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Science Fiction and Skepticism:

Curiouser and Curiouser

Kylie Sturgess

November 30, 2010

The works of American author and podcaster Scott Sigler combine many genres, including science fiction, horror, and thriller. After successfully recording and distributing the audiobook of his novel Earthcore as a podcast (with over 10,000 subscribers) in 2005, he also released his books Ancestor, Infected, The Rookie, Nocturnal, and Contagious via podcast.

His second major published novel, Contagious, made the New York Times best seller list. Its precursor, Infected, has been optioned as a motion-picture production. All of his stories are freely available to listen to as audiobooks in serialized form. His latest works, The Rookie and The Starter, will be available as e-books and audiobooks on the December 3, 2010, just in time for Christmas.

Kylie Sturgess: For people who might not be familiar with your work, I was wondering if you could tell us how you came to release the book Ancestor twice?

Scott Sigler: Well, the book Ancestor I originally put out as a free podcast. That was in 2005. Then in 2007, we put it out in print via a small press called Dragon Moon Press. When that came out, it hit number two in fiction on Amazon.com. It was number one in horror and sci-fi. Due to the fan base that I have online—I have a big fan base—[many people] bought the book.

The high ranking on Amazon came at a time when several [publishers] were considering buying Infected. So, that then led into an auction for Infection, which was crazy-wonderful heady times, and once [my new publishers Crown] bought Infected and the two books that were to follow it, they decided they wanted to get Ancestor and Earthcore off the market, so they bought those to get them off the market. Then Infected and Contagious had done well enough that they decided that they wanted to bring Ancestor back.

So, I’ll be re-releasing Earthcore via my new publishers as well. It’s been re-written with Crown’s editors, and we’re out in hardcover—but we released Ancestor in Australia for the first time this year.

Sturgess: At SwanCon this year, the science fiction and pop culture convention in Perth, Western Australia, I got to hear you do a panel on “Making Your Science Work in Your Science Fiction Novel.” How vital is science to the work that you do?

Sigler: It’s critical for my work, because what I’m going for is a particular brand of fiction where the monsters are actually plausible. It’s a deviation from the vampire or the werewolf or the zombie—although some of the zombies [in science fiction] are scientifically believable. I mean, Jonathan Maberry’s Patient Zero: A Joe Ledger Novel, has a wonderful structure where you can believe that zombies exist. So, if I’m going to create the sense of illusion that everything about the monster is plausible—you just haven’t seen it yet in real life but it could be coming at you tomorrow—hard science is very, very important for that.

I have a lot of people who help me with the science, [making] sure I get everything right, and I’m trying to work that—integrate that science—for real page-turner thrillers.

Sturgess: You don’t have a strictly scientific background yourself though, do you?

Sigler: No, I don’t have any real scientific training apart from reading Discover, Popular Science, [and] National Geographic and consuming everything I can get my hands on! I decided in college to go into journalism instead of biology, but it was very close. So, I have a layman’s appreciation for [science], and I know a little bit about a lot of different topics within biology. Once I get into the physics and the maths… I’m not so strong there!

Sturgess: People might know that you had an early appearance on the Skepticality Podcast. Do you consider yourself a skeptically minded person?

Sigler: I do now. Actually, podcasting has opened up the skeptical world to me; I didn’t know before that it existed! Primarily through the show Skepticality and Swoopy and Derek—that’s where I discovered the whole mind-set and realized that there were people out there who were spreading the other side of the information instead of misinformation. They are out actively encouraging people to think for themselves, and what’s been interesting is that they’re not necessarily telling people “this is bunk.” They are encouraging people to think critically about things and learn how to address things when you run into them.

[Skepticism is] becoming more and more important in America, because we’re under siege right now. Basic tenets like evolution are under attack in a lot of different places. So, it’s been very rewarding to get involved with that community, and [I’m] getting more involved as I go. My primary function right now within it is very low-level, but I’m putting out entertainment and pop culture entertainment that has the tenets of skepticism right in the book.

Sturgess: How many people do you think learn about science through their exposure to science fiction?

Sigler: Unfortunately, quite a few. And by unfortunately, I mean there’s a lot of consumption of science fiction that isn’t really science fiction—it’s actually [leading] more into the fantasy field. People … tend to believe certain things are true which are not, which leads to a bit of disappointment when they discover what the facts are.

There are some people out there who are trying to educate in science via their entertainment; I’m one of them, and there’s a few others. It’s improving, I think. Everything factors into it—the Stephenie Meyers crowd with the vampire romance novels, [for example]. People read through that pretty fast and get into other books in the genre. The important thing is that they’re actually reading and consuming things, and even the things that aren’t strictly skepticism or science-orientated [are] still teaching the next generation of really passionate readers … [who] will eventually come around and learn more, if they’re encouraged to keep reading.

Sturgess: Yes, I’ve had fights online about whether what some people consider to be “trash literature” is worthy, when I still see it as encouraging literacy!

Sigler: I would rather see them reading “trash literature” than not reading at all! Everything is a sample-set numbers game, and a certain percentage of those [readers] will go onto reading other things, whereas if [Meyers] hadn’t exposed them [to reading], in this cultural phenomenon that makes everyone want to go out and buy a book, those people would not be reading. The same [is true] for the Harry Potter series before that.

Once upon a time Stephen King was considered absolutely “trash literature,” and now he’s lasted longer than his critics! And some of his work is considered very important.

Scott Sigler’s official site can be found at www.scottsigler.com.

Kylie Sturgess

Kylie Sturgess is the host of the Token Skeptic podcast and regularly writes editorial for numerous publications and the Token Skeptic blog. She was the co-host for the Global Atheist Convention in 2010 and 2012. An award-winning Philosophy teacher, Kylie has lectured on teaching critical thinking and anomalistic beliefs worldwide. In 2011 she was presented with the Secular Student Alliance Best Individual Activist Award and presented at the World Skeptics Congress 2012.