I love authors who intentionally combine good sci with good fi, and Rick Chesler is one of them. Educated in marine biology, Rick writes science-themed thrillers linked to the ocean and full of interesting, accurate science inside page-turning tales that feature a strong female protagonist, FBI Agent Tara Shores. Currently he has two novels available, Wired Kingdom and kiDNApped.
I invited Rick to discuss the subject dearest to me, the intersection of science and storytelling.
ScienceThrillers: Tell us about how you use science in your fiction.
Rick Chesler: I write thrillers which have sometimes been labelled as science thrillers or technothrillers, which means that they prominently feature elements of science and technology in plot and theme. At the most basic storytelling level, I use science as a way of putting characters into situations that are at the same time unusual, interesting, and difficult to get out of. Situations that usually begin with a “what if?” type scenario and offer many possibilities, plotwise.
These are contemporary action-thrillers, though, as opposed to hard SF, which means I try not to make the science too much of a stretch–I like it to be mostly “doable” in today’s world, at least for those with considerable means. To accomplish that, I’m basically taking a conventional suspense plot–something not too far from what you might see in a Lifetime network movie-of-the-week–and wrapping it around some kind of scientific premise or extenuating circumstances. If the scientific element is too prevalent, the average genre fiction reader tends to be put off, yet nevertheless there are fascinating concepts and stories to be explored within the realm of science, many of which center around important contemporary issues facing our society. It’s definitely a tricky balance and by no means would I say I’ve mastered it, but that’s where I’m coming from when I sit down to write.
Finally, I use science to help achieve the most basic goal of any good thriller–to transport the reader to another world, to places they’ve never been before. Hence, the exotic settings and immersion into less common occupations.
ScienceThrillers: Where do you get your technical information? Do you have a background in science, do you read science journalism, do you talk to working scientists?
Rick Chesler: I tend to have a preexisting curiosity about whatever topic I choose to base a novel around, so some of the technical information in my novels is already known to me before I start writing. Invariably, though, it’s necessary to supply additional details in order to serve the plot, and many times I do this through web research. Occasionally I will consult the primary scientific literature, such as journal articles, especially Science and Nature, but this isn’t usually necessary for the required level of accuracy. When it comes to weapons and field gadgets, there are many websites that cater to that sort of thing where information is freely available. Same with boats and aircraft, although I have been fortunate in my travels to have experienced many interesting modes of transportation first-hand. For science issues, I have corresponded via email with professional scientists on major issues. Most of them are quite helpful and generous with their time and knowledge.
I myself hold a B.S. degree in marine biology, as well as a business master’s degree in project management. I have worked in the past as a consultant for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in Hawaii, and am currently employed in the Los Angeles area at a major university as a project manager for a research study. So in my day job I work directly with scientists and doctors who perform grant supported research. Believe me when I say it’s nothing at all like what’s in the thrillers!
ScienceThrillers: Tell us about your series character Tara Shores and what the future may hold for her.
Rick Chesler: Special Agent Tara Shores is a five-year veteran of the FBI at the start of Wired Kingdom (six at the start of kiDNApped). She’s hydrophobic, she lost both parents to a tragic accident as a child, and the Bureau is her family now. You can think of her as sort of a hybrid of Clarice Starling (The Silence of the Lambs) and Lara Croft (Tomb Raider).
The third installment in the Tara Shores series, SOLAR ISLAND, will be published later this year (2012), and it introduces a new dimension to Agent Shores’ law enforcement experience–that of the CIA. Here’s a brief description:
A madman uses a floating energy production platform as an opportunity to establish his own rogue nation. After the FBI receives an alarming and unusual call for help originating from the artificial island, Special Agent Tara Shores goes undercover as a reporter in the South Pacific. Once there, she uncovers a tightly run dystopia reflecting the distorted visions of the island’s reclusive creator. As a powerful cyclone bears down on the island, cutting her off from support, Tara must find a way to bring a murderer to justice while saving herself and averting an international energy crisis.
Publication details will be released on my website in the coming weeks.
Thanks very much for having me on sciencethrillers.com, and happy reading everyone!