I admit it. I’m a sucker for Aliens. Not the kind of aliens that travel to and from countries, but rather Aliens with a capital A that like to use people as living nurseries.
I first heard about it as a little boy. My dad was talking with my uncle about the original movie. I remember the discussion focused on the chest-bursting scene.
I don’t remember their opinions (it was forty years ago), but I do remember being shocked by the concept. The very idea was terrifying to me and I actively avoided the franchise until high school. Then, I got sucked in and have been a fan ever since.
Needless to say, I’m one of those people who buy the Alien books. I’d call it a guilty pleasure, but there’s no guilt involved. I enjoy reading them. In fact, not too long ago (actually a very long time ago), I reviewed Alien 3 by William Gibson.
Mind you, most of the books are mediocre at best. They often use the same tropes, quote the same dialogue from Aliens and pretty much tell the same story. So I walk into these books with low expectations.
Recently, I bought the audiobook version of Aliens: Phalanx. It was written by Scott Siegler, an award winning author. It’s gotta be good, right? Riiiiiiiighhht?
I won’t say it was bad because I didn’t finish which is the equivalent of saying, “Her dance routine would have scored well had she not stepped on a landmine.”
It took three chapters and I called it quits. I’ve read most Alien books but this was the first one I stopped reading early. Like stone cold stopped.
Here’s the thing: when I read an Aliens book, I’m coming to it with expectations. I expect there be Xenomorphs (duh!) and I expect the setting to be a sci-fi universe. I expect there to be survival horror elements as I expect some gunfighting. Not all of these have to happen but these are the standard tropes on the Aliens universe. You can also add evil corporations, scientists who play God, blah blah blah.
In Aliens: Phalanx, none of them happen. The book takes place in medieval type of civilization where Xenomorphs hunt the population. Some people scavenge for food (and get hunted) while others take care of the home front.
The Xenomorphs are known as demons, but really, they act as a generic monster. Heck, you could replace the Xenomorphs with wolves and nothing would have changed.
I get the sense that Siegler was stripping the Aliens universe down and then trying to elevate it, but he created an Aliens book without the things that make it an Aliens book. It’s like casting a western inside a modern city wearing modern clothes. I’m not saying it’s impossible, it’s just really hard.
The other problem is the book is overwritten. Each sentence is polished to a maximum sheen. Long winded passages make for drifting thoughts. I often found myself often thinking of todo list item as opposed to paying attention to the story. Scott Siegler is a very talented writer. Unfortunately, his talent is wasted on this book.
After I stopped reading, I went over to Audible to read the reviews. The bad reviews are hilarious. “Ruined by Feminism”. Good grief. The first Alien movie can be seen as a treatise on rape and the followup was all about motherhood. There have always been strong themes of feminism running throughout the entire franchise. Did these idiots just get the memo?
If you were to sit down with some of these Morlocks and discuss the book, my guess is that the book didn’t have enough of the Aliens universe in it to keep them interested. Thus the feminism probably seemed heavy-handed in what appeared to be a fantasy book where the Xenomorphs could be replaced with anything. But then again, I didn’t finish the book so I’m just guessing.
TLDR – If you want to read a good Aliens book, read The Cold Forge by Alex White. Avoid this book because it’s a bad franchise book written by a good author (read his other stuff).