Carl risks the wrath of the Xenomorphs to review Scott Sigler’s Aliens adventure
I have nothing against the tie-in novel or the other stories they inspire. Some are even better than the source material they are based on. There are others though that trade on the name of the property that has inspired them and deliver sub-standard and below-par fare. There is a middle ground, a ground where an author takes the property and creates a world and a story where some of the characters from said property make an appearance in a story that goes off on a different tangent. These are to be applauded for their thinking outside of the box and for attempting something different, even though sometimes, it doesn’t pay off. ‘Aliens: Phalanx‘ falls into this middle ground.
Aliens: Phalanx | By Scott Sigler
Written by New York Times best-selling author Scott Sigler, the Aliens: Phalanx fits quite easily into this niche. The xenomorphs appear in the story he has created but they are just a part of the general construction of the novel, a character that appears periodically but is not the central or main cog in the machine Sigler has built for his book. Instead, the author has created a story that is a cross between The Hunger Games, Lord Of The Flies and Aliens. Is it a good read? Yes, it is. Does it sustain the reader’s attention? Mostly. Does it succeed? Almost.
The story centres around the character of Ahiliyah Cooper, a young girl who is a ‘Runner’, a person who leaves the hold she lives in to run the gauntlet to obtain medical supplies and food for the people she shares the hold with. There are several other holds located around the surface and they all trade with each other for food, medicine and anything else that each hold needs. She risks her life on a regular basis, running and trying to avoid ‘The Demons’. Of course, you get the drift that the demons are the xenomorphs, who are constantly on the prowl. They hunt the human runners night and day and many of Ahiliyah’s friends and fellow runners have fallen victim to creatures. There are only a few of her people who have ever killed a demon and those that have wear the creatures ‘tooth-tongue’ around their necks. The hold she lives in is also unfair gender-wise. Whereas the men only have to run five times before they can stop, the women have to run ten times unless they get themselves pregnant and are then excused their ‘duty’.
When one of Ahiliyah’s fellow runners, the best runner the hold has, defies her orders and refuses to make a run, the hold is forced to watch as she is publically executed for her defiance of ‘The Margrave’, the top person in the hold and the head of the council that runs the hold of Lemeth. After returning from a run, every runner is allowed time off to recover before making their next one, usually around a month or so. But when Ahiliyah returns from making her latest run, the margrave demands that she and her two fellow runners, Creen and Brandun make another run the following day. After her friend’s execution, Ahiliyah is named Chief Runner for the hold and as such, is seen as the saviour of her people. Dismissing the begging of her sexual partner, Tolio, who she does love, she agrees to make the run once more.
During this run, she will discover another hold that has been attacked and completely overrun by the xenomorphs and slaughtered. She and her companions face a challenge to return to the hold in one piece and avoid a nasty death at the hands of the creatures. The creatures will either kill the humans or drag them off to Black Smoke Mountain where the demon mother resides where they will become unwilling hosts for the next generation of creatures. On their way home, Ahiliyah and her companions are attacked by a demon, one who tries to drag Creen off. However, during the fight to save her friend’s life, Ahiliyah kills the creature and a weapon is discovered that may shift the balance back the humans’ way. Once they have returned to their hold, Creen is assigned the task of finding a way to utilise their discovery and to mass-produce it. All the while, the xenomorphs are on the march, destroying the other holds and murdering and abducting the hapless inhabitants. And Lemeth Hold is next.
The novel is interesting and keeps the reader entertained and invested enough in the characters to move along at a fairly decent pace. However, the book is called ‘ALIENS: Phalanx‘. The problem is the aliens are relegated to cameo appearances until almost three-quarters of the way through the novel. When the battle is joined though, we get enough action, violence, gore and horror to keep us going. It is a bit of a slog but in the end, it is worth sticking with. As I said previously, the book, apart from having the xenomorphs as the selling point is, in essence, a cross between The Hunger Games and Lord Of The Flies and I hope you can understand why. All three novels had teenagers and children as their central characters and with The Hunger Games, we have a world that is barren, unforgiving and with many dangers lurking around every corner. This struck me as I turned the pages. It is an interesting concept, one that is different and is worth exploring further. Sigler must be given credit for attempting to go in this direction. He could so easily have joined the thousands of other authors who take a shot at a property and give the reader exactly what they expect. Some succeed, others don’t. Sigler takes a chance and comes agonisingly close to pulling it off 100% successfully.
The book is a worthy read and does have great potential for the reader to revisit it again somewhere down the line. But and I’m saddened to say it, sometimes the book comes across as a teenage or a YA novel, one with horrific violence, gore and strong language contained within. This is NOT Sigler’s fault. He wrote the novel and deserves to be commended for this sterling effort. The trouble is there are many YA books on the market that have attempted to lay the same kind of foundation that is employed here, a move that cheapens the effect of the book slightly. And that isn’t fair to Scott Sigler as he brings us a book that will be looked upon with fondness by many readers and by fans of the Alien franchise. I enjoyed it and I hope everyone else who reads it will too.
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Carl Roberts is a Senior Staff Writer and Books and Literature Correspondent for Future of the Force. Aside from being our horror genre aficionado, he is also passionate about Star Wars, Marvel, DC, and the Indiana Jones movies. Follow him on Twitter @CarlRoberts2 where he uses the force frequently!
Editors Note | A big thank you to our friends at Titan Books for sending over our advance review copy.