With his new medical sci-fi horror novel Pandemic, writer Scott Sigler brings his Infected trilogy to a close. In honor of this, I spoke to him about his original influences, how this series could be adapted to other media, and which of his other books you should read when you’re done with Pandemic.
Photo Credit: Amy Davis-Roth, surlyramics.com
For people who haven’t read Pandemic or the previous two books in the Infected trilogy, what is this series about and how does Pandemic fit in with the other two?
The series is about an unknown pathogen that attacks humanity. I strive to show all three steps of a classic invasion/pandemic/horde plot. First, in Infected, we watch “Patient Zero” in a desperate fight for survival. In the second book, Contagious, the camera pulls back a bit to show the national response to this nightmarish threat. In the final book, Pandemic, things really hit the fan. The entire world deals with a rapidly expanding cataclysm that pushes society to the brink of collapse. The disease doesn’t just kill people, it turns them into killers. As the tipping point of total annihilation approaches, the characters fight to save everything they know and love.
Where did the original idea for the series come from?
It came from learning about real-world parasites, and how they can control their host to such a degree they overwhelm the most powerful instinct most creatures have: the need to survive. I wanted to show a human parasite that could manipulate our behavior, both chemically and psychologically. The fight to purge these evil critters from his body is the driving force behind Perry Dawsey, the main character in Infected. It’s a brutal, savage tale, and sad as well: if it wasn’t for an abusive father that forever screwed up Perry’s life, Perry wouldn’t have the strength and toughness to do what it takes to survive.
Given that this series is almost as much a medical thriller as it is a sci-fi and horror novel, did you consult with any real medical people to make sure you were accurate in how you portrayed the procedures and thought processes?
Absolutely. I have a group of expert consultants I call the Secret Agents who work with me to get the science and medicine right. For Pandemic, I worked with Joe Albietz, M.D. on the medical parts, and two biology Ph.Ds: Jeremy Ellis and Tom Merritt. I also visited Richard Vetterli of the San Francisco morgue and talked with folks there to get that as accurate a possible.
What about movies, were any of then an influence on the series?
When you started writing the first book, Infected, was the plan that this would always be a trilogy?
It was always meant to be a trilogy. This story arc was created in three acts, and cramming more acts doesn’t make sense. I respond best when storytellers know where their story is heading from the first page, and try to give that to my readers. And when readers see the final pages of Pandemic, they will know that this story is over.
The series has been compared to the works of Michael Crichton, Robert A. Heinlein, and H.P. Lovecraft. Do you think these are fair comparisons?
It’s humbling to see those comparisons. Crichton I totally understand since we both took the real science route to our story telling. There is something so compelling about this-could-happen-in-our-lifetime storytelling, and I try hard to contribute to that tradition.
Heinlein and Lovecraft are such titans of the genre that it’s fantastic to think readers engage with my stories in a similar way. I do love the Lovecraft comparison because it conveys a gonzo, over-the-top, visceral horror that shakes people up. He used the supernatural, I use science, and to get that comparison tells me I’m doing something right.
Is there anyone else who you see as a big influence on your writing?
Movie makers are a big influence on my storytelling, James Cameron and Ridley Scott chief among them. They tell entertaining stories in visually captivating ways, just as I try to do.
What about other media; what movies, comics, or games were an influence on the alien aspect or how the story plays out?
I think Dead Space had an impact. I loved the sound design in that, how it slowly built and scared the hell out of me before the monsters ever showed up. Pandemic is a medical thriller, a military sci-fi story, and also a straight-up monster tale. For the latter, Dead Space is an excellent influence.
Funny, earlier when you cited Alien and The Thing as influences, I immediately wondered if you’d played any of the Dead Space games. But moving on, Infected was originally released as a podcast. Did reading the book out loud change your approach to writing?
Reading my work is an important part of my writing now. Even during the first draft I have my computer read aloud to me so I can process the information differently. It is immensely helpful, especially for clarity of character attribution or intention. Plus it frequently helps me identify sloppy writing — i.e. where I use the same word twice in a sentence — and fix it.
There was an attempt to make a movie based on Infected, as well as a graphic novel adaptation that stalled after the first issue. Why do you think it’s been difficult to adapt your stories into other media?
I don’t think it’s particularly my work that’s difficult. Making a movie is an enormous endeavor that takes time, money, and energy of dozens of people. Now that I’ve got two properties, Nocturnal and Infected, in play for television, I see that more clearly than ever.
If it was up to you, who would you have director and/or star in a movie based on this series?
James Cameron or John Carpenter come to mind, but there is so much talent out there to be had. I’d really like to see a female director’s vision of this biological horror story, as a female character, Margaret Montoya, drives the plot and action in all three books.
What about a video game, do you think there could be a video game adaptation?
We’re open to talking to strong companies about any and all video game rights. I think there could be a video game based on the Infected series. There are several world-class horror video game franchises out there, so I know it could be done right as a parallel story to the series.
Finally, you’ve written a number of other novels aside from the three in the Infected series. Of those, which do you think fans of the Infected novels would enjoy the most and why?
I think anyone who enjoys Infected would dig Nocturnal, a horror story set in San Francisco, and also Ancestor, my homage to the great pack-monster movies of the ’80s and ’90s. Bad things happen on secluded islands with illegal research facilities. When will people ever learn that?