My choice for the best book I read in 2021 didn’t come out last year at all, but going by my rule of the ‘My X of the Year 2021’ articles, my choice is based on something I got to experience for myself during the year.
And what a year it was for me and reading. I rediscovered my reading mojo somewhat – and after starting to read the first few titles in the Titan Books Alien series, I decided to read them all. And review them. And then even write an article on them, which ended up being published by Polygon, which was almost certainly one of my biggest and proudest achievements of the last year.
So I think I’m pretty well placed to name my book of the year and – perhaps surprisingly even to me – it’s one of the Alien titles. Surprising because tie-in novels – whether they be based on long established movies, TV shows, video games or anything else – can be hugely entertaining by fans, but in general even fans themselves can see where they’re rarely held up as examples of genuinely great books. The Titan Alien books have been on a real roll in recent years though, with some absolutely phenomenal books in the series that I’d recommend even to non-fans.
Honourable mentions must go to Alex White’s pair of Alien books – and here’s hoping they get to write another – The Cold Forge and Into Charybdis, which combine political and social commentary with the Alien universe’s chaos and violence, a formula not exactly unheard of within the universe of the films and beyond, but rarely done with the skill and depth that White brings to the table. Another standout for me was Mira Grant’s Alien: Echo, which is a Young Adult novel with an LGBT romance as a key component of its story – immediately making it unique within the franchise; it also does a phenomenal job of showing just how deadly the flora and fauna of the universe is even beyond the familiar Xenomorphs.
However, my choice for book of the year goes to Aliens: Phalanx by Scott Sigler, which gives us a look at a medieval society on a distant world that’s under constant threat from the Xenomorphs running rampant between colonies of humans, forced to live in cave and mountain strongholds in order to stay alive. It’s a remarkable exercise in vivid world building and an atmosphere of incredible tension and horror, with great characters who genuinely grow over the course of the book into much more than they were at the start. It’s a compelling, brilliantly written book that demonstrates the possibilities of expanding the Alien universe’s stories beyond the familiar tropes and settings, while still feeling like part of the franchise. It’s a truly exceptional book that deserves a much bigger and wider audience than it’s reached so far – and a clear choice for my favourite book of 2021.
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