Adapting SFF to the Screen

Here’s a post at tor.com: Please Adapt: Scott Lynch’s Gentleman Bastard Series

[W]e’re readers, and the innate desire to see some of our favorite stories adapted successfully into a visual medium is strong. Maybe every book isn’t fit for the screen, and that’s fair. But I can think of myriad stories I’d love to see in theaters or on streaming services.

In my new “Please Adapt” column, each installment will feature a book or series deserving of a breakthrough. In some cases, I’ll focus on books that have been optioned or entered development but haven’t made it all the way to the screen yet. In others, I’ll dive deep into series that have yet to garner the attention of Hollywood’s creative forces and explain why the head honchos at filmmaking firms should take notice. I’ll examine series that I believe could be incredibly successful if adapted to the screen. I’ll even offer suggestions for the proper medium or perhaps suggest a creator whose style and flair could be a nice fit for the content and style of the original story.

This is a good idea for a column — everybody has opinions, everybody will enjoy the thought of great adaptations even though they’re unlikely ever to happen. Even I like this whole idea even though I seldom see movies or watch TV series.

I watched The City and the City over Christmas Break; did I ever mention that? I liked it well enough at the time, but was much (much) less impressed after going back and re-reading the book. There were so many important changes and most of them were for the worse. I was ticked off at giving Tyador Borlú a wife just so he could have a tragic backstory that would lead him to do stupid things. I was insulted at the ridiculous and unnecessary addition of the Huge Cavern of Wonders at the archeological dig, and at the stupid way Borlú fell off a cliff there. And I was disgusted at the ending, which was amazingly cool in the book and entirely unimpressive in the movie. A few details in the movie were neat, and the way both cities were shown as fairly awful dystopias was very neat, and I liked the movie version of Qussim Dhatt just as much as the book version. But overall, the adaptation was not great.

Still, let’s assume a superb adaptation for some story we love. What would you most like to see as a movie or minieseries? I’m sure I’ve written a post about this before, but it was probably a long time ago. So:

FIVE SFF NOVELS THAT WOULD MAKE A GREAT MOVIE (OR MINISERIES) —

1) Martha Wells’ The Death of a Necromancer.

This is the one I’m sure I’ve mentioned before in this context. This would be incredibly cool and not much more difficult than any show with a historical London setting. You might need to avoid showing extremely identifiable London-specific landmarks, but fundamentally a gaslamp London setting would work fine. Then you add the foray into the bowels of the prison and the giant undead fey monsters and so on. I’d probably trim the finding-our-way-through-various-tunnels parts. The casting would be the most important thing, and imo the most important roles aren’t Nicholas Valiarde and Madeline, but Nicholas Valiarde and Inspector Ronsarde. (Madeline is also important, yes.)

I have to admit that I would also join everyone else in creation in clamoring for a Murderbot adaptation, at least if it were true to the stories. Nevertheless, though The Death of a Necromancer isn’t my favorite of Wells’ books, it is the one I would most enjoy watching as a TV series or movie.

c) The Touchstone trilogy.

This would be so much fun! Plus it’s episodic enough to fit really well into a miniseries. I’m sure it could probably be trimmed, but the most difficult part might be handling a large cast of Setari. I realize being somewhat face-blind may make this seem like more of a concern to me than it really would be, but there are so many of them and they’re hard enough to keep straight the first time you read the story. It might be okay to let some (a lot) of them blend into the background of black-suited psychic space ninjas, but there are plenty who would need to be made distinctive. Bonus if you got Johnny Depp to play Mase.

If I were picking something else by AKH for an adaptation, it would certainly be And All the Stars. I’m a little surprised I didn’t think of that first. It would be a splendid choice. Also, I notice that I can get the audio version for $7.50 because I have the ebook. You know what, that sounds neat. I’m downloading that now.

3) Naomi Kritzer’s Freedom’s Sisters trilogy

I really liked this trilogy a lot. I mean, a lot. The link above goes to my review, so you can click through if you like. It’s a great story, complicated because it is a trilogy, so better suited to a series of movies or a long miniseries. Plenty of depth to the story. I would beg the producer not to add any unnecessary romantic relationships to the script. This could then be a great example of a long story that centers friendships rather than romances. I would greatly appreciate that.

4) The Goblin Emperor.

This would be simpler, since it focuses so much on Maia and a relatively small cast. Big scenery, impressive decor, but fundamentally a much more straightforward story. It might even fit into a single movie (I guess), although I always feel more scope is better and would prefer a miniseries.

I have to say that I have not been nearly as interested in Thara as a main character. The second book of his series, The Grief of Stones, is due out in July, I see. Well, I would sort of like to read it, but only sort of. Reviews at Goodreads indicates that once again it does not feel especially self-contained.

5) I want to pick something of mine and I’m torn. I mean, I want to pick Tuyo because of course I do. But I also sort of want to pick The Floating Islands because the visuals would be so much fun. Or … I don’t know. The Keeper of the Mist also has nice visuals, especially at the end. I’m torn.

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9 thoughts on “Adapting SFF to the Screen”

  1. I think Tortall is perfect for a tv series – I think it’s probably optioned by someone, but ??.

    There was going to be a tv adaptation of Raven Cycle, but I think it died? I think Scorpio Races would make a great movie, though.

  2. Of these, “Floating Islands” and “Death of a Necromancer” would likely work best. The latter might even work as a play.

  3. Huh. I always pictured Death of the Necromancer as set in a Paris type setting. And the same in the sequel books(the Fall of Ile-Rien I think they are called). Maybe because the names all seemed to have a French feel. Although the bombing and shelling in the sequel series felt very WWII London.

  4. The Floating Islands would be amazing onscreen if it was done right. So many cinematic elements!

  5. Kathryn McConaughy

    I’d love to see the Vorkosigan series, but I think it would be very hard to do effectively since so much of the charm of the series is Miles’ perspective.
    Black Dog as a multi-season TV series!

  6. I’ve long been hoping that the Korean film industry would discover the Touchstone series, because they would be able to fill our screen with so many beautiful Setari! (Sorry, Rachel, Johnny Depp is too old!)(Here are some athletic candidates: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DH7-0HmTm20 (Love this choreography!)) They haven’t had a great track record with sci fi thus far, but they’re starting to up their game, at least in movies. It might help if Touchstone were made into a manhwa (Korean word for manga) first—and I would totally read it as a manhwa!

    I, too, vote for Floating Islands. With the right CGI artists it could be amazing! (Too much of Tuyo’s action is inside people’s heads!)

    And think of the costume design for Goblin Emperor! Could be so gorgeous!

  7. Mary Anderson, I agree! I always pictured a Paris-like setting because of the place names, character names, the catacombs and the sewers.

    More books to check out! I’ve never read Naomi Kritzer’s Freedom’s Sisters trilogy.

  8. Oh wait, I did pick up the first book and put it down during the pandemic, but based on your review I’ll give it another try. And the short up for a Hugo was delightful if I remember correctly but very different.

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