Review by C.J. Bunce
The latest Aliens novel will come as a surprise to fans of the Alien franchise and tie-in novels. More of a video game tie-in than an outer space/sci-fi/horror tale, Aliens: Phalanx finds its confrontation with the gloss black, spike-tailed Xenomorphs on a planet much like audiences saw in the sister series, Predators, where individuals are plucked from across the universe and dropped on an undeveloped planet to survive being hunted by that franchise’s title creatures. Like something out of a post-apocalyptic nightmare, or the tie-in novels for Warcraft, Tomb Raider, or Gears of War, readers meet up with members of a pre-industrial culture fighting for survival. Aliens: Phalanx arrives in stores everywhere today and is available to order here at Amazon.
Literally a society on the run, locals must strategize their movements to get from place to place, actually living among the Xenomorphs that they not surprisingly refer to as “demons.” Writer Scott Sigler details in more than 500 pages–the longest Alien tie-in yet–his characters’ journey, all toward the ends of touching back into more of the familiarity of the Alien universe. The conceit of the films is that humans could stand any chance against the Xenomorphs. Readers’ suspension of disbelief will be pressed even further here, when those being asked to survive in the tale do not benefit from the full arsenal of Weyland/Yutani’s corporate-backed armament as found in the Aliens movie and prior stories.
Billed as a “medieval” tale, Aliens: Phalanx is probably more about “going medieval,” survival in the modern sense, more than anything that touches on the actual Middle Ages (as a historian I wouldn’t have guessed the Middle Ages presence here over, say, an early North or Latin America construct). In fact, without the title and cover art, for most of the novel readers wouldn’t know they were reading an Aliens universe story. The environment, the worldbuilding, the culture, the lack of naming convention all lend the book to have been readily adapted to an alien world of any sci-fi franchise, or even something like Cowboys and Aliens, as the vibe is more something out of S. Craig Zahler’s Bone Tomahawk–primitive culture but not so primitive antagonists in a horrifying, primal bid for survival.
Not so much fantasy or military science fiction, at times the story lends itself to the prospect of a first person shooter tie-in game, or those alien landscape stories in the worlds of John Carter of Mars or The Chronicles of Riddick. A surprise in the novel is the excess of profanity, far more prevalent than in any past Aliens story and a bit distracting. It’s puzzling why the author thought the language–lots of “F bombs”–was necessary at all considering the characters are on an alien planet far removed from our own 21st century world.
Aliens: Phalanx is a radical departure for the series, and will be for those fans of the series more open to a total expansion from the “look and feel” of the typical Alien universe story. For Alien completists and fans of alien survival stories, check out Alien: Phalanx, in stores this week, published by Titan Books.