A few weeks back, we looked at books that are being adapted to the big screen. It's a pretty sure bet that these will actually make it to theaters since salaries have been paid, the filming has either wrapped or is in progress, and in-theater premiere dates have been set...all of which means that the movies studios would like to recoup their investments through movie ticket sales. The only way to do that is to actually get them into theaters where (hopefully) millions of moviegoers will hand over their hard-earned money for 90 minutes of escapist entertainment.
Why does it matter if these adaptations are sure bets? In case you didn't know this, Hollywood is a fickle business. Today's Next Big Thing is tomorrow's Project Stuck in Development Hell. There are often science fiction and fantasy books whose rights are purchased for adaptation to film or television, yet they never see the light of day for any one of a variety of reasons. News of books being optioned for film and TV should therefore be met with a healthy dose of reservation. Of course, that doesn't mean readers still can't get at least a little bit excited at the prospect of seeing their favorite books in visual form.
So here's a look at some recently optioned sf/f titles that could be headed towards theater or television....
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
Susanna Clarke's 2004 novel about two magicians was praised as one of the best books of the year, garnering several literary awards in the process. It's an accessible tale set in 19th-century England where magic is real, and it focuses on a pair of magicians during the Napoelonic Wars. Mr. Norrell is the teacher and Jonathan Strange is the student, but soon they become rivals as Strange increasingly becomes interested in dangerous magic.
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell was recently optioned by BBC America, who will produce this for a seven-episode miniseries. There is no cast attached to this project yet, but the series is being written by Peter Harness and directed by Toby Haynes (Doctor Who, Sherlock). Filming is to begin this summer.
Ringworld by Larry Niven
I'm excited and nervous about the adaptation of Larry Niven's 1970 novel Ringword. The excitement comes from the fact that this is the book I cite as my first science fiction book, so it holds a place close to my heart. The Ringworld is an artificial world; a massive, ring-shaped world that's a million miles wide and has a diameter equal to Earth's orbit around the sun. The inhabitants of Ringworld live on the inside of the ring, which spins around to simulate gravity. The sun sits in the center of the ring, and night and day are simulated by "shadow squares" that orbit that sun. If you stood on Ringworld it would look much like any other landscape, except that when you faced "spinward," the land would slope upward into a giant arch that was perpetually overhead.
Ringworld is being adapted as a four-hour miniseries by the SyFy channel. They don't have a stellar track record for pleasing fans with their adaptations of beloved genre novels, hence my nervousness. Their version will follow a team of deep-space explorers investigating an alien artifact and encountering alien technology. Michael Perry (The River, Paranormal Activity 2) is attached to this project.
Childhood's End by Arthur C. Clarke
Another science fiction classic being is also headed to the small screen. Childhood's End by Arthur C. Clarke (1953) is about a seemingly benevolent invasion of aliens and their interactions with the human race, who seem to not mind the increased amount of surveillance they are under because of the benefits that the aliens bestow upon humanity. The aliens go mostly unseen (with good reason) and the story does a good job at slowly revealing the their ulterior motives.
Like Ringworld, Childhood's End is also destined for the SyFy Channel and producer Michael DeLuca (The Social Network) is attached to it.
C.J. Cherryh’s Morgaine Cycle
The Morgaine Cycle is a series of novels by C.J. Cherryh that can be classified as science fantasy; a mixture of both science fiction and fantasy. The book series includes the novels Gate of Ivrel (1976), Well of Shiuan (1978), Fires of Azeroth (1979) and Exile's Gate (1988). The series itself is about a time-traveling heroine named Morgaine and her loyal companion Nhi Vanye i Chya. It's an epic story that chronicles one woman’s mission across time and space to preserve the integrity of the universe. The elevator pitch is “sword-and-sorcery meets hard sci-fi”.
The Morgaine Cycle has been optioned for film by producer Aaron Magnani. The plan is to launch a possible film franchise called The Gates of Morgaine. The first installment, being penned by screenwriter Peter Arneson (Iron Doors), is based on Cherry's first Morgaine novel and is called The Gates of Morgaine: Ivrel.
John DeNardo is the editor of SF Signal, a Hugo Award-winning group science-fiction and fantasy blog featuring news, reviews and interviews. John likes endlessly trying to rhyme words with "purple" and "orange" to no avail. You can follow him on Twitter as @sfsignal.