In 1989, comic book writers Randy Stradley and Chris Warner pondered the “What If?” question that ultimately led to the Alien Vs. Predator comics, video games, and movies. Now writer Scott Sigler is posing a somewhat similar question in Aliens: Phalanx (paperback, Kindle), a new novel in which our favorite visitors tangle with some people with pointy sticks.
To start, what is Aliens: Phalanx about and how does it connect, both narratively and chronologically, to the movies, games, comics, and other books?
Aliens: Phalanx is about a pre-technological society facing off against xenomorphs. The book looks at the grand scale of internecivus raptus, how the spread of that species would cause cataclysmic damage to a civilization.
Where did you get the idea for Aliens: Phalanx?
I worked with Titan Books editor Steve Saffel to develop several story ideas. I brought in ideas that included a great heist story, exploring the expansion of Seegson (one of Weyland-Yutani’s few rivals), and expounding on xenomorph evolution. The idea he liked the best was the one that became Aliens: Phalanx.
My initial tagline for the book was Aliens meets 300, and involves a couple of key “what-ifs”: What if a culture without guns and technology went headlong against xenos? What if the people of that archaic developed a new weapon that let them fight back against the galaxy’s most-efficient killer?
So what inspired this idea and how did the plot change as you wrote it?
As a fan of dark fantasy stories with big set-piece battles, I wanted to develop a plot that would involve many xenomorphs, not just one or two or three. How would a human culture fare against a horde of these beasts? And, what if I took away the standard goal of most Alien-franchise stories, which is, “stay alive long enough to get in a ship and run away.” What if there was no ship? What if there nowhere to run to? What if it’s kill or be killed on a global level?
Aliens: Phalanx is not your first novel. Are there any writers or specific stories that had a big influence on this story but not on anything else you’ve written?
The main influence on this book that has not impacted my other work is Myke Cole’s nonfiction work Legion Vs. Phalanx, which looks at the key historic battles between two military styles. Those battles changed the course of history. Without Cole’s book, and his patience in answering endless questions I asked about weapons and tactics, Aliens: Phalanx would not have happened.
What about non-literary influences, such as movies, TV shows, or video games? Did any of those have a big impact on Aliens: Phalanx? Aside from the Alien movies, of course.
Aliens: Phalanx is the first tie-in novel you’ve written, but you previously wrote an Alien story called “Dangerous Prey” for the collection Aliens: Bug Hunt. Aside from the length, obviously, how was doing this novel different from when you wrote that short story?
“Dangerous Prey” is (I believe) the first Alien story told entirely from the xenomorph’s point of view. That made it a very different writing experience from Phalanx, which is told almost entirely from the perspective of Ahiliyah Cooper, the main character.
Like with “Dangerous Prey,” Aliens: Phalanx was overseen by the good people at Fox who control the Alien franchise. How do you think working in someone else’s fictional universe will influence your own stories?
I learned a great deal about the process of working with Fox when I wrote “Dangerous Prey.” Honestly, I spent more time going back and forth with them for that short story than I did for the entire Phalanx novel. I had to learn how Fox manages the property and find some of their tolerances. Once I did, working with them on Phalanx was a total breeze. Steve Saffel, the editor, also knows the parameters quite well and is a good manager of the process.
Speaking of the Alien overlords, what was their biggest contribution to Aliens: Phalanx?
They had very little feedback, due, I think, to the amount of advance work Steve and I put into the outline. We knew what we could and could not do.
The other thing that made it easy for the Fox team was that while Phalanx is canonical, the story set-up removes it from interaction with the broader Alien universe. There are no Colonial Marines. There is no Weyland-Yutani. Phalanx is an isolated story.
So, do you think Aliens: Phalanx could work as a movie?
I’ll toot my own horn here to say it not only would work as a movie, it’s a movie Fox should absolutely make. With all the controversy over (and fan disappointment with) the recent films, Aliens: Phalanx is a straight-up smasher that doesn’t contradict anything in any of the films. It presents the xenomorphs on a scale as-yet unseen in the Alien universe. It is less “Wow We Are Asking The Big Questions!” and more back to the franchise’s roots of a great action story with great characters. The plot is also linear, and the characters behave (I hope) largely like real people would behave in a similar situation. I think it’s less pretentious and far more accessible than some of the recent entries in the franchise.
Finally, if someone enjoys Aliens: Phalanx, which of your original novels would you suggest they read next and why that one?
Earthcore, no question. Go get it. James Cameron’s Aliens is the single biggest influence on my work. His technique of overlapping tension arcs is something that has stuck with my writing my entire career. You can see that style quite clearly in Earthcore.