Here's the latest roundup of speculative fiction books that are heading toward screens big and little.
Divergent by Veronica Roth
Like most young adult books, Divergent is about a rite of passage into adulthood. The interesting part here is that it's also built into to society it depicts. Divergent is the first book in a young adult Dystopian series in which society has been divided into five different factions, each one based on a different virtue: Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). One day each year, every 16-year-old must choose one of those factions and devote the rest of their lives to it. This is no easy task, since it could mean leaving behind the ones you love. That's the tough choice faced by a young girl named Beatrice, who must choose between her family and her true calling. As if the decision itself weren't tough enough to face, initiation into the factions force Beatrice (now called Tris) and the other teenagers through a series of extreme physical tests of endurance as well as intense psychological simulations. It's not a perfect social system by any means, but it works for this society. However, Beatrice has a special trait that just might upset that status quo.
The film adaptation of Divergent is just around the corner. It hits U.S. theaters on March 21st. Its stars Shailene Woodley as Beatrice "Tris" Prior and Kate Winslet as a representative of the Erudite faction with lofty ambitions. If it's a hit, expect sequel films based on the other two books in the series, Insurgent and Allegiant.
Wool by Hugh Howey
Post-apocalyptic stories are a tried-and-true sub-genre of science fiction, perhaps made all the more popular since Cormac McCarthy published The Road. One of the prevailing themes in such stories is that of hope in the face of insurmountable odds. That theme certainly exists in Wool by Hugh Howey. It takes place after the world has become a ruined, toxic landscape. A community of survivors lives in a massive underground silo that extends hundreds of stories beneath the surface of that wasteland. In this new world dominated by fear and regulations, one of the society's leaders, a sheriff who has unwaveringly upheld the silo’s rules for years, breaks the most forbidden taboo: He asks to go outside. A new Sheriff is thus appointed to replace him. Juliette is a mechanic with no training whatsoever in law, and she soon discovers just how bad off the silo's inhabitants really are.
Wool is something of a sensation in the publishing world. It's one of those rare, unconventional success stories. The first Wool story was released as a stand-alone, self-published short story in July of 2011. After a surge in popularity, other installments soon followed. The series has since grown into an extended collection of stories, some of which are prequels. The traditional publishing world took notice and has since published omnibus editions of the stories. It even got Hollywood's attention; film rights were sold to 20th Century Fox. None other than Ridley Scott (who directed Blade Runner, Alien and Prometheus) is set to direct the film adaptation of Wool. Casting begins in early 2014 but it's already being touted as the go-to movie blockbuster of 2015.
Beta by Rachel Cohn
One of the ways that science fiction proves to be an excellent vehicle to examine the human condition is by utilizing characters that might be considered not-quite-human, or at least not in the traditional sense. Robots are one trope that is often used; another is cloning. In Beta by Rachel Cohn, a clone named Elysia is born in a laboratory as a 16-year-old girl. She's a soulless, empty vessel with no life experiences whatsoever. The sole purpose of her existence is to serve the inhabitants of Demesne, an island paradise built specifically for the wealthiest people on Earth. Everything about Demesne seems perfect on the surface—how could they be anything else when even the island air is infused with euphoria-inducing gas—but that's far from the true reality, as Elysia soon discovers. Elysia learns that she was replicated from another teenage girl who had to die in order for Elysia to exist. She also experiences emotions that should have been bioengineered out of her. Should the powers-that-be discover this flaw, Elysia will be destroyed.
Clones being used as the enslaved workforce for the wealthy and a defective Beta model who learns the dirty secrets of the world's elite and must hide among them? What studio executive wouldn't want to turn that into a series? Not the ones at ABC; they are moving ahead to produce Beta as a series based on Cohn's harrowing story.