Scott Sigler – Encouraging Critical Thinking Through Science Fiction

December 31, 2012

It’s become almost a truism that in their spare time, skeptics tend to gravitate towards TV shows, novels and games that portray the very monsters, myths and conspiracies that they work so hard to debunk. A great story is just as entertaining to the most hardened skeptics as it is to the rest of the population. And because they are often more knowledgeable about the history of a particular monster or myth, skeptics might even enjoy fictional depictions of pet topics more than the uninitiated general public.

A case in point is author and podcaster Scott Sigler, whose fascination with monsters led him not only to read and watch stories about monsters, but even to invest all of his creative energy and talent into writing horrifying and thrilling science fiction novels. But is there a risk of propagating myths through storytelling? Does science fiction help or hurt critical thinking? To get some insights into these questions, we talked to Scott about his writing process, his characters and what truths we can learn about ourselves through fiction.

New York Times
best-selling novelist Scott Sigler is the author of Nocturnal, Ancestor, Infected, and Contagious, hardcover thrillers from Crown Publishing, and the co-founder of Dark Øverlord Media, which publishes his Galactic Football League series. Before he was published, Scott built a large online following by giving away his self-recorded audiobooks as free, serialized podcasts. His loyal fans, who call themselves “Junkies,” have downloaded over fifteen million individual episodes of his stories and interact daily with Scott and each other in the social media space. Scott reinvented book publishing when he released Earthcore as the world’s first “podcast-only” novel, harkening back to the days of serialized radio fiction. He’s been covered in Time magazine, the Washington Post, the New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, Entertainment Weekly, and The Huffington Post, among others. He still records his own audiobooks and gives away every story-for free-to his Junkies at

Links Mentioned in this Episode

This is point of inquiry from Monday, December thirty, first 2012. 

Welcome to Point of inquiry. I’m Indre Viskontas point of inquiry is the radio show and podcast of the Center for Inquiry, a think tank advancing reason, science and secular values in public affairs. And at the grassroots. And by the way, if you don’t already, we’d love to have you follow us on Twitter. Our handle is at point of inquiry and on Facebook at slash point of inquiry. Before we get into the meat of today’s show, I want to first express our sincere thanks to everyone who has shown their support of our podcast by donating during the holidays. Every little bit helps. And your generous gifts keep us on the air. Thank you. If you want to donate and of course, all donations are tax deductible, there’s still time. Just go to a point of inquiry dot org and click on the donate button. It’s become almost a truism that in their spare time, skeptics tend to gravitate towards TV shows, novels and games that portray the very monsters, myths and conspiracies that they work so hard to debunk. A great story is just as entertaining to the most hardened skeptics as it is to the rest of the population, and because they are often more knowledgeable about the history of a particular monster myth. Skeptics might even enjoy fictional depictions of pet topics more than the uninitiated general public. A case in point is author and podcasters Scott Sigler, whose fascination with monsters led him not only to read and watch stories about monsters, but even to invest all of his creative energy and talent into writing horrifying and thrilling science fiction novels. But is there a risk of propagating myths through storytelling? Do more people believe that vampires exist? Now, the Stephanie Meyer has brought them back into the mainstream science fiction help or hurt critical thinking. To get some insights into these questions. We talked to Scott about his writing process, about his characters and what truth we can learn about ourselves through fiction. New York Times best selling novelist Scott Sigler is the author of Nocturnal Ancestor Infected and Contagious Hardcover thrillers from Crown Publishing. And he is also the co-founder of Dark Overlord Media, which publishes his Galactic Football League series, including The Rookie, The Starter, The Alpro and the MVP before he was published. Scott built a large online following by giving away his self recorded audio books as free serialized podcasts. His loyal fans, who call themselves junkies, have downloaded over fifteen million individual episodes of his stories, and they interact daily with Scott and each other in the social media space. Scott reinvented book publishing when he released Earth Core as the world’s first podcast only novel, harkening back to the days of serialized radio fiction. He’s been covered in TIME magazine. The Washington Post, The New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle. Entertainment Weekly and The Huffington Post, among others. He’s still records his own audiobooks and gives away every story for free to his junkies at w w w dot. Scott Sigler dot com. 

Welcome to Point of Inquiry, Scott Sigler. Hi, how are you? Very well. It’s New Year’s Eve tonight. 

And guess what? The world hasn’t ended. Are you excited about that? 

I’m a little sad, actually. You know, every year there’s another doomsday conspiracy theory. And every year I sell all of my stuff and go live on the street waiting for this to happen and then have to buy all this stuff the next year or so. There’s an oh, I don’t know what to do. 

Well, maybe you’re keeping the economy humming by continuing to hear things. 

So I wanted to start off the conversation by really delving into some of the topics that you cover in your fictional books. You’ve got a really wide variety of topics that you’ve you’ve written about. And first off, I want to just get a sense of to what extent you prefer to write about science versus monster stories, or are the two the same? 

Well, for me, the two are the same. I kind of the big Stephen King fan, and it was very influential on me as a young writer in my early teens and on all the way through to a current career. So I like that approach, that very visceral, character based approach to making you really care about someone who doesn’t exist and then putting that person in danger and watching the readers reaction. But also coming from a farm are interesting in science and rational thinking. I’m trying to find ways to bring in real science to create these these constructs in which bad things can happen to the characters that you like. So I, I usually describe it as hard science for or if Stephen King was to be written by Michael. Great. And with this audience, a lot of people will bag on Michael Crichton. True. But he does bring in a lot of science because that gives the context that these things could really happen. It’s based on 60 or 70 percent of the things you already know. It’s much easier for the reader to dove down the rabbit hole and really let themselves go into the story. 

So that’s part of your craft as a writer to help people suspend their disbelief and sort of a 30 or 40 percent of things that maybe are fictional by grounding them in 60 or 70 percent of reality. 

I kind of have a process to it. I’m going to when I start out a book, I’m feeding you bits of science and politics and government and world history, things that you already know. And it creates a bit of a rapport. You’re like, OK, this guy has done his homework. He’s clearly not an expert in these fields, but he’s done his homework. He’s presenting me with something that I, I understand and relate to in a modern day context. And then as you start to introduce the cutting edge science stuff, which is all still very real, and then go go farther out into well, that’s probably not going to happen. Most readers are already fully along for the ride. They feel that they have been they have been catered to that to all the knowledge they have has been catered to. They feel that the author has really put in the wrench time to make something that’s logical and plausible. And then when it gets to the implausible, they’re totally down for the ride. 

And so how do you feel as a skeptic yourself? How do you. Do you ever worry about people believing things that you’ve written that aren’t true and then, you know, going after it as a conspiracy that’s being had by our current government or, you know, kind of pulling the wool over people’s eyes? 

With respect to whatever scientific topic you’re discussing, sometimes most of the stuff most of the endings of my books are summer blockbuster or spectacular, over-the-top kind of things. And I think that even for the people who who might not be very knowledgeable in science, who pick up these books, by the time you get to the end of these books, you understand that this is fiction and you’re being entertained. That being said, I also try to introduce as many realistic things as possible. Everything is set except for the far future books. Everything is set in real locations, real cities. I use Google Maps extensively. I go to every place that I write about. So if you are experiencing this book and you happen to have been there, it takes on a better sense of reality. And then I actually incorporate a lot of conspiracy theories into the books. And it’s fun to take an existing conspiracy theory like Morgellons Disease, which is a focal point of my first novel, Infected. And roll that into the story like, OK, everybody knows this is this is an urban legend, but what if it wasn’t and we could justify it and then it creates a better sense of familiarity in the story, like, oh, that’s where that comes from. And it works very well. The fun parts and or the problem headache part is it’s shocking the number of people who have heard of these conspiracy theories or these issues like Morgellons. So they’ll read about it in the book. Then they’ll go Google it and then they find thousands and thousands of pages of Web sites, obviously not created by me. And there’s that for those people. There’s that brief moment of terror of, wait a minute, is this stuff actually real? So using the conspiracy theories on the Internet, almost as as texture for my stories is something I do a lot. 

I notice that. And I’ve been reading your book Infected and Contagious. 

And that was one of the things that really struck me as somewhat at odds with someone who is trying to promote critical thinking. And so I wanted to talk a little bit about, are there some topics that are too widely accepted by the public which we know are false? Like, for example, the anti vaccine movement. Would you stay away from a topic or that that would kind of further that conspiracy if it’s just too raw and too popular out there? So, for example, would you tell a story about a child who got autism from a vaccine either in order to kind of show how fantastic. Fictional it is, or to make a great story, even though it might continue to pummel forward this falsehood. 

Why the first all the anti VAX movement is a big part of my next book, Pandemic, which is out fall of 2013. And that’s the conclusion of the infected trilogy. So it’s infected than contagious then pandemic, and it’s done in a clearly fictional, apocalyptic way. But there is a moment in that book where the forces of good, the government scientists, researchers have kind of got the corner. They’ve kind of cornered this particular I’ll call it a pathogen, although it’s something it’s not related. Any disease that we know and it sort of got it figured out like this is how we stop this thing. All we need is for everybody to take this particular medicine. This particular, you know, innoculate, I call it in the book. And then there’s this shocking moment where a large percentage of the American population is like, nope, that’s that’s big pharma. This is a trick. And it’s in the book. The characters are absolutely dumbfounded because there’s been enough evidence and things on the news and things that people have seen that it’s clear this is not some conspiracy theory, that bad things are happening. It’s happening all over. And they still get to the moment where people won’t take the thing that would save them from the pathogen. So I I’ve drawn I draw a lot from modern day and from the anti VAX movement. So as far as that goes, no, I’m embracing that wholeheartedly. And that will tick off a lot of my fans because I tend to have fans far left and far right. Supernatural, scientific, it’s all over the board. But that’s one thing that’s very important to me is to to maybe shut use this book as a method for it to show this is how you guys sound. This is this is basically what would happen to you if if things got really bad. Does this make sense? Does this sound logical? And hopefully some of them will. Maybe a few people will read it. Rethink. OK, well, now that you look at in that context, that’s just silly. So having embrace any kind of controversy along those lines, although my goal is not to go out in court controversy, I’m not trying to write a controversial book in order to sell books. I’m writing I’m writing thrillers that are well thought out and have a satisfying conclusion and are plausible and rational. But if you can grab that stuff from real life, I grab every bit of it. I can’t. 

So what are some of the other aspects of storytelling that are particular important to you as opposed to other authors? So I notice that you’re for example, your novels are very fast paced. There’s also a lot of originality in them. What are some of the aspects that you that you can really characterize your writing? 

Creating a plausible construct is one, creating a more of the traditional thriller based story, but with the science fiction and horror elements in it. And by that I mean the things you are seeing are going to come into play later on in the book so that when you get to that moment of conflict or that gunfight or someone is a turncoat and betrays their their fellow characters. The reader always looks at that and either says I, well, I saw that coming. Which is fine. I try and keep at it to 10 percent of the time or less or more often says, oh, like, I should have seen that coming. That’s the thing that I put D.M. to work to into my book, where I don’t have characters suddenly suddenly changing their allegiance for no reason and leaving the reader going, wait a minute, I thought he was with those guys over there, which is something some writers do. And it’s a it’s a copout, frankly. It’s a big cop out. It shows the reader you’re not putting in the ranch type. And then there’s also some genres where that’s perfectly OK. A lot of fantasy stuff. It’s it’s part of the entertainment experience. So that’s fine. But in my in my work, I’m trying to create that linear progression where everything makes every event makes sense based on the events that preceded it and then guide you along until you get to a really crazy, over-the-top ending. And then even everything that happens there makes sense. So we’re trying to get a lot of foreshadowing, a lot of establishing a lot and plot resolution, character resolution so that you walk away from the book probably saying, I want to see more of the characters lived. But it’s everything. It’s a it’s a satisfying conclusion. That book is done. So that’s one of the things that I try to do. And the other thing in my book is no character is safe ever. My main character, character’s secondary characters and I used to read a lot of Robin Cook, who’s scientifically based and rational, but the same four characters lived through every book. And after the third or fourth book with those characters, I was like, OK, I kind of know what’s going to happen. And the thrill was gone. The suspense was gone. So that, again, harkens back to my influence in Stephen King, which is part of the reason he is so popular. And people read his books in one giant sitting is No one is safe. Every character is at risk. On every page. 

And that tends to keep you turning the pages as the same thing with George R.R. Martin, which was one of the things I both loved and hated about books, you know, and he kills off your favorite character. It feels like a part of you is died. But at the same time, you know, it keeps you coming back to it to figure out what’s going to happen. 

Yeah, that series is fantastic. And the other we’ve a pretty established audience and they call themselves The Junkies, and they talk about this thing called the single verse, because all my stories from the one set in the 30s all the way up to, you know, the year two thousand eight hundred, they all are part of the same giant timeline. Characters you see in one spot will influence characters in another spot. And there’s also some big gaps in there. And but the thing is, in this verse, dead equals dead. Nobody gets to come back from the grave. Nobody gets to come back from hell. No one gets reincarnated. That’s what you find when you write this kind of story. And then you kill off a major character. And I will get hundreds of e-mails going. That was really awesome. Are you going to bring him back in the next book? Mm hmm. And you’re kind of scratching your head going, no heat. This is a realistic book. He’s dead. That’s it. That’s it’s over. He’s dead. So sometimes that’s a shock to people, but it does make them go through a book really fast. 

So how do you if your universe spanned such a different time, you know, sequences and time eras. And and I know you also plan every book out in advance so that you don’t fall into the trap of television shows like Lost where I mean, everybody expects everything to sort of tie up nicely at the end and then it doesn’t. How do you how do you navigate this then if, you know, your character may or may not die earlier on, but my might already be affecting something and sort of like the galactic novels. How does that work? 

Well, we make extensive use of a WICKY, which we call the signature PDA. And that’s all fan created. And they will go on there and write about characters and write up the situations and the locations. And then I have I have a timeline on my computer. And biggest thing we do those it’s broken up into errors. There is the premodern era where World War Two and stories of that nature. Then there is the modern era where I try to keep everything as close to possible to what we’re actually seeing, except in the case where I need to make, say, the president of the United States needs to be a character, in which case I will make that a fictitious character instead of Bush or Obama. But it’s pretty obvious that it’s you know, it’s a standard for those guys. And then we move to an era called the Crypt Era, which is hardcore military S.F., very scientific. Five hundred years in the future. Very Heinlein in a lot of a lot of space fighting going on. A lot of first contact with alien races. And in that era, these are not aliens that have blue skin and some bumpy stuff on their underfloor head. These are evolved from a single cell up in my head, completely original alien races that don’t look like us, don’t act like I don’t think like us. So there’s an enormous amount of interspecies conflict in that area. And then seven hundred years in the future where all the races have come together and this kind of Gene Roddenberry esque world and they all participate playing football and other sports together. So by breaking down these things down into different discrete areas, it’s pretty easy to stretch things out and make sure things are included from one era to the next. 

So let’s talk a little bit about that. You know, with it seven hundred years in the future in this athletic set series of novels. What’s sort of brought this idea for you to create this athletic, competitive environment so far into the future? 

Well, I had one of those lightning bolt moments of inspiration when I was in my 20s. I was doing some work for ESPN and calling the parabolic mike or managing when teams come out of the locker room, simple stuff like that. And there’s an issue in Michigan State that’s a giant football. It’s a giant football game every year. And it was at the university, Michigan’s field. And ESPN told me the order teams were supposed to come out. Michigan State’s polls come out first. Then Michigan supposed come out so they can capture all this glory on television. And Michigan State was coming out. And then as they’re coming out, Michigan comes out of their locker room and they all exit via the same tunnel. So there was about to be this giant smudge of both teams coming out the same time. And I know in a squeaky voice, like I report back to the truck this prop them and the producer who have since learned was completely messing with me, but one of the best product he gets. If those teams come out at the same time, ESPN is going to lose about five million dollars. And I was I’m like, oh, my gosh, what’s going to happen? And then is the Michigan team is coming up. They had a gentleman named Greg Script NACC, who is six foot eight three hundred twenty pounds before he put on the gear. So he opens up the door to the locker room. And I’m all I’m all of five foot eight, Scott. One hundred and thirty pounds at the time. And I have this giant creature in all of the gear with the shoulder pads in front of me. And it was my job to stop him coming out. And I remember thinking clear as day. I’m like, it’s like he’s a completely different species than I am. And that coalesced with I’ve been trying to come up with a a sci fi sports series where different aliens would have to play different positions or you couldn’t have a team win unless you had each of the races. And until that moment, it had never occurred to me to use football, which has an enormous, enormous array of phenotypes based on the position. So that was really the gist of it. And then I was able to carry that through and use this series to accomplish a couple of different things. 

Number one is that I believe that sports are the great racial unifying force in the Western culture. And I think sports does not get the credit it deserves for really bringing different ethnicities together, largely for the first time in America, the first time. Majority of white people looked at a black person as anything other than a black person was Jackie Robinson. Now, he wasn’t he wasn’t black. He was wearing a baseball uniform. And that changed everything and continues to be this glue. 

So putting that into a far future context with aliens and humans working together kind of establish that. And then it was that that’s my big my big epic series of skepticism and showing someone coming from an ultra orthodox background. Our main character in the book is a quarterback back progeny who comes from an all human system and has been taught to hate anything that isn’t like him. And then as he he’s he joins the big leagues and he has to have these different alien races playing or his teams will not win. He gets exposed to the lies that he’s bringing in. OK, these these are just senti and creatures, just like humans. Some are good, some are bad, and they all have. Evaluated on their own merits and watching his continuing disillusion with the orthodox religion that he has is a big part of the seven book series. 

So how do you make it plausible that someone would have such a big shift in a series of books? What was his journey? What did he go through in order to come to this notion that, in fact, he had been lied to by his, I guess, religion? 

Well, that’s it. That’s it as an author, that’s one of the most satisfying parts of the experience of writing this series of books. And I get a lot of contact from the fans going, oh, my gosh, when I read the first book, The Rookie, your main character was such a jerk. I almost didn’t want to finish the book because he’s coming from his very provincial background and carrying on all of these biases with him. And you are experiencing the story through his eyes. So you are in the skin of someone who has been taught to hate all his life, but he wants to be the best that’s ever played the game. And in order to do that, he has to play in this league with these aliens. So to him, it’s just a means to an end. I will play with these guys. I don’t have to like them. I don’t have to associate with them. But I do need them to accomplish my goal of being the best quarterback ever and winning it, winning a championship. And that’s what’s really fun about the rookie, is that’s the primary beginning of his arc where he starts to be confronted with all these things I have been taught all my life are completely not true. He also starts out being a creationist because that’s what he’s been taught. He’s very anti science because that’s what he’s been taught. So for my more skeptical or rational readers, they really can’t stand the main character as the book begins. But you get to follow him along his journey. And it’s a journey so many of us have gone through. 

We find out the things we’ve been taught in our in our childhood, in our teens and even in our 20s have no no reality. When you move into the bigger world, you get to experience that with him. And then as the hour continues to the books, other people from preventable areas come to join the team. And he winds up being the seasoned old man and has to teach other people, OK. These things that you think are completely wrong. And and I’ll show you why by both lecture and example. So that’s that’s the process of the arc. Now we’re through book four. And he’s largely settled into who he is as as an adult. And for the people who’ve read all horror books now, they absolutely love the character and they’re hanging on his every word and can’t wait to see what he does next because they’ve been with him as he has gone from a an ignorant, uneducated person who’s been sold a bill of goods to someone who experienced the real world for themselves and come to a different set of conclusions at the end. 

And of course, he has the elements of great storytelling, which, of course, are that a character goes through revelation, sacrifice and transformation in whatever order, that hopefully transformation comes towards the end. But I also think that there’s something important about what you’re doing with these books, even for people who are skeptical to start out with, because often we have trouble empathizing with whatever outgroup is out there. So people who are deeply religious will have trouble empathizing with atheists and vice versa. So to actually start out from one end and go to the other extreme, in a way, you’re touching both of these groups of people and helping people to empathize, which hopefully will lead to some kind of conflict resolution in the future. 

And one of the things I’ve done well in the series is skeptical atheist people love it. And also very religious people love it. I wouldn’t say ultra orthodox people like it because it’s very negative on organized religion. But the main character becomes disillusioned with organized religion, but does not lose his faith in a higher power. So it’s it’s kind of I’ve set the book up this way so that it’s okay for anyone, no matter what their beliefs, to follow along and kind of imprint their own beliefs on on the main character, who is a believer. And on his close personal friends who follow him through every book who are all obvious atheists. So it it’s intentionally set up that, you know, sometimes in the world of Athie ism, the knee jerk reaction to anybody who believes in a higher power is, is that it’s negative and you like it. You can’t judge that person because they believe something different than you. As long as they’re not doing anything to hurt you or forcing their views upon you. So it’s it’s one of the very few things I’ve done words. It’s just a why can’t we all just get along? Type book. But it caters to all levels of the spectrum, and that’s really fun. 

But it seems to be more than just that. Why can’t we all just get along? And coming into more, how can we understand where the other person is coming from and how these beliefs started and how they can be changed or, you know, strengthened? 


It is it it’s really exposing that if people are telling you you need to do something to help them. That could probably you may need to look closer at that. Be more skeptical and analyze it. And the book’s full, full of examples of critical thinking where the character goes through a process between what he’s been told and used to believe and now what he what he can see is reality. And it’s not that just. Why can’t we all get along? But it it shifts the emphasis of judging someone based on their beliefs to judging someone based on their actions. So the people that the sentiment crèches that he winds up being closely aligned with are all they’re all true to their word. If they say something, they’re going to do it. They’d back him up, you know, and almost no matter what choice he makes, he’s got people who are behind him all the way. And then when it comes to their work or their on field performance, they’re all incredibly hard working, sacrificing, and they go after everything that is in their job. With every last ounce of who they are. 

So it sets up more of these positive character traits that are consistent across all spectrums and all belief systems. There’s a certain group of things where you evaluate a person that you’ve met and a person that you get close to. If they do these things, then that person is OK and it sort of invalidates whatever belief system they they may have because it doesn’t really matter, because what matters is the things that they do and how they treat you. 

Yeah, it reminds me actually of this project that’s going on in Israel at the moment called the East West Divan Orchestra, which is an orchestra made up of players both from Israel and Palestine. And the idea is that by making music together, they can shed some of the conflicting thoughts they have about each other’s groups. And it’s still an experiment in progress, but apparently it’s been quite successful. And some some players who came in with absolutely saying, look, I’m just here to play music and I’m not going my my views aren’t going to shift over time. Have learned to understand at least the arguments coming from the other side. 

Yeah. It gets to something like that can drive people towards a level of acceptance. And you don’t have to believe what the other person believes. But if they’re not trying to hurt you or change you and you’re not trying to hurt them or change them, there’s an enormous amount of things that we all go through as human beings. We all love. We all have significant others at one point or another in our life. We all have a family a lot. All we all want to work and we all want to go accomplish something and build things. All of these things come into play in a project like that where you find out that by and large, we have way more in common than we do and we have differences. 

Right. And by working together towards a goal, it’s the same goal can can bring people together as well. And I thought also it was extremely appropriate for you to center this athletic series around a believer, because, of course, in the sports world, there is a lot of superstition and a lot of attribution of success to a higher power. 

I mean, I see this all the time when I’m watching football or baseball or whenever people get a homerun or, you know, they get a touchdown and they thank God first. And to me, that always seemed extremely odd because to get to that level of skill, you need to go through so much training and self-discipline. So surely at some point you need to realize that a lot of it is on your shoulders. And, of course, there’s a lot of luck along the way and a lot of people have helped you out. And, you know, I understand that a lot of these players come from highly traditional backgrounds, but also that there’s a. Lot of you know, there’s a lot of uncertainty in their sport. And whenever there’s uncertainty, superstitions abound. How has writing these characters helped you to understand the deep seeded belief in God that we see in a lot of our athletes? 

Well, you know, for my my brother is a football coach and both my nephews played football. And my oldest nephew is, you know, six foot five, 20 pounds. And he’s 16 years old. So they’re and my brother’s a very much a believer. And it’s given meaning. It’s given me the opportunity to kind of watch kids grow up within that system. And it becomes a self-justifying construct. If you are a believer and you happen to be bigger and stronger and faster and better reaction time and more athletic. 

And you’re just better at those sports you are in most police constructs. You are taught to think that, well, you know, I have to give credit to the higher power for the good things that happen in my life. And almost invariably, all the bad things that happen are my own fault. That’s largely the way it’s set up. So the more the more a kid works, the better they get. And that’s all based on some some natural physical ability to start with. It becomes that self-fulfilling construct. Well, I’m getting better because of my belief. Because of my belief. I’m getting better. So you see that. You see that quite a lot. But it’s irrelevant to the on field performance. And that’s why sports become such a wonderful meritocracy. It’s you get into college and professional sports. It is a brutal, cutthroat business where if you can’t do the job, you’re gone. And we’ll get somebody else in here who can. But the flip side of that is it really doesn’t matter who you are, what you think, what you do, what you believe in. If you can run that football, we’re going to put you in the lineup because we’re gonna put the best field on the team that we can’t. So whether you believe or don’t believe, it doesn’t really matter to a coach in an organization. 

You know, it reminds me of this psychologist, Carol Dweck, who talks a lot about childhood learning and the way a person’s mindset influences how much effort they put into learning new things. And she describes two sort of different types of mindsets. One is a fixed mindset where kids believe that intelligence or whatever skills they have are innate. It’s a natural ability. You’re born with it. And over time, they tend to be praised for achievement rather than effort. And so in the over the course of their lives, they actually tend to shy away from things that might make them look as if they don’t have that talent. So they shy away from learning opportunities. And when they make an error, they code it as I’m bad not. Oh, that’s something I need to fix. Whereas kids who are sort of more average in in a lot of grades in school can develop this growth mindset where they learn that actually if I work harder, if I put in more effort, I can get better and I can fix those errors. And it turns out from her studies that often these kids with a growth mindset tend to perform better later in their lives because they don’t shy away from conflict or from difficult tasks. They actually see those sorts of learning opportunities. And so it seems like this will be extremely relevant in sports. Right. Because the growth mindset would be critical for a child to continue to try to improve their skills. And yet it still sounds like there’s a lot of fixed mindset going on in athletics. 

Well, the growth mindset in athletics is that’s a that’s a filter process. If you come into sports and usually you’re in an age group in grade school, maybe everyone on your team is all eleven years old. There’s still some bigger and stronger kids. As you start to move up, you get into mixed age groups. So you’re playing with people who are older than you. And when you are playing with people who are older, bigger, faster, stronger, more skilled in you, you’re going to experience a lot of defeat. 

And the kids who experienced that defeat for the first time and just like, oh, I, I’m not doing this anymore. I don’t like I don’t like it and I’m not the best and I’m not losing. They tend to drop out of the sports and it’s the kids who OK, I’m going to have to work harder, I’m going have to lift more weights and I have to practice my my jumping for volleyball. I have to find a way to get better. I’m gonna go to camp, so I’m gonna go to practice a little, do work out on my own. That mentality then that allows them to develop as their bodies develop and as their skill develops and eventually move into that role where they are the starting player on their team. So the growth mindset you described is a perfect microcosm of how people move up in the world of sports. And at every stage where you jump up from junior varsity or varsity varsity to college and in college to pro, there’s always that growth phase where you find out, wow, these people are all much better than I am. And it’s going to take a lot of work to get up to their level. 

And yet somehow they don’t internalize that to the point where they of, you know, think of themselves as cod. 

It’s misdefined. It’s mystifying to me, especially even if you watch. A professional wide receiver in the NFL who’s clearly born with ridiculous gifts. Tall, fast, strong and capable of incredible agility, even that person has been handed everything on a silver platter. They have still worked their butt off for a decade or more to get to that level. I mean, they the amount of work a pro athlete has put in to get to that level is staggering. And most people don’t really understand how much goes into that, even though they’re the ones responsible for all of their success. Yeah, at some point they will still point that finger up to the sky after a touchdown. And, you know, praise be to Jesus, he’s responsible for all of this. Like, no, no, that was you. You were the guy you were the guy who caught that crazy catch. That’s pretty impressive. 

So despite the fact that your series is about aliens, there’s a there’s a certain amount of reality that you infuse into it, which, as we talked a little bit earlier, you mentioned that in a new short story that you’re writing for an anthology, you actually had to be less real. Can you talk a little bit about that? 

It is a story for an anthology edited by Charline Harris, who is the author of the Sookie Stackhouse books upon which the True Blood franchise is based. And they are all less crazy, supernatural, mostly vampires, but also demons and fairies and everything else you can come up with. And she’s putting on an anthology about sports ghost stories or paranormal sports stories. And she has she has read the G.F. Elle series and invited me to be part of this. So I had to write a ghost story for it. That combined with sports and it’s a little hard for me to get started on these things as I’m trying to establish. OK, what is the physics of the paranormal and how could we have something existing on multiple planes of reality? And I spend days trying to rationalize this, that at some point you just have to be like, OK, this is a ghost story. Ghost don’t exist. I pretty much have a ton of freedom as long as the story’s consistent within itself. And I’m not just pulling a rabbit out of my head somewhere. There’s no limit to the amount of stuff you can do. So it goes from being feeling very alien and very stranger in a strange land to being like this is really fun. I don’t have to establish anything. They just can they can just go through walls and they just can’t. And it’s it’s kind of great. 

So is it so much fun that you think you might write a book in that way? 

Well, I watch a lot of other authors in the horror and paranormal space had wonderful success. And I read these books and they’re great and I love them and they’re super fun. And at some point, as an author reading this going this is a lot. This is not as hard as the stuff I am writing. Do I need to beat myself up all the time? You know, I have I have three pages to read all my stuff. And I’ve got cops. I’ve got milk, Terry. I’ve got this battery of 15 consultants who read all the books and stories, but I put them out to make sure it’s as accurate as it can be. That’s an enormous amount of work. Whereas if you’re inventing your own paranormal world and your own set of rules, that frees up a lot more time for character development and or conflict and for story when you separate yourself from that group of fact. So, yeah, I will definitely be writing more in that space because it’s just flat out fun. It’s it’s a lot of fun. And as long as you have a rule system, as long as you explain the rule system, the reader and stay within that rule system, that’s the vast majority of entertainment. I mean, that’s that Star Wars. That’s Lord of the Rings. That’s the Batman series. That’s all the Marvel DC Comics. The vast majority of very popular fiction falls into that. Here’s the rules. This isn’t real. But here are the rules. So I will be writing more on that. 

Well, speaking of fun, I just want to remind our listeners that they can get access to your books through our Web site, point of inquiry dot org. And I just wanted to end the interview by asking you to talk a little bit about the process of investigation that your characters go through in order to find out the truth in a particular book. So in some ways, this could be a model for some of your younger readers to sort of figure out how critical thinking works and how does one reach a conclusion based on evidence. 

And, you know, in your books, you have cops and various other kinds of investigators. So do you have a certain framework of investigation that your characters go through that can can help young adults figure out how to think more critically? 

The basic process is establishing these characters, letting you know who they are and how they think and how they act then. And the characters are presented with a series of observations that don’t seem to make sense because it is something beyond our normal day to day world. Because if I was writing a regular day to day story, it would be a completely different kind of fiction altogether. So they are presented with things that don’t fit the parameters of what they know. 

Things that seem fantastical and often things that seem impossible. And then they have to take that set of observations and come up with a hypothesis and start experimenting on it. Well, we have these we have A, B and C. What if this thing overheat was the cause for it and they will usually go through a couple rounds of a based rational problem-solving where someone in the party. These in my books, these things tend to break down into group discussions of two or three or four characters trading off ideas. So there’s there’s an idea exchange, a little hypothesis and a lot of people shooting holes in those hypotheses saying, OK, that won’t work because you forgot about this thing or we have this big piece of evidence and gradually going through until they come up with a general theory that seems to cover all the observable, all the observable fact, all the information and most of the time that theory sounds. Is he that they all can actually accept that it’s real, but that’s the closest they can come to explaining what they have observed? And then from there, it goes out? Well, we have to they basically go off to disprove their own theory. This is all we have to explain it. It doesn’t make any sense. Let’s go out and prove that it doesn’t make sense and move on to the next thing. And it’s that that first step, when they’re trying to prove that it doesn’t make sense, they wind up getting more information that further validates that theory. And at the same time, the reader is being further validated until it and they finally come to come to see that what we thought was possible is possible based on this new information that we have. And then that gets us through to the end of the book where they have to go take care of whatever the final problem is. 

Well, it sounds like a pretty accurate facsimile of the scientific method to me. So we’re just reaching the end of 2012. 

What are your goals for 2013 in terms of your writing goals of 2013 is to get a much bigger exposure for my writing. I have a wonderful fan base that I continue to draw on. 

We’re trying to expand that fan base were my business partner, eight callbacks and I were trying to get more involved in science fiction writers association, more involved in Sephora. Hopefully a little bit more involved in skeptic, a little bit critical thinking, probably more involved in electronic advocacy as far as the CFF goes. So that’s some of our outreach stuff. And then just to continue to write more stories where we have our own. I write for Random House, so I’ve got the Random House hardcovers and paperbacks out, which is awesome. But then Kovacs and I have our own business, Darko Vord Media. We we manage put paperbacks and stores on our own. We’ve got all kinds of e-books. We’re getting our own authors read books up to the audible store. We sell hardcovers and T-shirts and all kinds of stuff. So 2013 is our you choose to go out, get more things in the marketplace, entertain more people and try and prove to the book buying audience that if you spend your money on one of my things, you are going to think it was a bargain. 

Well, it sounds like you’ve a busy year ahead of you. So I won’t take up any more of your time. Thank you so much for sparing us some time in this busy month of December. It’s been great to have you on and have a happy holiday. 

Well, thank you for having me on. Appreciate it. 

Thank you for listening to this episode of Point of Inquiry to join the discussion of today’s show on encouraging critical thinking through science fiction visit point of inquiry dot org. You can also send questions and comments to feedback at point of inquiry, dot org on Twitter, at point of inquiry and on Facebook at slash point of inquiry. Views expressed on point of inquiry aren’t necessarily the views of the Center for Inquiry, nor its affiliated organizations. 

Point of inquiry is produced by Adam Isaac in Amherst, New York. And our music is composed for us by Emmy Award winning Michael Wailin. I’m your host, Indre Viskontas. 

Indre Viskontas