Old SF Books I Want to See Made into Movies

Hi, folks. I’m enjoying my not-quite-intentional staycation in the wake of completing The Kingdom of Gods — not quite intentional because I found out at the last minute that I wouldn’t have a class to teach for the summer, and staycation because I badly needed a vacation but can’t really go anywhere right now. But it’s been fun!

Among other things, have reorganized my writing space and bookshelf. In the process, I’ve been stopping frequently (because I can!) to re-peruse some of my old favorites. And I ran across a couple that I not only recommend, but would dearly, dearly love to see on the big screen. I mean, really. Why is Hollywood remaking everything, or snapping up only the latest, hottest works for screen adaptation? There’s so much cool stuff out there already, like the following.

First up, two postapocalyptic dramas, both of which I’m calling “the anti-Road“:

Murphy, Pat: The City, Not Long After. The hippie apocalypse. Clueless Westerners appropriate the sacred monkeys from a monastery in the East, and thus unleash a plague that wipes out Western civilization. (I specify because it’s not clear whether the rest of the world is affected.) The story focuses on a bunch of artists living in a depopulated San Francisco in the aftermath, generally doing pretty well for themselves. But when the stock Colonel McBabyeater-type appears halfway through the novel, hell-bent on reestablishing Order or Justice or something, the artists decide to fight back… with art. Includes a truly brilliant sequence paying homage to the Terracotta Warriors, some Rube Goldberg offensives, and the Golden Gate Bridge being painted blue. Also, some of the most hauntingly beautiful prose I’ve read in years. Very spare and understated, but it packs a wallop.

Palmer, David. Emergence. The Pippi Longstocking apocalypse. I read this book when I was a teenager and loved it sooooo hard. It still holds up now that I’m re-reading it as an adult, which is more than I can say for most of my teenage book love affairs. In the aftermath of a genetically engineered plague that wipes out most of humanity, a new species of human emerges. (Get it?) The story follows 11-year-old Candy Smith-Foster, the most precocious, Pollyanna-esque, “proof that ‘Mary Sue’ does not equal ‘bad writing'” character I’ve ever read. She’s a genius! She’s a bajillionth-degree Black Belt! She’s really cute! Her father was a genius too, and just happened to build a nuclear-powered bomb shelter in the basement! But despite these eyebrow-raisers, the whole story is just a delight. Candy’s snarky personality carries it, and the realism of her encounters with fellow members of her species makes the utter craziness of the rest of the story work. It’s crack, but it’s high-quality, soul-satisfying crack.

Gladney, Heather. Teot’s War. I have a confession to make: I’m a Marion Zimmer Bradley dropout. OK, I read The Mists of Avalon. But despite repeated attempts, I’ve never been able to get into the Darkover books. OK, let me clarify; the Darkover books annoy me. I’ll share my rant about them some other time. Anyway…

As I recall, lo these many years ago, I was in the middle of ranting to a friend about The Bloody Sun when she suggested I read Gladney’s Teot’s War instead. “It’s the anti-Darkover”, she described it. Oh, and it is — though alas, this may be why the book and its sequel, Bloodstorm, went out of print, the trilogy unfinished. In any case, the story is set in an unplaceable fantasy kingdom, which I suspect is a very postapocalyptic northern Africa. The focus of the tale is the Lord of Tan, ruler of a group of pale-skinned newcomers trying to eke a life out of the harsh new land they’ve settled in; and Naga Teot, a black native warrior. Teot is impulsive, driven, and has a snarky sense of humor. Teot is also quite possibly insane. He sees visions of the future, which happen to come true. But more than anything else, he’s also an absolute asskicker in a fight, and when he decides to give his oath to the Lord of Tan, the two of them become an unstoppable force of nature — handy, because a conquering nation from the south is coming with technologically advanced war-machines, and both Teot’s and the Tan people are under threat. This is a Conanesque buddy story in a Mad Max setting, which for its time — the book was written in the 1980s — does a fantastic job of handling multiple cultures, race, gender, and class. Plus it’s just fun. I would love to see Teot in battle on the big screen; he fights like a dancer.

Friedman, C.S. In Conquest Born. I’ve raved here before about Friedman’s epic-fantasy (though science fiction-flavored) “Coldfire” trilogy. But I first discovered her through her science fiction, as I was attempting to learn to love space opera. After bouncing off of many of the genre’s staples, which I felt had too much “idea” and not enough character, someone recommended this book to me. I didn’t read it for months, because it looked supremely boring from the back-cover blurb. Blah blah blah warring empires supersolders versus psychics anybody got the time? But. I started reading it, and was instantly hooked by the characters. Some of them we see only once and never again, yet they linger in my mind — and I haven’t read this book for ten years. The story doesn’t matter. Okay, it does — it’s just that the story isn’t what makes it work. It’s a stock space opera in every way. But so was the rebooted Battlestar Galactica, and that one worked because of its characters and unflinching (until THE LAST EPISODE, what the hell was that last 30 minutes I don’t even know but I’ll rant about that later too) look at deep questions about humanity and civilization. In fact, that’s it — I want to see this book done not as a film, but as Ron Moore’s next TV space saga. With Bear McCreary doing the music, because he is awesome. And I want Katee Sackoff to play Anza! With… hmm. Oded Fehr as Zatar. OMG I think I would die! ::fansquee::

Butler, Octavia. Mind of My Mind. You wanna know my favorite Octavia Butler book? It’s this one — in which a teenaged girl has to face the baddest mofo low down around this town: Butler’s anti-psychic ubervillain, Doro. Mary, the book’s protagonist, is Doro’s daughter — a volatile teenaged girl whose anger hides an abusive past and terrible fear. Because Mary is special. She’s the culmination of one of Doro’s breeding experiments. And if she manages to survive her own maturation, she has a bigger fear to worry about — Doro himself.

What gets me is that Butler actually makes me feel sorry for Doro — Doro! He eats people’s souls like potato chips! Bad enough she made me actively bawl for him at the end of the previous novel, Wild Seed, but in this one she displays all the mindfuckery she’s so damn good at. C’mon, Hollywood, this one would be cheap to make! Just set it in any big city, in the shittiest neighborhood, and get a couple of really good actors to pull it off. I think Chiwetel Ejiofor would be good as Doro (and Doro’s voice, since he never has the same body). And don’t make him speak in some wack American accent! Let him be his beautifully British self. As for an actress to play Mary… hmm. Maybe a very talented unknown, since I can’t think of any very young, light-skinned black female actors at the moment.

Clarke, Arthur C. Childhood’s End. Why has no one made this into a movie? Nearly every other Golden-Age SF novel has been movie-ized or at least been given an episode of The Outer Limits or something, but not this one. Is it because the end is kind of a bummer? Is it because the main protagonist is a black male? Is it because of the religious subject matter? All of the above? ::sigh:: Hollywood, I am so disappointed in you.

Because this book, in the hands of the right filmmaker, could be as profound as 2001, but on a Moon budget. The plot is a series of philosophical one-upsmanship games. Aliens arrive and fix the world. Great! But now humanity has little drive or spirit of its own. Whoops! So one of the last remaining heroic-types start digging into the aliens, and the aliens turn out to look like Satan. Scary! But they’re actually quite nice, and you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. Noted! But they have a Hidden Agenda (and no, it’s not lunch… but in a way, it’s worse). Gasp!

This is not my favorite SF novel by a long stretch. I actually have some serious issues with it; whoever makes a film out of this would have to work hard at creating three-dimensional characters, since Clarke didn’t. But I do think it’s thought-provoking, quite beautiful in some ways, and in its own way deeply spiritual. I think it would cause audiences to leave the theater in silence, spend the next few days digesting what they’ve seen, and then start raving at everyone they know to go see it too.

OK, this is getting long, so I’ll stop here — though I reserve the right to continue this list at any point in the future.

So — what old SF books would you like to see get the Hollywood treatment?

14 Responses »

  1. Some excellent suggestions there. I think I’d like to see Heinlein’s Moon is a Harsh Mistress, and perhaps Asimov’s Foundation (done right).

    Emergence is great. I’ve got to go dig out my paperback copy…

    I’d love to see Wild Seed done as a movie as well as Mind of My Mind.

  2. I thought “Foundation” had been optioned, at least? Probably in development hell, if so… ::Googlety:: OMG, oh no, Emmerich has it. ::fear and trembling:: I just saw “2012”, and it was horrid. Every cliche in the book.

    I kind of want to see Wild Seed done, too; I love that book. But Butler deserves to be given the big-budget treatment, and I think Mind of My Mind works better for that. I want to see the nailbitey final confrontation between Doro and Mary done with SFX and everything. And I really want to see two A-list actors glaring at each other to convey that THE WORLD AS WE ALL KNOW IT WILL SOON END. Yeah, that would be so awesome. I’d like to see it done by Alex Proyas… hmm. Though I’m concerned he might overdo it on the SFX and the “look” of the film. I wonder if Kasi Lemmons is still doing films? I loved “Eve’s Bayou” — the perfect blend of wonder and tension.

  3. :waves!: It’s Maria, we spoke a few times at WisCon! :D

    I looove Pat Murphy. and CS Friedman.

    I’m re-reading Fire Dancer by Ann Maxwell, and would love to see it as a movie. It features Rheba, a Senyas ahkenet (a brown-skinned woman who has mastery of fire and energy), and her Bre’n (a lightly furred hottie who is her protector). They’re the last survivors of their world’s collapse, and are trying to find others from their planet. It turns out that the only other Bre’n/Senyas pair to survive their planet’s destruction are slaves really far away. So they go rescue them (it’s a Bre’n woman and an ahkenet who can control rain), cause a massive slave revolt, destroy THAT planet, rescue whatever former slaves they can, and agree to drop each slave off at their former planet while searching for more ahkenets.

    The only way it’d be a really awesome movie tho, would be if they kept Rheba brown (in my head she’s Zoe Saldana). I think if they managed to keep the visuals associated with her brown-ness and the gold veins of her power flaring as she goes nuclear on the Loo slavers, it’d be spectacular.

  4. Wow, memories of beloved books — I LOVED the Butler series that Mind of My Mind was part of — my first introduction to Octavia — before Kindred, even — I still have my paperbacks of all three (I think) including the ending book, called Patternmaster, which pulled it all together so brilliantly. And he was a great character, truly sympathetic, but so wrong in his ruthless search for others like himself.

    The best thing about it was that Doro’s centuries of cross breeding black folks with specific “abilities”, trying to perfect his “children” into a kind of psychic master race, also provided an explanation for the homeless “crazy black folks” I would see wandering the city talking to themselves in the 70s and 80s — they suddenly looked to me like just another one of Doro’s failures, lost in power and mystery with no way to understand or control it…

  5. I was going to suggest The Stars My Destination, but IMDB says that it’s already in development for 2012. No details on who’s attached, but if done justice I think that book could make a fine movie.

    On the subject of Clarke, I think Rendezvous With Rama could have some potential, especially visually. Like Childhood’s End, it would need to have a few relatable characters injected into it. Apparently Morgan Freeman and David Fincher were involved in a film adaptation that fell through recently.

    Out of curiosity, can you see 100K as a movie? I just read it, and loved it, and I think the visuals would look great on the screen. But you’d need some capable performers to capture all the duplicity and double meanings in everyone’s speech; plus, the whole Enefa-Yeine inner dialogue would be tricky. Still, I’d definitely see it.

  6. Hi Quinn. I guess I could see 100K as a movie… but I say that with great reluctance. Given the likely visuals that would have to be depicted, I don’t think it could be done without a big budget for effects, and that means it would probably have to be a major Hollywood studio production rather than an independent film. But Hollywood seems convinced that it’s impossible to depict women or people of color as three-dimensional characters and still appeal to the whole moviegoing audience — that’s if they put a woman or PoC in the lead at all. I can’t remember the last major Hollywood film that put a woman of color in the lead role, that wasn’t a comedy or marketed solely to the PoC audience. Aliens vs. Predator, maybe — but that was 6 years ago. I can’t think of anything since.

    So I suppose that if the movie was helmed by a director I could trust, and that director chose actors who were right for the role — and I don’t mean just racially; I mean they’d need to be able to act, since the story hinges on characterization… then I’d be able to see it as a movie, yes. Easily. I would love to see the palace Sky floating above the city, or Yeine confronting Dekarta, etc.

  7. There was Halle Berry as Catwoman (2004), but as you say that was 6 years ago. Further, They made a bad job of it, so box office not so good. However, that got blamed on female lead — people men don’t like female leads, They keep telling us.

    BTW, in that thing about whether or not Mike Resnick is an African or not? What he is, is having his vision of Africa from the perspective of the bwana. It has nothing to do with loving Africa or visiting it or anything else. It’s that no matter what the focus of the story may be, it is alway filtered via the bwana’s viewpoint.

    Also some of his stories are really off the mark when it comes to things in African countries. For instance, if the writers had been paying any attention to how transport of goods is done all over Africa, they’d never have concocted that sentimental codswallop, “Bibi,” of an ancestor of human beings who still cared so much that she managed to magically stop HIV infection in Kenya. Very shortly after that story was published was listed as the most HIV postively infected population in the world at that time.

    That story is merged two of what SF does wrong almost all the time, at least through that period: all those really stupid and WRONG stories of HIV infection, plus the Matter of Africa.

    One cannot help but wonder how anyone thinks one can write with truth and authority about any culture among the thousands and thousands in Africa and not notice rhythm and dance or the view from the barracoon.

    Love, C.

  8. I can think of several off the top of my head:

    The Wanderer and the Fafhrd & the Grey Mouser stories bt Fritz Leiber.

    The High Crusade and Tau Zero by Poul Anderson.

    The Merchanter series by C J Cherryh.

    The Boy Who Bought Old Earth by Cordwainer Smith.

    Cities In Flight series by James Blish

    Just trying to think of some that would come across visually.

  9. Oded Fehr…sigh. He’s one of the two reasons I have a copy of the first two modern Mummy movies; the other is Brendan Fraser. :) I think Fehr would make an excellent Niun in a film version of CJ Cherryh’s Faded Sun trilogy. It’s not a “Golden Age” SF novel, but I love the story and the characters, and a good sword fight is always in order.

  10. Very belated, sorry —

    BTW, in that thing about whether or not Mike Resnick is an African or not? What he is, is having his vision of Africa from the perspective of the bwana. It has nothing to do with loving Africa or visiting it or anything else. It’s that no matter what the focus of the story may be, it is alway filtered via the bwana’s viewpoint.

    I’m not sure I’d agree with this in the case of his “space Kikuyu” stories. Granted, they still espouse a quintessentially Western philosophy — that progress is inevitable and resisting it is wrong and dangerous. But he *tries,* IMO, to really get inside the heads of his Kikuyu characters and depict their worldview respectfully. I don’t know if it’s *accurate*; I know diddlysquat about the Kikuyu, other than that for some reason white writers seem to love to write about them in their pre-colonial state (I’ve probably read more white-authored stories/novels about the Kikuyu than any other African ethnic group, and none of those stories has focused on the Kikuyu *now*). But it feels like an attempt to Write the Other right. The people in question will have to say whether they think he did a good job of it or not; I don’t think any Westerner can judge that.

    What’s this Bibi thing you’re referring to? Can you give me a reference? I’m not familiar with that at all.

  11. http://www.fortunecity.com/tattooine/farmer/2/bibi.htm

    Why the Kikuyu?

    Because Kenya, the grand romantic fantasy dream kingdoms of aristo Brits colonial Africa of devoted service, unlimited license. Out of Africa ya’all? Not all of them worked like Karen Blixon did, and even she came with cases and cases of china, silver, damask, etc.

    See the bibliography of Dame Edith Huxley — I love her memoirs of growing up there, but the blindness to what was going on, and her works to justify it in adult life are more difficult to handle the older I get. But her African life made for a fascinating character and life tale in its own right — but again at the cost all the way down the line of the people whose lands they invaded and then attempted to make into their own image back home of a still feudal society. Again, then, the perspective of the bwana.

    For the license see White Mischief by James Fox. These are the people who ruled Kenya, who gave us the grand dream of perpetual safari as one version of privileged, entitled heaven.

    This where the Kikuyu lived, as well as some Massai, who also white people rather admire because they work with cattle and are WARRIORS, while, as per usual in most places in Africa, other than fighting and hunting and making music, the men do no work at all. The perfect nobel savages. Not even the Brits could break the way of the Massai. Except, of course by building on top of their migration routes, so then for some long time, they went around. Now, well, life is not so good for the Massai.

    For many reasons (fall of 2011, for instance, will be spendng a month in a bush compound in Angola, studying the Kongo writing system which is signs that signify drum tones — an important aspect of the research into the origins of language) I know quite a bit about Africa and have strong personal relationshipos with people from quite a few African cultures. (These are peer relationships, btw, not service ones, from either side.) I feel my opinions in these matters are at least somewhat informed.

  12. For further context you might like looking at these entries by someone who knows East Africa’s past and present very well, who is also an academic. The Teddy Roosevelt material is particularly apposite to MR, who engaged in a project to re-publish these big game white hunters’ memoirs and bios, and who admires TR without reserve — at least as far as I have been able tell.

    “Roosevelt As Sports Writer” —

    http://zunguzungu.wordpress.com/2010/06/24/roosevelt-as-sportswriter/

    “Africa as an Anti-Empire of Signs” —

    http://zunguzungu.wordpress.com/2010/06/10/africa-as-anti-empire-of-signs/

  13. I want Babel 17.

  14. Actually the BBC made Childhoods End quite a while ago. I’ve seen it ;) Look at wiki entry for Childhoods End…

    I’d LOVE to see John Varley’s Golden Globe done up, or even his Gaia series (wizard, demon, those).. The very first story of his that pulled me in was “Persustance of Vision”… Still one of my longtime faves…

    I know Foundation is “being considered, many are thinking that its time might be right, but I worry about the screenplay… A bad writer or too much Hollywood-ation would just ~ruin it…