Scott Sigler Talks Ancestor and Hard Science Horror Writing
In the last few years, with the advent of mp3 players and smart phones, the portability of media has led to a new medium in the realm of fiction: podcast fiction. Authors who want to share their work have serialized and even full cast dramatized their stories and released them for free to the masses. They do it for various reasons, but many -- if not most -- hope to one day become published authors. And in that growing community horror author Scott Sigler stands out as the gold standard to which most others aspire.
Scott has built a large and devoted audience podcasting over the last several years and managed to work that into a book deal with Crown, a division of Random House. His latest novel, Ancestor (review here), about a genetically engineered beast wreaking havoc on a secluded island is being released today, June 22nd.
There’s some internal dispute as to who was the very first author to podcast his fiction, but no one argues that Scott was one of the first when he began podcasting his novel Earthcore in 2005 after a publishing deal had fallen through. Though, according to Scott Sigler’s official website, he invented podcasting along with the Internet (to be fair, Scott does recognize he collaborated with Al Gore on the Internet but maintains he did most of the work himself), Ninjitsu, and the internal combustion engine and made his first podcast in 1978. Recently I talked with Scott and asked him how podcasting was possible in an age before personal computers and mp3 players.
“Well, the technology’s been around for a very long time. I’ve actually ... I need to update that. I think we’re going back to 1954 now, which is when my first podcast was. So we’re over half a century of podcasting at this point," Sigler insists.
Though no birth date is listed on his website or Wikipedia page, there are pictures of the dapper Mr. Sigler, and he doesn’t look that old. So I asked if he had been podcasting from the womb. “Actually I’m sort of an evil incarnate type individual. So I’ve been around for an extraordinarily long time. Let’s just say I aged very well.”
I thought about asking which of the plagues had been his idea but decided to keep the conversation focused on more recent works. His books are heavy on the science, and I wondered if Scott thought of himself more as a sci-fi or horror author.
“I consider myself what I call a hard science horror writer. It’s very different, as far as horror goes, because there’s not a lot of people writing what I consider to be pretty hard core heavy horror, but using it from a scientific bent. Most people are approaching it from the supernatural – you know it’s ghost stories, vampires, werewolves, etc. As far as people who are writing just straight-on horror novels but with a really hard science background, outside of Michael Crichton, whom I count in that camp, Jonathan Mayberry is one that comes to mind and not a lot of other people. So I do consider myself a horror writer, " says Sigler.
So what sets Scott’s work, with its rational science roots, apart from sci-fi?
“My goal with the book is to write a thriller that will scare you but has a logical plot, a logical conclusion where everything is tied together within the novel and comes to fruition at the climax. And from there the thing that separates it from sci-fi I think is that the vast majority of sci-fi is apocalyptic future or far future. It’s spaceships or the world destroyed and now vampires run amok across the face of the country or something like that. And all my stuff is modern day, its people like you and me, so it doesn’t really fit into the sci-fi camp very well.”
Ancestor, which Sigler wrote in the late Nineties and originally podcasted in early 2006, features a group of scientist who use a machine to create a synthetic genome based on the ancestor of all mammals in order to create a perfect donor herd of beasts with human transplantable organs. In the time from then to now, many of the scientific aspects of the story have crossed from the world of fiction to reality. I asked Scott what his thoughts were on these mirror events, like Craig Venter’s recent announcement that he and his team created the first synthetic life form.
“One of the concepts [in Ancestor] was the reverse engineering of the mammalian genome. Which is, if we’re digitizing all of these genomes, we, theoretically, should be able to look at the genomes of all mammals, figure out what bits of DNA are unique in each mammal, get rid of all the unique stuff which is what makes each animal its own creature, and what should be left over should be pretty close to the original genome of all mammals. And Dr. - I think it was Gregory Haussler at the University of California, Santa Cruz who actually did that in 2006-ish, near the end of 2006."
[EDITOR’S NOTE: The doctor’s name is David, not Gregory, Haussler and the project happened at the end of 2005.]
"So that was a trip. That was something I concocted just as science fiction... and it’s not like Haussler read the book or anything like that, but based on theoretical research that was going on at the time I’m like, ‘Well, they should be able to do this someday,’ and then it happened just a few years later. So between the genetic sequencing of the ancestor of all mammals and Craig Venter actually coming up with artificial life, it makes Ancestor all the more plausible, all the more real, and hopefully a lot scarier," Sigler continued.
I queried Scott as to the best part of writing these hard science horror tales, and he responded, "Getting to come up with all these crazy theories on what we could possibly do and then bouncing them off this battery of biology Ph.D.’s I have that read all my stuff. And they will tell me, ‘Well, that’s cool’ or ‘That’s totally inaccurate; that’ll never happen’. And more often than not they’ll come back and say, ‘We just discovered this; go take a look at this.’ And they’ll send me a Wikipedia link. And I’ll be like… that’s amazing. So I get to do… I get to learn a lot of stuff that is common knowledge but hasn’t quite gotten out to the popular culture level yet and kind of get to be one of the first readers of some of these things outside of the scientific community. So that’s very exciting, and that’s where my ‘every morning is Christmas’ moments come from.”
Our thanks to Scott Sigler for taking the time to speak with us. Watch the Ancestor trailer below, and click here to listen to the full audio version of this interview.
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