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Aliens: Phalanx (review and discussion)

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I Raptus

Aug-07-2020 8:56 PM

Hi all. 

I've recently finished reading Scott Sigler's novel Aliens: Phalanx. 

Warning: Minor Spoilers

I wont give away the entire plot but would like to at least touch on the inevitable reveal in the story and its ramifications to the Alien franchise.

I've been a huge fan of Scott Sigler's works since his 2006 Infected, a novel also featuring hostile alien internal parasites. This novel had everything one would expect from an Alien novel, but was its own unique and rich story full of body-horror and gripping tension. 

So the idea of Sigler writing an actual Alien novel was pretty high up on the anticipation metre for myself.

However the premise of Medieval Aliens, also promoted as 'Game of Thrones with Aliens' was a concern at first, and took awhile to warm to the idea.

But I must say - this comparison is way off and is a discredit to the actual premise of the book. 

Although never specifically mentioned during the novels opening exposition sections it becomes quickly obvious the inhabitants of Ataegina are not a typical medieval civilization; with atypical Sci-fi names and modern language....mostly profanities. The impression one gets is this a former colony that has long since gone back to the dark age, warring among themselves for power and land. This makes the premise more like 'Lord of the Flies with Aliens'.

It is then quickly established that the warring tribes were rudely interrupted by 'The Rising' when Xenomorphs (referred to a Demons), start appearing from the bowels of Black Smoke Mountain. 

Since then, the various surviving factions of Ataegina had retreated into fortified and hidden Holds high in the mountains, thus far undiscovered by the demons as they run amok killing and capturing stragglers in the Hinterlands below. 

Conscripted Runner teams are utilized by each hold to traverse the Xenomorph no-man's land between the surviving Holds, with the story following one such trio of young Runners from Lemeth Hold. Their tasks usually consist of fetch and return jobs, bartering essential supplies between the Holds.

During this opening phase Sigler introduces some interesting new twists on the Xenomorph lore which helps establish and build the Xenomorph threat. The living inhabitants of Ataegina have only ever seen the adult stage Xenomorph, but are aware that as their numbers diminish the Demon numbers increase. Urban legend has it that the 'Demon Mother' lives within the heart of Black Smoke Mountain and uses 'Spiders' to magic captured people into new Demons. But no-one has ever survived being captured by a Demon to verify this story. 

All Runners of the surface carry with them a 'Little Friend' knife. In the event of being captured by a Demon it is their duty and responsibility to their people to kill themselves and rob the world of another Demon. All inhabitants of a hold are obligated to completed 10 Runs as part of a adulthood initiate rite of passage. Once clear of this obligation surviving ex-runners can grow fat and lazy in their holds, passing on the deadly responsibility to the next generation. 

This is a dark world where generations of human have grown up and adapted to living among a new King of the food chain and Apex Predators - the Xenomorph. The entire culture of Ataegina has been shaped in this way. The rare Runners or Warriors lucky enough to survive or kill a Demon are revered among their people. The Inner Jaw, referred to as a Tooth-Tongue, is depicted as a trophy strung around the necks of the Demon-Killers. 

To me this was the most interesting part of the novel, so unique to every previous Alien story, with only Vincent Ward's script of Alien3 the only near comparison.

Without revealing too much the story continues to escalate as other Holds mysterious go dark, spiraling outwards from Black Smoke Mountain towards the more distant Lemeth hold. Demon's have become aware of the mountain Holds and are creeping outwards. This inevitably leads to the survivors marching on and confronting the Xenomorph hive with the survival or extinction of humanity on Ataegina as the only 2 options.

The story never truly feels like a true Alien story until the last 15% where the novel shifts into top gear.

The end-game phase of the story is reminiscent of arguably one of the most intense Xenomorph encounter's since Dr. Paul Church horrific hive survival story depicted in Alien: Labyrinth by Woodring & Plunkett.  

The entire novel is a captivating and intriguing read due to its unique premise, allowing Sigler to explore new ground for the Alienverse. But the contrasting shift in the final 15% of the novel is trademark Sigler AND Alien in full-flight, and is beautiful to behold.

 

DIRECT SPOILERS & REVEAL:

The final confrontation within the hive leads to a (deliberately?) inevitable reveal.

The origins of the Ataegina and the resulting Xenomorph hive is finally revealed by a damaged WY Synthetic called Zachariah (with a personality akin to Bishop or Walter) trapped within the hive of Black Smoke Mountain. All that is revealed about Zachariah is that he is a Tokyo manufactured synthetic with registration WY2100023, commissioned 334 years before the Novel's timeline. However no date is ever given when the story of Ataegina took place in the Alien Timeline. However Zachariah does make reference of the plagiarus praepotens mutagen named in Alex White’s Alien: Cold Forge, which took place in 2179.

Zachariah explains that Black Smoke Mountain was the crash site for a failed Weyland-Yutani colonial ship named the Nan-Shan. During transit there was an undisclosed altercation between the crew. This led to sabotage of cyropods killing all colonists over the age of 12, and the death of at least 4 crew members killed by a Xenomorph.  

Zachariah was then reprogrammed by WY to pilot the ship and land on Ataegina, evacuate the surviving children and warn them to move far away from the mountain and never return. The inhabitants of Ataegina are the descendants of this failed colonial mission.

There is a sub-plot in the story revolving around Ataegina’s endemic ‘Caminus leaves’ which is accidently discovered to have a total and immediate neutralising effect on the Alien acid blood. I dont want to make a big deal about it because its really not, and is used as plot device to give the fighting men and women of Ataegina at least some survival chance against close quarters fighting with the Xeno’s. But because of how this impacts the final battle it needs to be discussed. In order to neutralise the extreme acidity of the Xenomorph blood would (naturally) require an equally extreme base such as Sodium Hydroxide, aka Caustic Soda, or Lye. This however is equally as potent and just as deadly as the acid…. and mixing the two substances produces some pretty noxious and equally deadly gases. In the story however the leaves are just normal old tree leaves. It’s a minor thing I could have lived with but it then gets pushed up a notch in the hive.

Survivors of the battle in the hive consume caminus leaves prior to be face-hugged in the hope the leaves might retard the gestation process. This works, resulting in a failed foetus ‘worm’ being regurgitated out the mouth ‘like a melted candle’. This makes for a thoroughly disturbing scene and a useful plot device, but not the most plausible of elements in the book.       

 

So what does Aliens: Phalanx reveal but is never discussed in the story.

Before the crash there was Xenomorphs aboard the Nan-shan. Whether intentional or not, WY knew about it, had Zachariah remotely re-programmed to pilot the ship and land it. However, 334 years later the colony was still forgotten about. This may explored in a future book?

 

This is another excellent entry into the franchise with the recent and exciting revival of Alien novels by Titan, following the likes of Alex White’s Aliens: Cold Forge & Tim Lebbon’s Alien: Out of the Shadows as stand outs.

Solid, gritty and dark! 4.5/5

  

 

6 Responses to Aliens: Phalanx (review and discussion)

dk

Aug-07-2020 10:11 PM

Thanks. The story sounds pretty riveting. I cannot help but wonder if the runners' experience dealing with Xenomorphs may have somehow had those runners evolve into Predators. Wearing body parts as trophies sure sounds like a ritual or showing status, except the Predators wouldn't become fat, happy and lazy.

 

I Raptus

Aug-08-2020 12:34 AM

Thanks DK. 

That would be an interesting twist if it did! As no date is ever mentioned this story could have taken at any time, so anything is possible. Perhaps they stayed on the planet afterwards and co-evolved further with the Xeno.

Now that you mention it, it has been established in the AVP novels that the Predators green blood is basic. Remember in the first AVP movie where 'Scar' marks Lex's cheek with alien blood. This idea was taken directly from AVP: Prey where young Yautja would mark themselves after a kill. The novel specifically mentioned Yautja blood neutralizing the acid blood.   

Perhaps this was Sigler's thinking with the Caminus leaves also..... you could be on to something! Imagine if the Yautja were Human descendants from this planet centuries ago.

 

I should point out that the wearing of body parts was not the norm in this story because killing a 'Demon' was so exceeding rare. The vast majority of encounters with Xenomorphs for the runners led to hiding or suicide. Or if caught unaware, death or capture. 

Until the offensive towards the end of the book only 3 living members of the Lemeth hold were known 'Demon-Killers'. One kill was a fluke, one was killed with crossbows, and the third person who killed a xeno while trying to rescue a fellow warrior being attacked, ended up losing an arm, an eye and became so disfigured they were ostracized from society. 

But that is not to say these encounters were not the start of a ritualized trophy system later on.  

Leto

Aug-08-2020 1:14 AM

Wow! This is really cool! Nice review I must read this book.

 

>>>Zachariah was then reprogrammed by WY to pilot the ship and land on Ataegina, evacuate the surviving children and warn them to move far away from the mountain and never return. The inhabitants of Ataegina are the descendants of this failed colonial mission.

Very interesting part! Also sound like BigDave's ideas about David and his society of Star Children, who did not know about their past.

I Raptus

Aug-08-2020 1:23 AM

Thanks Leto. Definitely worth a read. In many ways the novel is a breath of fresh air for the franchise, so different to the usual Alien storyline tropes, but executed nicely.

I wouldn't go so far as to say it 'uncooks the beasts' but it shows with a little bit of imagination and some risk there are still some stories to be had in the franchise. 

Scott Sigler

Aug-09-2020 12:09 PM

Hi, Raptus. I'm glad you enjoyed the novel! Writing in the ALIENS universe was a dream come true. 

BigDave

Aug-10-2020 2:19 PM

I dont really read the Novels...

Its nice for them to TRY and put a different SPIN on a ALIEN Story However.

I think the Med-Evil setting is interesting to a degree (Especially in the way it had been done) because its about a Colony that is Stranded and have Reverted back to more Primitive Lives.

This is something that would be LIKELY if a Colony Ship had some kind of Accident, or became Stranded as there is ONLY so much you can Carry on a Certain Size Ship.

For Example if the Sulaco had to make a Emergency Landing on a New World and the Ship somewhat Crash Landed, and the Survivors escaped... then if they are STRANDED and have no means to Contact others, then eventually they would have to Start Again... Generation, after Generation with only what they could take from the Crashed Ship they would NOT have the Infrastructure to go and MASS PRODUCE much Advanced Technology and so indeed you would somewhat have to Start Again, where the Architecture etc would be more Primitive.

I think having to deal with the Xenomorph becomes more of a Threat once you have NO real Technology so it could be interesting to see how this is Dealt with in the Book.

Seems to be WELL DONE by your Review I Raptus ;)

And Kudos to the Author for trying something thats Different to the Usual Take on the Franchise...

PS

@Scott Sigler

KUDOS to you, must be a Great Honor to Complete and have Published an ALIEN Novel.... i really have to get around to taking a look at your work.

Cheers ;)

R.I.P Sox  01/01/2006 - 11/10/2017

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