I continued my bid to become a ‘real’ reader again with this visceral sci-fi chiller from Scott Sigler – a sort of Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, but with blood and guts turned up to 11.
If you’ve been keeping track of my renewed bid to get my reading into a similar condition of regularity as my writing, then you’ll recall that my key tactic for the moment is simply to make sure I’ve always got my next book lined up. This way I can move straight from finishing one book to starting the next, hopefully avoiding those motivationally fatal pauses in between where I end up getting suckered into browsing the internet before bed and suddenly it’s next year.
Infected was a perfect third entry on my reading list: straightforward and undemanding. Given that my reading skews towards sci-fi and horror, Infected was always going to be a fairly easy read for me as it ticks both genre boxes. As I said in the intro, the concept is a bit like an extreme retelling of Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (which now makes me want to see Miike Takashi direct the next remake!) but Sigler more or less avoids being derivative by sidestepping the are-they-still-human? angle and instead focus, often in impressively excruciating detail, on the business of what’s actually happening to stop the victims from being human anymore.
Sigler does well with his characters, painting them as well as they need to be painted, and filling out backstory only when it serves the plot. However, after a while I began to pick up some issues with the pace and structure. The second half of the book, while no less engaging than the first, is a much slower beast, putting the brakes on major plot developments in favour of following a key scenario. I knew, going into this one, that it was the first part of a trilogy and I wondered at first (perhaps uncharitably) if Sigler was simply saving some of his story so he’d have material for the later books.
After I finished the book I did my usual snooping and found out that Infected was first delivered as a podcast. I have no idea if it was originally designed as a podcast, but it suggested a reason for the odd pacing. For a complete novel you’ll typically structure your story as a single piece: the way you manage the pace will be determined by the dramatic needs of the beginning, middle and end of the story – typically, with a particular desire to build up to satisfying conclusion.
When delivering your story as a partwork (I imagine) the needs would be different: you’ll want the audience to keep coming back for the next part, you’ll want each installment to provide a level of satisfaction in its own right. You might even find that audience feedback steers the story in a slightly different direction to what you had planned (disclaimer: I have absolutely no idea how Sigler went about his writing/podcasting process, I’m just discussing possible scenarios).
What did I learn?
Different media have different dramatic needs. The way I approach a short story is very different to the way I’d structure a novel – in fact, the novel I’m working on currently is an adaptation of one of my short stories, and has become a very different tale in the process. Having been a former movie buff I’m also aware of the challenges faced when converting a novel for the screen.
This is the first time I’ve really been struck by potential pitfalls of delivering a novel as a partwork (and it’s probably similar to the challenges posted by TV showrunners, who need to tell a complete and compelling story overall, while ensuring that each week’s episode delivers the goods in its own right). If you’re maintaining your story only as a partwork then it’s less risky: each episode can continue to stand in its own right, while compelling the reader-listener to consume the subsequent episode as well. If you also want to present that story as a self-contained, single piece then you also need to make sure you’ve structured it to work as a single piece.
I also learned that I’d really love to produce a podcast version of my stories; either a story each podcast, or an eventual chapter-by-chapter delivery of my novel. However, it’s highly unlikely I have either the time or the talent for regular audio rendition of my writing (I barely have time for the writing as it is!)
Would I recommend it?
I would recommend Infected, but with certain caveats. If you’re not into graphic, gory detail in your reading then you’re going to have a hard time with this, and I expect the journey wouldn’t be worth it. The story works well enough on its own terms, but is very clearly setting the stage for a sequel. At this point I’m not queueing up to read the sequels, but if you’re the sort of reader who wants the complete story you might want to note that you’re potentially signing up for three books here.
Those points aside, Infected is an entertaining, intelligent read which, despite the structural issues, delivers an interesting spin on the alien invasion scenario.