This week, in lieu of a regularly-scheduled interview, I’d like to take a moment to engage in a bit of shameless self-promotion. Not for myself, mind you — that would be madness — but for an AMCtv.com columnist you might not know: Horror Hacker’s Scott Sigler. The bestselling author of such hard science-horror novels as Infected and Contagious, Sigler has built a name for himself coming up with quasi-plausible reasons for the most blood-curdling of strange scenarios. But he’s on our radar today because his latest self-published novel, The Rookie, falls squarely onto SciFi Scanner’s turf — quite literally.
Set in a lethal pro football league 700 years in the future, The Rookie imagines a world in which humans and a variety of insect-like aliens share the football field, playing positions based on their species’ physiological predispositions: Think Larry Fitzgerald is the best wide receiver out there? He can’t jump 25 feet in the air to catch a lob.
So how did a guy who deals in carnage happen upon a scifi sports story? Like many scifi writers, his inspiration started with Star Trek, which though Sigler admits to loving he says “annoyed the hell out of me: We have all this incredible racism on a planet where everybody looks almost exactly the same, then we’re supposed to believe that in the happy far future everybody’s just going to get along?” The solution, Sigler realized, was sports, which he considers the primary integrative force in Western culture — the thing that broke down most racial barriers in the U.S. “Sports is a complete meritocracy,” Sigler explains, “and no one really gives a crap what you look like as long as you can run the football.” Sigler should know, a lifelong football fan whose earliest memories are of sitting on his father’s lap (his father himself a high school football coach) watching the game on 16 mm film.
Trading slick starships and an egalitarian Federation for a blood-soaked alien gridiron sounds rational, but in writing the book Sigler faced a challenge even bigger than a man-eating linebacker (yup, those’re in there too) — namely, how do you get a bunch of scifi geeks to care about football? “The hardcore scifi fans didn’t really understand football,” Sigler concedes. “But no one had ever explained it to them in a context that they’d be willing to listen. But a space-faring space opera with aliens and intrigue and organized crime drew them in.” Now, Sigler says, he gets e-mails from people every day explaining how they can now watch games with their Dad. “What means a lot to me is the e-mails I get where people say, ‘I had no idea you had to be smart to play football.'”
Apparently, however, you don’t have to be as smart to write science fiction. Sigler explains that The Rookie was one of the easiest (and most enjoyable) books he’s ever written. Part of the reason for that is he’s been inventing the universe in which the novel takes place since the fifth grade. The other part, he explains, is that his horror fiction “involves a lot of research and a lot of submitting to the facts of the world. There has to be a biological explanation for these monsters — it has to be plausible and rooted in real science. But once you start getting into light-speed travel, that’s magic. This is the most fun I’ve ever had writing a book because I didn’t have three biology PhDs coming back and going, ‘No! You have to do it that way!'”
Also, Sigler says, The Rookie has allowed him to become an ambassador for the sport of football — for which he is as ardent a fan as any mouth-breather at a comic book convention. “I love being able to convey all of the story lines that go on in the locker room, and showing that these are real people and how tough-minded and warrior-like they have to be to survive in sports.”
With luck, Sigler will be football’s scifi ambassador for years to come: The Rookie is the first of a planned six-book series aimed at young adults — specifically those, Sigler says, “who aren’t drawn to sparkly vampires or wizards.” Furthermore, the universe Sigler establishes in The Rookie is here to stay: He’s already written two short stories that take place in it (“Title Fight” and “The Crypt”), and he says that “I’ll be writing stories in this universe ’til the day I die. And wherever you go in the Sigler-verse, you can bet there’ll be a football team.”Read More