A Reader’s Primer on the Works of Scott Sigler
By Tony Jones
In my last feature on Ink Heist I revisited the work of one of my favourite authors, Robert McCammon, and this time out I’m continuing with another who sits at the very top of my literary table, Scott Sigler. These days McCammon and Sigler are literally poles-apart, although perhaps in his youth Robert produced the type of fast-paced and adrenaline driven horror that Scott excels at writing these days. Sigler has been one of my most treasured authors for well over ten years and the arrival of a new novel is always a major event in my calendar. Recently Scott has been relatively quiet, so in the quiet before his next horror storm, this is the perfect opportunity to revisit his awesome back-catalogue.
Just to be clear, Scott Sigler has not written any duff books, however, like any fan I have my personal favourites. This article is aimed more at readers who have not read any Sigler, if you’re already a ‘Junkie’ (the moniker Sigler gives to his most dedicated fan base) there is not much I can tell you and you are very welcome to disagree with my rankings. Few authors blend horror and science fiction as seamlessly as Scott Sigler and he has written a number of high-octane crackers which are so far over the top they are half-way down the other side. He writes crazy, addictive horror fiction and I love it.
As Sigler often writes books in a series, I have truncated some of these into a single entry or paid brief reference to later books as I want to limit potential spoilers for new readers. Also, I was lucky to meet Scott in 2017 when he was holidaying in Europe and we chatted when he appeared in London at a pub meet and greet he organised for the fans. Junkies came from all over the UK for the chance to meet their favourite author and had massive collections of books signed. One fan drove hundreds of miles from Scotland, bringing with him traditional short-bread as a gift!
Many years ago, after first chatting with Scott online he realised I was a school librarian and very kindly sent four free hardback copies of The Rookie for my library. A couple of the kids who read those books (now adults) were at that same London pub meet and greet. ‘Junkies’ are fans for life!
- Contagious (2008) Infected Book 2
Contagious ranks amongst the best horror/science fiction sequels of all-time
It is very rare for sequels to top the original, especially is the predecessor is also a full-blooded vicious pulp masterpiece. Somehow, however, Contagious manages to outdo Infected in every department expanding and developing the story in all sorts of clever ways. To limit spoilers, I’m going to be deliberately vague about the plot which picks up the same story and characters not too long after the astonishingly brutal end of Infected. You’ll be pleased to hear that star of book one, former football star, Perry Dawsey returns in Contagious to continue the fight against a secret and insidious alien invasion. Developing the story of Infected, in which a mysterious pathogen transforms ordinary people into psycho-killers, this sequel is more about the fightback mounted by the human-race and the part Perry Dawsey plays.
Both Infected and Contagious give a fairly clear indication on how Scott Sigler writes fiction and if you don’t dig these books he is unlikely to be your cup of tea. However, if you like pulsating, hyper-fast paced horror which is neither deep, involving or over-written with complex characters then this trilogy is worth a closer look. If you prefer deep meaningful conversations about the meaning of life look elsewhere, that really is not Scott Sigler’s area. Contagious ranks amongst my favourite novels of all-time and the finest of all alien invasion of Earth novels. Over the years I’ve either recommended or gifted this novel and the predecessor to many people and the majority are knocked out by it. We had to wait five years for the conclusion of the series Pandemic (2013) and although it was an outstanding and satisfying end to the series it never quite reached the astonishing heights of Contagious. How could it?
2. The Galactic Football League Series (2009-2014 and to be continued in 2020)
Intergalactic adventures and grid-iron with Quentin Barnes and the Krakens
Like most British folks my knowledge of ‘American’ football (that’s what we call it on our side of the pond) is minimal. However, bizarrely enough, this series of books has taught me the rudimentary rules of the weirdest of sports and I’ve found the many long action/match sequences to be totally exhilarating and very enjoyable. There are currently five books in print, The Rookie (2009) kicks the series off, and the most recent The Champion (2014) is number five in a projected seven or eight book series. They are currently on a temporary hiatus, but number six The Gangster should arrive in 2020. In the school library where I work these books have been incredibly popular and very easy to sell to teenagers “American football in space” is an outstanding hook to throw at a kid. Although they have been branded YA, absolutely anyone can read them and they really deserve to be better known in the teen fiction world, which sadly, they are not. Why? I am not sure, perhaps they lacked a big publisher who really believed in them to truly give them the promotional push they deserved.
These novels are an outstanding blend of science fiction, action and sport, in which each individual novel takes one football season in the Galactic Football League (GFL). The story follows a rookie quarter-back called Quentin Barnes who joins a tier two (division two) team called the Krakens, moving from a much smaller team, but with a big reputation. I loved all five books and they do not have a weak point and happily followed Quentin Barnes as he grows as a man and as a player, who has his own personal tribulations and adventures. Although they’re pegged as YA I suspect most of the original hardbacks were bought by Sigler’s adult Junkie fans which were limited to 2500 copies in hardback and are incredibly collectable but were later released in paperback.
It’s a well-known fact that Scott Sigler inserts his major fans, the Junkies, into his novels as a mark of appreciation and endearment. I ‘Tony Jones’ am proud to appear to two GFL books, here’s a brief excerpt from The Champion (note that alien species play alongside humans):
“Tony Jones barrelled in on all fours from Quentin’s right, Katan the Beheader from Quentin’s left. Tony’s hands shot out, a slow-motion attempt to grab Quentin under the shoulder pads, stand him up, block-destruct and toss him aside. Quentin turned sideways and drove in, sliding between the wide hands as he threw his armored right elbow forward – it smashed into Tony’s facemask, knocking the big head back.”
If you are tired of waiting for The Gangster there are also four standalone novellas, of which the first Title Fight was released in 2012. These are entertaining spin-offs from the main stories and take place at different times during the long-running series. Thus far all four novellas have been co-authored with additional writers.
3. Earthcore (2001)
Something nasty lurks under a remote Utah mountain
Scott Sigler’s 2001 debut Earthcore is hard to beat for sheer imagination and craziness in a tale of an unfortunate mining expedition which finds a barrel-load of trouble when deep underground in the search for priceless platinum. The group stumble upon something horribly nasty, and I’m not talking landslides. As debuts go, I think the author completely nailed the blueprint for the style of fiction he was to write in future: a seamless mash-up of horror and science fiction which was irresistible and brilliantly addictive. When I read this I found myself wondering where this type of fiction had been all my life? There are few better page-turners that Earthcore, sure the characters are sketchy and shallow, but who cares, for this type of novel it works perfectly. The level of cartoon style violence is breath-taking, the excesses, the pulp science, the non-stop action as a group of scientists and mercenaries use new technology to dig three miles below the earth’s surface and get way more than they bargained for. Watch that body-count rise…
If you’ve never read Earthcore now is the perfect time as his publisher Empty Set have republished this debut, with some author revisions to bring the novel into the same time-lines as his later works known as Siglerverse. This is no bad thing, as you don’t want to know what I paid for my second-hand paperback some years ago when it was out of print and very hard to find. Sigler has been promising a sequel for years and it looks like Mount FitzRoy will finally be published in 2020. The first chapter has been available online for a while and I, for one, cannot wait.
4. Infected (2008) first book in the Infected trilogy
When you hear the voices it’s already too late….
Infected, released in 2008, heralded a prolific golden period of writing for Scott Sigler who published a number of high-quality novels over the next few years. Infected was perhaps the biggest seller and certainly caught the public eye, followed quickly by the sequel Contagious not long later. Luckily for myself I read the novels almost back to back with the sequel hitting the bookshops just as I finished book one. Lucky for me. I am not sure about the origins of body-horror, but Scott Sigler raises the bar beyond the likes of David Cronenberg and Japanese cult film Tetsuo with his own brutal take on alien parasites invading the human body. However, forget Ridley Scott’s Alien and nasty critters bursting out of your stomach, in many ways what happens in Infected is considerably worse.
Infected is based around a great concept: particles invisible to the human eye land upon skin and begin to infect the host once they have penetrated the skin. Soon the particles develops into a tiny triangle visible under the skin of the host. Later the triangle begin to talk and tell the unfortunate hosts not to trust anyone (the triangles have a great voice!) and kill anyone who might suspect anything out of the ordinary. Perry Dawsey becomes one of the hosts, but little do they know that their chosen sucker is no shrinking violet and is one mean son-of-a-bitch. Prepare yourself for a rollercoaster of violence, torture, paranoia and survival. Combined the first two books are amongst my favourite ever horror science fiction reads.
5. Nocturnal (2012)
Something big, nasty and hungry lurks underneath San Francisco
If Nocturnal was your introduction to the world of Scott Sigler you could be forgiven for wondering what you had let yourself in for as this novel has one of the wildest plots imaginable, even by his nutty standards. Nocturnal abandons familiar Sigler territory of science, technology and aliens for a fusion of horror, fantasy and even a twang of the supernatural. This was another meaty read of 500+ pages but really sped along with major swagger, humour and seriously over the top scenes.
A San Francisco detective has vivid nightmares which mirror real murders currently taking place in the city, meanwhile there is a vigilante superhero (with superpowers too) on the loose wasting the supposed killers. So, who really are the true nasties is one of the first big questions? And what’s that lurking beneath the sewers of San Francisco? I’m not going to tell you much more as the book veers off into unfathomable directions, the underworld, a few teenagers are thrown into the mix with a convincing balance of police procedural and urban fantasy. This was a totally mad read, which sensibly did not take itself at all seriously, but something about it worked. But if you fancy something which is off-the-wall, fast paced and a blend of several genres this book delivers on every front. For a while, if I recall correctly, a TV network was interested in doing something with Nocturnal but sadly it did not come to anything.
6. Ancestor (2007)
Jurassic Park meets Predator in a kill-fest on a remote Canadian island
Ancestor is another crazy techno thriller in the style that Scott Sigler has made his own, involving dodgy scientists messing with genetic codes to create new organs. Why? The new organs will be harvested and used to heal illnesses which will be used in the organ donation industry. Other reviewers have, very fairly, compared this superb page-turner to a combination of Michael Crichton or ‘Jurassic Park meets Predator’. To generate the new organs the scientists create a new creature and this genetically crafted beast has the identical human organs they can harvest. However, things do not go as planned, and on a remote island in the middle of Lake Superior, a truly vicious predator which nature eradicated 250 million years ago is unleashed and returned to life. Not surprisingly, the beast also wants to hold onto its organs! Like much of Sigler’s fiction, the plot might sound outrageous, but he has obviously put a lot of research into his science and this makes the story more believable as it convincingly blends science fiction with what might soon become speculative fiction.
All the Sigler hallmarks of violence, gore, mad scientists, military nuts and lots of death are available in abundance. His readers would expect no less. Ancestor is hard-boiled, comic book fast, with his usual sketchy tough-guy characters and has lots and lots of the red stuff. If you’re ever read Jurassic Park you are bound to make comparisons, but Scott Sigler brings more than enough to the table to make the story his own. I also laughed at the fact that the creatures inherited the cute names of the farm animals, and parts of the genetic code, who birthed them.
7. Alive (2015) Book 1 in the Generations Trilogy
Waking up in coffins is the least of a group of teenager’s problems
Scott Sigler returned to the world of Young Adult fiction in 2015 with Alive which was the first in a trilogy which concluded two years later with Alone and was a notable success in the USA. Make sure you read them in the correct sequence otherwise you will not understand a word of the sequels. For the first time, perhaps, Sigler puts himself inside the head of a female protagonist in a full scale mash-up of science fiction, horror and a heavy dose of teenage dystopia, a sub-genre which has been incredibly popular in the decade since the Hunger Games hit the bookshops.
Alive has an outstanding opening and I enjoyed the way in which its large number of juicy secrets are revealed very slowly. A group of kids wake up in coffins, not knowing who they are or where their memories have gone. Initially it is hard to tell whether they are underground, on another planet or being controlled by something otherworldly. As they begin to explore their dangerous environment revelations are quickly dropped in this highly entertaining thriller which has plenty of unforeseen twists. It may well be YA fiction, but I’m pretty sure all of Sigler’s adult Junkie fans devoured this series also, although it is definitely not as adult friendly as the Galactic Football League series. The two sequels kept the series moving along nicely and they jump much deeper into the realms of science fiction with some wild plot diversions and the battle for survival on a dangerous alien planet.
Two collections which combine horror, thriller, comedy and science fiction
These two short story anthologies are Sigler’s usual mix of horror, science fiction, comedy, hard-boiled thriller, sport and speculative fiction. I love Scott’s short work, but I would recommend reading his novels before these collections as they provide a rounder introduction to his work. There are some terrific inclusions, but the novels are where he truly excels. Later this year Sigler’s third collection Fire is Orange should be released on ebook and kindle.
Although there might not be any new novels for a while Scott is busy working on other projects and if you are waiting for something new don’t forget the novella Hunter Hunterson & Sons which was released in January. This is a collection of three stories and the first book in the War Journal series, a fun and easy read mix of horror, monsters and comedy in which a hillbilly family survive by bounty-hunting demons and nasty creatures. It’s ridiculous, does not take itself seriously, and pretty dumb entertainment which will be best enjoyed by long-term Sigler fans. If you’re new to his work, once again, I would recommend his novels as a better introduction to his world.
Scott Sigler has also been at the forefront of podcasting since the very early days and much of his stuff is free on audio from his website. Scott narrates a substantial body of his work himself. Find out more from his website: https://scottsigler.com/
Earthcore is currently being serialised or if you don’t fancy that check out his regular StorySmack which features anything from the world of pop-culture that interests him from the UFC to Groundhog Day or a fresh look at the 1980s horror film My Bloody Valentine. It’s an amazing podcast and Scott has a great voice for radio.