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?