Putting The Science Into Science Fiction: Meeting NY Times Best-Selling Author Scott Sigler

Image Credit: Gage Skidmore, CC BY-SA 2.0, image cropped with book title inserted

Over the last nine months, we’ve been joined on our biology/movie focused podcasts by some amazingly talented biologists to discuss some movies of immensely varying quality. So when my co-host Adam Hasik announced that he’d secured a science fiction writer as a guest, it was a chance to change pace and look at science from a plot perspective, rather than the other way around.

While we normally focus on the science behind movie monsters and whether or not it’s accurate, we often ignore the fact that incorporating accurate science into a movie is not always the easiest thing to do. The scientific process takes a long time, and requires rigorous testing and development. That doesn’t always lend itself to an engaging plot. This is where Scott Sigler, NY Times best-selling writer and one of Adam’s favourite authors, came in.

In the lead-up to the episode we recorded with Scott, I sat down and read his Infected trilogy. It’s a little too real these days, documenting the US government’s desperate attempts to stop the spread of an incredibly debilitating disease – in this case an alien parasite rather than a zoonotic virus. The attention to detail regarding parasitic biology throughout the novel is fascinating, so we were very entertained to find out that, as Scott puts it, “it was people telling me I didn’t know what the f*** I was talking about”.

Turns out that many of Scott’s earliest encounters with scientists were early fans of his commenting on areas of his books where his biological knowledge was lacking. It led to the development of what he calls his “Rolodex of Awesome”, a long list of specialists who he can call on to help build facts around the fiction.

So has there been a moment where a plot point he’s excited about gets shot down by said Rolodex? “Happens all the time”, Scott responded. “Sometimes they’ll go through three revisions to get it to a point where they could read it and not be too taken out of the story”. He calls himself one of the world’s only “peer-reviewed fiction authors”, which is hard to dispute.

Yet as much as Scott integrates science into his work, there has to come a point at which he breaks from reality. How does he deal with that?

“You introduce a little bit of science here, a little bit of science there.. and people, subconsciously, they know it’s true. And that creates this compact with the author, where the reader starts to develop this huge amount of trust, that this author is telling me things that are actually real and true. So when I go from reality to plausibility to batshit crazy, you just don’t worry about it. You don’t care anymore, you’re all the way down the rabbit-hole.”

To hear more from Scott, check out our episode with him below.

New episodes of Cinematica Animalia are available every Thursday. You can listen in on Spotifyon Soundcloud, or any podcast app worth its salt.

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