Book review: Aliens: Phalanx by Scott Sigler

I hope this blogpost finds everyone well. It’s a massive understatement to say that we are living in trying times, given that the recent COVID-19 outbreak has pushed many of us well past that line. I couldn’t blog without sending my best wishes to anyone effected by recent events. But if you’re anything like me, then the recent lockdown has at least resulted in a bit more reading time. I’m going to try to blog more often!

Aliens: Phalanx by Scott Sigler is a new and original novel set in the Alien universe. Here’s the blurb:

“Ataegina was an isolated world of medieval castles, varied cultures and conquests, vibrant until the demons rose and spread relentless destruction. Swarms of lethal creatures with black husks, murderous claws, barbed tails and dreaded “tooth-tongues” raged through the lowlands, killing ninety percent of the planet’s population. Terrified survivors fled to hidden mountain keeps where they eke out a meager existence. When a trio of young warriors discovers a new weapon, they see a chance to end this curse. To save humanity, the trio must fight their way to the tunnels of Black Smoke Mountain — the lair of the mythical Demon Mother.”

Alien fiction is undergoing something of a resurrection. It wasn’t too long ago that we had the excellent Alien: The Cold Forge, by Alex White, and there has been a recent swathe of Alien and Predator releases in other media as well. But Phalanx is something a bit special, and a bit different – I’d go as far to say that Phalanx is comparable to The Cold Forge in terms of both writing and enjoyment. Sigler raises the very valid point that he doesn’t want bloggers or reviewers to ruin the surprises he has crafted in his novel – I’m going to avoid doing that as far as possible, but please be aware that by necessity there may be some (minor) spoilers along the way…

I’ve never read anything by Scott Sigler before, but he handles the Alien universe and the concept of the story very well. Phalanx is notable because it isn’t immediately part of the wider Alien lore. The foundation of the story – medieval civilisation combatting aliens – feels like a 90s (or maybe even late 80s) Dark Horse one-shot. Stories like this just aren’t told anymore. But Sigler takes the idea to another level, by crafting decent (and mostly likeable) characters around the one-line premise and expanding it into a plausible (if unpalatable) world. 

The writing is sharp, highly-readable and descriptive. The aliens are written as lethal, dangerous and shadowy. That’s not an easy thing to do; too often, when we’re dealing with multiple threats (a story that is more Aliens than Alien) the classic xenomorphs lose some of their threat and dark glamour. They become easily dispatched minions, without any real mystery. Sigler has that covered, managing to evince that shadowy menace we’ve come to love from the movies, and implanting it (facehugger style) into a very different setting. Diehard movie fans will doubtless notice the occasional easter egg (some classic lines from the movies are dropped in an opportune moments), but Sigler does a good job of avoiding the wellworn path trodden by the films. 

As an aside, later in the story Sigler even manages to establish a little link with The Cold Forge. It’s not massive and many readers will probably miss it but I appreciated it in any event. The final twist in the tale is well-crafted and doesn’t feel forced; it’s a nice concluding explanation for the wider story. 

Aliens: Phalanx is a strong addition to the Alien franchise. It may be more Aliens than Alien in execution, but the unique take on the xenomorph myth is highly refreshing.   

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