horizon. Sound familiar? Of course it does, as the Aliens universe follows that comfortable and predictable trajectory with every opportunity, and Aliens: Phalanx is no exception.
In past reviews, I have long professed the belief that Aliens novels don’t need a great showcase of the usual elements that make for good reading, like character development, immersive settings, and moral decisions that drive a dynamic storyline. Instead, they need a “bug hunt,” a group of dangerous and morally ambiguous mercenaries who find interesting and scary ways to perish, and a whole pile of cool guns. Sigler breaks the mold and instead spends the usual soldier/guns/brutality energy on those aspects that do create great novels. Sigler has changed my perception entirely of what makes quality Aliens material with Aliens: Phalanx. There’s nothing I can do, it’s a total eclipse of the heart.
Now, before you go off thinking that this is some sort of Louisa May Alcott operation, I would like to make a full-stop and be very clear that the combat and action in this novel is on point. Sigler’s glorious setting, combined with his intricate character and societal intrigue storylines, take up a good deal of this novel. When it’s time for craniums to get holes punched in em, when it’s time for some facehuggers to do some kissing, when it’s time for alien blood to splash and mingle with people blood, Sigler does not disappoint. These scenes carry extra weight, as the reader has developed a connection with the characters who find themselves in the long fingered grip of the xenomorph, and the feeling of loss is palpable.
A race of people living in the wilderness, zero technology… aliens. Wait. All Alien storylines have to include some sort of space exploration in order for the two species to come into contact, right? Yes. Again, at the specific request of the author, I will avoid any plot synopsis, but huge plot holes exist. Or seem to, until the last 100 pages, when Sigler unloads a brain-melting cascade of events and situations that keeps the paper flicking from right to left until the inevitable and satisfying conclusion. This happens so smooth, you don’t realize Sigler has set you up like a master storyteller, and the things you thought you knew, or had dismissed as an error on his part, are methodically hammered home through the climax. At a hair over 500 pages, Aliens: Phalanx has plenty of time for this approach and build-up, and the pay-off is so expertly delivered in a momentous finale, you feel a bit like you’ve been taken advantage of. Sigler is a very talented author, and he uses his considerable skill to weave the reader into the fabric of this forgotten planet, locked in mortal combat with the xenomorphs.
Titan Books have published almost a dozen Alien franchise novels and movie tie-ins. I reviewed Aliens: The Cold Forge just about a year ago, and called it the best book I have read from Titan. Alien: Phalanx is good enough to challenge that ranking. This is a can’t-miss novel for fans of the franchise, and an absolute home run for anyone with even a passing interest in sci-fi. Sigler refuses to be pigeonholed into selling a book to a specific audience, and the result is Aliens: Phalanx, an expertly penned science fiction survival story with the black, scaly foot of a xenomorph on the accelerator.
Images courtesy of 20th Century Fox & Titan Books