For a good part of the 1990s, tens of millions of Americans have been abducted every week -- not by aliens, but by a television show featuring fare such as extraterrestrial cancer implants and genetically engineered human clones. Mark Twain might have been talking about The X-Files when he wrote that truth is stranger than fiction because "fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; truth isn't." The Truth (which is famously "out there" in the show's credits) is actually in there, or, rather, in here, because dozens of the wildest and most speculative story lines in the hit series are well and truly inspired by discoveries from the world of science. And a lot of that inspiration comes from the job of Anne Simon, Ph.D., the world-class virologist enlisted by X-Files creator Chris Carter to serve as the show's science advisor.
What are the chimeric cells featured in the episode "Gethsemane"? What would it take for an alien organism to survive a centuries-long trip on a meteor -- as, for example, the brain-sucking worms in the episode "Ice" do -- and still arrive virulent enough to attack a human being? How would a scientist known she was peering at an alien microbe -- the dilemma faced by Scully in "The Erlenmeyer Flask"? Telomeres, cloning, the Hayflick limit, nanotechnology, endosymbionts, and lentviruses are all supporting players to agents Mulder and Scully in the television drama, but here they are elevated to starring roles by Dr. Simon's dazzling insights and wonderfully readable style. When Chris Carter was searching for fictional creatures for future episodes, Dr. Simon related to him the science behind a real-life fruit fly -- one with legs coming out of its mouth -- and the episode "The Post-Modern Prometheus" was born. Whether recounting the genesis of such story lines or taking the reader on a voyage through the intricacies of the p53 gene and its potential in cancer therapy, The Real Science Behind The X-Files is that rarest and most prized thing: a book by a scientist with a genuine gift for writing.
Here is the truth behind the immunocompromising fungus from "El Mundo Gira," the latest on the probability of life on Mars as tantalizingly indicated by the Antarctic meteorite ALH84001, the scientific foundation beneath the dark genetic secret of the Peacock clan in the episode "Home," and a primer on the technical challenge of successful cryobiology (not to be attempted at home). Combining the author's hard-headed rationalism with her awe at the wonders of the natural world, gracefully written, and accompanied by a foreword from Chris Carter, The Real Science Behind The X-Files is a remarkable book.