Readers I speak to seem to have a love/hate relationship when it comes to seeing their favorite stories adapted for TV and film. On the one hand, seeing the stories being chosen for a visual medium is validation that a story is good enough for Hollywood to make the investment. On the other, because the storytelling medium is different, the story itself necessarily changes, which is dishonorable to the source material. Love it or hate it, the adaptation train keeps rolling and now more than ever, filmmakers and television producers are turning to the pages of science fiction and fantasy to tell stories.
One of the recent novel acquisitions made by television station TNT was for a weekly drama series based on N.K. Jemisin's Hugo Award-winning novel The Fifth Season. As you may recall, the novel was on several Year's Best lists for 2015 and there's no doubt that science fiction and fantasy fans hold this book close to their hearts. It takes place on the unstable continent called Stillness, where "Extinction Level Event" calamities are almost commonplace. Society fears and oppresses the so-called orogenes, a minority of people who possess the seemingly magical abilities to manipulate thermal and kinetic energy and thus control the seismic events. Against this backdrop of social politics, Jemisin weaves three narratives of women who possess this uncanny ability: Damaya, a young girl training to serve the Empire with her gift; Syenite, an ambitious young woman who the Empire orders to breed with her powerful mentor; and Essun, whose husband has brutally murdered their son and kidnapped their daughter. TNT's adaptation is being written by Leigh Dana Jackson (24: Legacy and Sleepy Hollow). The Fifth Season is the first novel in a trilogy (followed by The Obelisk Gate and The Stone Sky). If the series does well, expect the sequels to be told in additional tv seasons.
Sometimes, it isn't novels that are targeted by television and filmmakers, it's a short fiction story. That was the case with the surprising Amy Adams hit film Arrival, which was based on a short story by Ted Chiang called "Story of your Life,", in which a linguist learns an alien language that reshapes her view of the world. The story can be found in the Stories of Your Life and Others. Another story from that terrific collection is "Liking What You See: A Documentary," a novella in which a trivial, reversible neurological procedure makes it possible to induce calliagnosia—the inability to detect beauty or ugliness in a person's face. It's a great seed for an excellent story that asks hard questions about a person's true beauty and self-worth. It also asks: is society ready to judge people based solely on merits? This is the stuff of thought-provoking literature. Eric Heisserer, who wrote the screenplay for Arrival and is looking for similar gold, will produce a film version of Chiang's wonderful story while the author himself will serve as a consultant.
As seems to be happening more frequently, Hollywood is betting big on adapting science fiction novels. The proof that they are upping the ante can be seen by the fact that they are now not just buying rights to stories and single novels, but whole series in one pricier package. Earlier this year, the rights to Piers Anthony's Xanth novels were picked up by independent producer Steven Paul's SP Entertainment Group for adaptation to both film and television. A popular series with more than forty novels to draw from—beginning with 1977's A Spell for Chameleon—the source material seems endless. It's too early to know much more at this point, but expect many light-hearted adventures in the land of Xanth, where humans possess magical abilities and live alongside magical creatures like centaurs, dragons, demons, goblins, gargoyles and other mythical beasts. It's even too early to know which novels will be the initial focus of the series. My money is on A Spell for Chameleon, where poor Bink is the only human who doesn't posses some sort of magical ability and learns how to manifest his untapped powers. He's the perfect point-of-view character for us mundane viewers.
Another popular (and large) fantasy series that has been optioned in its entirety is Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series. The series (which began in 1990 with The Eye of the World) is comprised of fourteen novels, the latest of which were written by Brandon Sanderson after James Oliver Rigney, Jr. (who used Robert Jordan as his pen name) passed away. The overall arc of this high fantasy series is a quest to find the Dragon Reborn, who, according to prophecy, will help unite the forces of good to combat The Dark One. With such a long story to tell, it's no wonder that the adaptation is being planned for the longer storytelling canvas of television. Sony Pictures Television, who acquired the rights after the legal roadblocks were finally removed, has enlisted Rafe Judkins (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Hemlock Grove) to write the series. Jordan's widow, Harriet McDougal, will serve as a consulting producer.
In the realm of classic dark fantasy series, Glen Cook's Chronicles of The Black Company is king. The series (which begins with 1984's The Black Company) depicts the exploits of the Black Company, an elite mercenary unit that carries out the "often nefarious deeds of the highest bidder across a Tolkeinesque landscape". In the case of the first three books (cumulatively called The Books of the North), the Company works to further the aims of The Lady, the dark sorceress who rules the northern lands. Cook's blend of fantasy and military action is a great hit with fans. Several production companies think so too. The rights to Cook's series have been optioned and will be produced as a television series by IM Global Television, Eliza Dushku's Boston Diva Productions, and David Goyer’s Phantom Four production companies. You may know Eliza Dushku as being in front of the camera in shows like Bull, Dollhouse, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. She will be again; Dushku will star in the pivotal role of the dark sorceress, The Lady.