Some science fiction novels can't be translated into films, but others are perfect for big screen enjoyment. Here are our nominations for the next big scifi movies, ripped from the pages of your favorite books.
Unfortunately, there are a number of adaptations that don't meet or really fail expectations. Alan Moore's comic books come to mind. But the news that Roland Emmerich might be directing Isaac Asimov's Foundation Trilogy, and that Scott Derrickson is set to direct an adaptation of Hyperion isn't exactly promising either. So here's our antidote: A short list of books that would likely make good films (and television series) that would succeed in theaters, and be fun to watch.
Mars, Ben Bova
Ben Bova is a solid name in the SF genre, and Mars is a book that can easily be translated to the big screen. The premise is fairly simple and straightforward: 25 astronauts from Earth go to Mars, land, and begin exploring. There's the usual drama and excitement present here, but what this book really conveys is the sheer beauty and majesty of the Red Planet, something that really hasn't been done with films such as Red Planet and Mission to Mars, to name a couple recent ones.
Kindred, Octavia Butler
This is a time travel story by the late Octavia Butler, one that would be a good candidate for adaptation. The story revolves around an African-American woman in 1976 Los Angeles who is pulled back in time by her white ancestor, and has to reconcile the two eras, while working to ensure her own survival. Fast-paced and topical, this is the type of book that could do extremely well as a smart action-adventure movie.
This book has been optioned for a film, and reading through it in a day, I can see why: It's exciting, it's easy to get into and read and it's got a neat and tidy plot. There are archetypal villains, superhero teams with plenty of back story material for tie-ins and years of comics and a fun storyline. But there is also a realistic approach to the world of superheroes, something that Hancock proved was marketable. I suspect that whoever holds the movie rights to this book will be watching Watchmen's performance at the box office.
Probability Moon, Nancy Kress
This book is essentially what Stargate SG-1 should have been. The novel is set amidst an interplanetary war between humanity and the Fallers, an aggressive alien race. The main action occurs on World, where a human team discovers an artificial moon made from an ancient alien tech (which also allows for interplanetary travel) that might hold the key to humanity's survival. The plot is nothing new as far as movies go, but it is straightforward, interesting and a solid read. Visually, this could be stunning, with exploration on a planet and in space. There are also two sequels, Probability Sun and Probability Space, which could become sequels if the first movie does well.
Altered Carbon, Richard K. Morgan
Richard Morgan's first book is one that would be difficult to translate to the screen, but if done right, it would be a fantastic film. Set five hundred years into the future, the story revolves around Takeshi Kovacs, a former soldier, in a world where people can download their consciousness into other bodies. Kovacs is set to investigate a wealthy man's supposed suicide, and he uncovers a conspiracy that has wide-ranging impact. It's a hardboiled cyberpunk-ish crime noir novel with enough action and violence to keep viewers excited. The book has been optioned as a film with James McTeigue attached as director - if this happens it's good news because he worked on Attack of the Clones, The Matrix trilogy, Dark City and directed V for Vendetta.
Ringworld, Larry Niven
Ringworld, the tale of a dying halo world around a distant sun, is an absolute classic in the SF genre. The story is one of epic proportions, of exploration, romance, destiny and space opera – all good elements for a science fiction film. There is a lot of potential here, and a lot of possibilities for tone and content, with a direct and exciting storyline that covers high tech space travel to abandoned cities, feudal tribes, fantastic aliens, but also bigger themes of one's place in the world and similar notions. Plus, there would be some of the best visuals that you're likely to ever see on the big screen. Rumors of a film have existed since it was announced by the Niven in 2001, with the SciFi Channel announcing in 2004 that there would be a miniseries based on the book, but there has been little news since then.
City of Pearl, Karen Traviss
Karen Traviss burst onto the SF scene with her first novel, City of Pearl, which takes place in the near future with an expedition to Cavanagh's Star to reconnect with a colony for political and economic purposes. While there, the main characters are launched into a situation that involves first contact, interplanetary warfare and scientific discovery. This first book in the series is the most standalone, and could easily be made into a film, with the possibility of sequels. There is action, potentially cool CGI scenes and intelligent storytelling here that could work well on the screen, visually and story wise.
Coyote is a book that could take up several films without breaking a sweat. Steele tells a sweeping tale of political intrigue, planetary science and the building of a new society over the course of several sections, each a fairly self-contained entry in a larger story. The first section sees a future America (The United Republic of America), a pseudo-Fascist society that has sunk a good part of the economy into a mission that would colonize another world - Coyote. This first section alone could make a fantastic film, as could the next several stories as the new colonists take control of the ship and mission and build a new world. Not all of the stories could really be adapted, but there are enough there to make a very good franchise of films. Steele has already jumped the gun by posting a short ‘trailer' for a movie on his website.
The Icarus Hunt, Timothy Zahn
Timothy Zahn is arguably best known for his Heir to the Empire trilogy that essentially started off the Star Wars expanded universe (which would easily make for the next trilogy of Star Wars films that would no doubt top the prequel trilogy), but his non-SW books are also good reads. His standalone novel, The Icarus Hunt, follows the crew of a ship hired to transport a secret cargo across the galaxy, while a large corporation is set on eliminating them, hoping to force them out of business. Corporate crimes in space? We want to see this movie.
Where some books are fairly simple and easy to adapt, this book just isn't. It's complicated, daunting and deliberate, but it contains one of the most fantastic stories that I have had yet to read. It would take quite a bit of work to really get the essence of the book, but it could be edited creatively to capture some of the major plots - or made into a BBC miniseries. Set in an alternative 19th century England during the Napoleonic wars, this book features magicians fighting for their country, sorcerers who feud in drawing rooms, and the return of magic to England. The Lord of the Rings proved that what was thought to be an unfilmable tome could be turned into a fantastic set of films, while The Prestige has shown that late 19th century tales of magic can be both melancholy and fantastical. In 2004, the book was optioned, but the project seems to have fallen by the wayside.