Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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SF suitable for adapting to the stage

So here’s a thought: what SF stories, novellas, even short novels, might work reasonably well (or very well) if you tried to adapt them to a stage performance? I guess what you would want is:

–limited number of settings

— limited number of characters

–relatively straightforward plot

–high in drama, probably, rather than slice-of-life, but psychological drama counts

Not that I am an expert in adapting anything to the stage, but offhand those qualities seem suitable. I’m going to assume that special effects are in practical reach for everything and not consider how difficult that sort of thing might be.

So, how about it?

The first author who springs to mind for me: John Varley. He wrote short novels (Millennium) and many shorter works as in, for example, Persistence of Vision. Plus his work would totally appeal to many modern audiences, especially in the themes that deal with gender. It would be a public service to bring his almost completely forgotten work back into the public eye.

The cover of Persistence shown on Amazon is not NEARLY as good as the wonderful cover on my copy, which is this one:

The artist was Jim Burns.

So, as I said, Varley is the very first writer who springs to mind here. But who knows, maybe a close reading with stage adaptations in mind would establish that in fact his stories aren’t as suitable as my first impression suggests. So what are some other works that might be good for this purpose?

Okay, how about Dawn by Octavia Butler? The basic cast is two people for a huge proportion of the story; the basic setting one locked room. Then we do expand out of that room and that limited cast, but not to a huge cast or a vast number of different settings, as I recall.

For that matter, Butler also wrote the amazing story “Bloodchild” that might also do very well. Strictly limited cast and setting, fantastic psychological story.

Here’s a classic that might work very well plus it would be a period piece: “Nerves” by Lester Del Rey. I think the number of characters is about a dozen, and as I remember, the whole thing takes place in a nuclear power plant. Tense, dramatic story.

How about Hellspark by Kagan? Bigger setting, I guess you’d need at least two sets. As with any locked-room mystery, which is what this basically is, there’s a limited cast, plus I expect you could dispense with some of the characters. Plus it’s such a neat story.

Although big in a sense, it seems to me that Weber’s On Basilisk Station might be a good choice. Set almost entirely on one ship, with a relatively small number of important named characters. I think it could be turned into a pretty neat play.

So those are the SF stories that I came up with — what are some you all can think of that might be especially well suited to a stage adaptation?

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11 Comments SF suitable for adapting to the stage

  1. Mary Catelli

    Limited need for FX.

    VERY limited.

    I’d rather try to stage a galaxy-spanning adventure without FX than one in a locked room that needed them.

  2. Pete Mack

    Death of the Necromancer, perhaps? Small cast, limited scenery, etc. Tho’ novellas are likely more suitable.

  3. Rachel

    I was going to do a separate one for fantasy, but you beat me to it, Pete.

    There would have to be multiple scene changes for Death of the Necromancer — though you might be able to transpose scenes so that everything takes place in the one city. It would be a great choice for so many reasons, if it could be done!

  4. SarahZ

    Something that breaks most of those rules: My sister was in a really fun performance of Star Wars: The Musical while in college – they did the whole original trilogy. It used repurposed showtunes, so “I got the Force Right Here”, “I am the very model of a protocol and service droid”, etc. They had really clever low tech solutions for all the space battles.

  5. Hanneke

    The stories need to have no/little internal monologue – you can’t really put what a character is thinking on stage or in a movie/film.

    C.J. Cherryh’s new Foreigner book Divergence is out! It’s the middle book in this story arc.
    Now those are books it would be really hard to make into a visual medium like a play; so much of the action happens inside Bren’s head.

  6. Rachel

    You’re right, Hanneke, it would be difficult to handle all that internal thought. You could probably do it by having your Bren-like character dictate notes in a journal type of thing, though of course that would be a complete addition to the plot.

    And yes, I just realized that last night! I’m setting aside my issues with the previous book and re-reading that one in preparation for reading this one.

  7. Lex

    Perhaps Bujold? I think Cordelia’s Honor did not require too many sci-fi tricks/ special effects? But may be my memory fails me. Also, Rachel Swirsky’s stories, as those seem more thought-provoking than action-oriented.

  8. Rachel

    Lex, I too think that it would be neat to try a stage version of Shards of Honor. It might be tricky. There are … four? five? six? … different important settings: the planet later called Sergyar, Aral’s ship, Prince Serg’s ship, the prisoner of war camp, Beta colony, and Barrayar. So it might be a little complicated, though on the other hand, we don’t see very much of some of those settings. One room each might do for several of them.

    It would be great if it could be done well!

  9. Kootch

    That’s why I think Bujold’s “Mountains of Mour ning” is a better fit for a stage production. You have the murder of a baby and a seemingly open and shut case against a suspect. Most of the action occurs in the balcony from where Miles had to deliver judgement. The story progressively reveals a deep-seated tradition with a tragic backstory. We see young Miles, acting for his father the Count, and learning firsthand what ruling a territory entails. If done well, this would be classic stage.

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