So doubtless you’ve heard of this show called Game of Thrones. Attracted a bit of an audience, it has. Got a write-up in the New Yorker and everything. You may also have heard of the books they’re based on, A Song of Ice and Fire, by George R.R. Martin.
Myself, I haven’t dipped my toes into that particular pool yet for two reasons – A, I don’t have regular access to a TV connection at this point in my history, and B, as a bit of a completist when it comes to such matters, I’d prefer to read the books first (especially since what little I’ve read of R.R. Martin’s stuff has been pretty darn cool). But I have read Steven King’s Dark Tower series, which, as discussed in a previous article here, is going to be adapted into both a series of movies and a TV show (although recent developments may have slowed this down a bit). Seems that this is becoming a thing.
Personally, I’m all for it. It’s not like this is a new concept, of course; books get translated to the small screen all the time – but they’re usually stand-alone books. Either way, though, it works. In a medium where continuing plots and subplots stretched out over multiple episodes are the norm, writers have the opportunity to delve into aspects of a story that a movie would not be able to – and if this works for a BBC miniseries of Wuthering Heights, why can’t it work for a genuine show?
Well… no reason. ‘Cause it has, ‘cause, well, Game of Thrones. So without further ado (and because I’ve got to vary these articles at least a little after so many comics-related ones in a row), here are a few book series that I’d like to see adapted into TV shows.
Worldwar, by Harry Turtledove
The books: In 1942, at the height of WW2, a new source of conflict arises – aliens! More specifically, a species of reptilian extraterrestrials who refer to themselves merely as “the Race”. Bent on adding Earth to their star-spanning empire, they swoop down from the stars, loaded for bear – or rather, people.
At first humanity is caught completely by surprise, and it seems like defeat is inevitable. But the world, after all, is already at war, and before long Earth’s armies have turned their focus away from each other, and towards the common enemy.
So the scene is set for what seems like a most unequal battle. But are the scales quite as unbalanced as they seem? And if the Race are defeated, well – then what?
The show: I’m not generally a big WW2 guy when it comes to my choice in entertainment, but add alien invaders to the mix? Sheer gold. Stretched over eight books, numerous decades and every corner of the globe, Worldwar takes an already-epic conflict and turns it into a battle for the fate of humanity – as well as examining what happens after said battle is concluded.
What makes the series particularly fascinating is Turtledove’s skill at blurring the lines between the good guys and the bad guys. The aliens, for one thing, are portrayed as broadly sympathetic – sure, they’re trying to take over the Earth, but they’re basically just soldiers following orders, not to mention completely bewildered at this new culture that they find themselves dealing with. To them, we’re the aliens, and they cannot understand us at all. Also, this new leveling of the playing field brings out both the good and the bad in the ‘traditional’ WW2 players, as well – sure, there are heroic Americans and Brits and evil Nazis, but things are not as clear-cut as you’d expect. (One of the more sympathetic characters in the first few books, for example, is a captain in the Wehrmacht.) And even players who seem unambiguously good can display some shocking dark sides at times. It’s gripping as all get-out, with whopping big battle scenes, intrigue, espionage, double-dealing, sacrifice, tragedy, victory, romance, daring escapes, cross-cultural exploration – everything, in short, that makes a good war story work. If you haven’t read these books yet, what the hell are you waiting for? Do eet! Do eet now!
Anyway. All that aside, why do I think that this would make an awesome TV series? Well, mainly the sheer amount of characters and subplots that comprise it. A typical chapter shifts back and forth from about five or six different locations and as many (or more) different characters, each with their own unique viewpoints and perspectives. Heroes, villains, in-between – an episode could conceivably end with about five or six cliffhangers at the same time! For TV buffs who like a broad variety of complex recurring characters, a Worldwar show would be a dream come true – and for those who don’t, well… you’d have plenty of good stuff to keep your interest, anyway.
Mind you, this isn’t to say that there wouldn’t be some logistical problems. The show would require a huge cast to make it work, and realizing the sheer amount of events and locations would, at the very least, be complicated. And then, of course, there’s the fact that about half the characters are diminutive reptiles from another planet. Tricky, yes?
Still, though, I think it would be worth it. Worldwar appeals to history buffs and sci-fi fans alike, and has enough raw material to keep a show going for a good long time. I tell you, this thing would set the screen on fire if done right. Let it be shown, I say! Lizards VS Big Uglies – fight!
Wild Cards, by (among others) George R.R Martin
The books: In the year 1946, an experimental superweapon from the planet Takis made its way to Earth. Despite the desperate efforts of a rogue Takisian (later to be termed “Dr. Tachyon”) to stop it, the weapon was detonated over the skies of New York City, and its contents were released to the winds, sending a genetics-altering altering virus to spread where it will.
This customized alien disease quickly becomes known as the Wild Card virus, due to the completely random nature of its effects. Most infectees are simply killed, something that comes to be known as “drawing the Black Queen”. Others, termed “Jokers”, are merely deformed in some way, or beset by some unfortunate physical condition. And then there are the lucky few who remain physically unaltered, but gain some useful power or ability – flight, for instance, or super-strength, or telepathy. These are the Aces, envied by all and instant celebrities.
Decades later, the Wild Card has spread around the world, and society has become largely acclimated to it. New York, the site of the original explosion, has become the center of Wild Card life and culture. The former Bowery is now termed Jokertown, home to the largest community of Jokers in the world, while high in the Empire State Building is located Aces High, gourmet restaurant par excellence and gathering place for many of the more prominent Aces.
It is a world similar to and yet strikingly different from our own. It is a world of heroes and villains, of rich history and earth-shaking threats. It is the world of Wild Cards!
The show: To start with, let me clarify what I meant by ‘among others’. George R.R Martin was the one who originally came up with the series concept, yes, but the books themselves are (with a couple of exceptions) anthologies of linked short stories by numerous different authors, or what are sometimes termed “mosaic novels”. This has lent a tremendous richness to the franchise, as it has been fleshed out by some of the true greats of the sci-fi genre, including such names as Roger Zelazny and Chris Claremont.
As for the appeal, I don’t honestly have to tell you why this thing is worth adapting, do I? Just look at the concept! At its base, it’s a superhero universe of sorts, but with room for all sorts of stuff therein – gritty realism, stories of both the down-and-out and the rich and famous, celebrity drama, crime, aliens, tragedy, comedy, horror – and all largely based in an easy-to-realize urban environment. It’s a natural!
That’s just conceptually, though; the sort of plots you could do. What about the characters? They’re there, and they’re good. I’m not quite caught up on the series’ latest goings-on, mind you – the stuff I’ve read has been some of the older volumes – but I can still attest that Wild Cards has a collection of some exceptionally vivid, well-realized and intriguing characters. There’s the flamboyant alien bon vivant Dr. Tachyon, perpetually racked with guilt at his failure to stop the weapon’s explosion; the Great and Powerful Turtle, a telekinetic Ace who hides himself within a metal shell, the sinister Ti Malice, a parasitic Joker who manipulates others like toys, Yeoman, the vigilante archer who brings terror to the city’s drug dealers, the tragic Bloat, the elegant Chrysalis – and, perhaps most intriguing of all, the Sleeper, a man cursed with the power of new, ever-changing powers and mutations every time he wakes up. And those are only a few – there are dozens.
Now, admittedly I’m not the first to think of this – Martin sold the rights to the franchise to the newly-created SyFy Films last year, and they apparently plan to make a movie out of it at some point. That’s great, but I hope they don’t discount the possibility of a TV series, because I really do think it would be a natural for it. I mean, there are hundreds of stories to be told here – and not just ones based in NYC, either. Remember, the virus spread across the whole world, giving us international Aces and Jokers aplenty and a broad variety of different settings to film in, from Egypt to Europe to Africa to… well, everywhere.
It’s got a great concept, great characters, great stories to tell, and a built-in fanbase – what’s stopping you, SyFy? Get to it!
Doctor Dolittle, by Hugh Lofting
The books: In the days of Queen Victoria, in a little seaside village known as Puddleby-on-the-Marsh, there lives one Dr. John Dolittle, Esq.
To his neighbors he seems like an ordinary enough fellow, if a bit eccentric; a talented physician who somehow manages to make a living despite the fact that he hasn’t had a patient for a long time. Little do they know, however, that Dolittle is still working as a doctor – an animal doctor, the most skilled such doctor in the world.
How is this the case? He is one of the few people on Earth who can talk to them in their own languages. Taught this skill by his faithful parrot, Polynesia, the good doctor has become the world’s foremost authority on animal medicine, and the animal kingdom’s greatest friend. Aided by his many animal friends and Tommy Stubbins, his faithful young assistant, Dr. Dolittle will travel to every corner of the Earth – and even beyond – in the course of his quest for knowledge.
The show: OK, this one is a bit of an odd one out. First, of course, it’s quite a bit older than the other entries on this list, and differs greatly from them in terms of tone. And second, technically speaking it’s a bit of a cheat, because Dr. Dolittle has already made it to television – twice, even.
The thing is, though, in neither case has the adaptation been done well. For that matter, to my knowledge there has never been an adaptation that truly did justice to Lofting’s books, in any medium. The two TV versions were both (as best I can determine) cheap-jack animated dreck; the Rex Harrison musical comes pretty close (and holds some personal nostalgia for me), but isn’t really the ‘real’ Dolittle – and don’t get me started on those freakin’ Eddie Murphy movies.
This, to my mind, is a terrible shame. The Doctor Dolittle books are genuine classics of children’s… no, scratch that… of literature, period, and deserve better. If people are going to adapt them (and going by the above paragraph, they are), then let it be a worthy adaptation – at the very least, something that will draw new readers’ attention to the originals.
So what would be my idea? Well… another animated series, actually. But this one, naturally, would be good.
Really, the issue with adapting Dr. Dolittle to the screen is that you’ve got to make a guy talking to animals convincing somehow. Short of just fudging it and talking to them any old how, that leaves you two options – either you go the Babe route and make a big-budget movie with lots of convincing puppetry and animatronics, or you do it in animation, where the depiction of talking animals is commonplace. So if you’re going to do a DD TV show, you more or less have to make it animated, unless you’re OK with crippling production costs every episode.
That having been established, you then have two immediate priorities that need to be taken care of first thing. One, you have to make sure that the cartoon feels like the books. I know this sounds eye-rollingly basic, but aside from the Eddie Murphy movies, all the adaptations I’ve seen have taken the musical as a starting point. Uh… no. Not on my watch.
This isn’t to say you couldn’t import a couple of things from it. For instance, you could, if you wanted to, make the theme music a slightly altered version of ‘Talk to the Animals’, which is probably the song most associated with that version’s Dolittle – it’s a well-known song, it’s catchy, aids with viewer identification, blah blah blah. Also, the books didn’t really have much in the way of (human) female characters, something which the musical corrected by giving the Doctor a love interest. I wouldn’t go that route necessarily, but a younger female character around Tommy Stubbins’ age might work – perhaps she could be Dolittle’s ward or something. Aside from that, books only.
Two – and this may just be me overthinking things, but what the hey, at least I have thought about them – you should establish that the world Dolittle lives in is not quite like our own. Why? Simple – even if you accept the fact that the books are supposed to be taking place in the ‘real’ world, there are certain fantasy elements that would otherwise take an awful lot of explaining in this skeptical day and age. Establishing from the word go that this is not necessarily our world but one ever-so-slightly different in certain important respects would allow for that all-important suspension of belief. Never draw direct attention to these differences, just make sure they’re there.
How to do this? Well, lots of ways – subtle details of flora and fauna, maybe a touch of steampunk thrown into the mix. Mainly, though, I’d make the moon green.
Yes, I said green. Green. The moon.
There are two reasons for this – one, while the moon is not generally green in the real world, it’s close enough to the shades of moonlight we do get to be believable, as well as clearly establishing that this is not ‘the real world’. Two, at one point Dolittle and company visit the moon. It’s a terrific story with atmosphere aplenty, some of which (the keeping-in-air sort) is on the moon, along with copious amounts of vegetation. Therefore, green. Two birds with one stone – three, if you count not having to cut out several books worth of storyline from the series. Ta-da!
As for the rest? Heck, you’re talking about a classic series here; twelve books worth of said series, to be exact. The stories and characters are all there, including one of the broadest and most appealing sets of animal characters around. Sure, some things would have to be rejiggered a bit – for instance, I’d make sure that the recurring human characters were a bit more of a presence, since they sometimes disappear entirely for long stretches of time – but otherwise? Classic series, classic adventures, appeal for viewers of all ages – why hasn’t this been done before? Go freakin’ to it.
Emberverse, by S.M Stirling
The books: In the closing years of the 20th Century, the Change happened, and the modern world ceased to be.
What caused the Change was unknown, but its effects were all too obvious. All modern devices stopped working. Engines would not start, guns would not fire, generators would not generate. Computers, cars, airplanes, refrigerators – all gone. In the blink of an eye, the world was returned to an earlier, wilder age.
It was an age that many would not live to see. Millions – billions – died, struck down by hunger or disease or simple over-reliance on a technological infrastructure that was no longer there. Cities burned, and their remaining inhabitants were quickly reduced to starvation-crazed savages, hunting their own kind for food. Civilization, as we knew it, was dead.
Humanity, however, was not. The early chapters of the saga cover how various groups band together for survival, forming their own communities and subcultures and defending themselves against those who would overrun them. In so doing, they form the skeleton of a new world rising from the ashes.
Twenty years later, the sons and daughters of these founders – known as Changelings – have grown to adulthood. They have been told tales of the old world, but to them it is as alien as the surface of Mars. They have grown up in a world where a sword is as much of a necessity as a pair of pants, where highways are traversed only by horses and carts, and where danger is an ever-present companion even in the best of circumstances.
And it’s a good thing they are acclimated to it, for the world has changed in more ways than the surface details. Old powers, long since ignored or passed-over, are regaining a toehold on the earth – powers both good and bad. A new age of heroes is dawning, and it remains to be seen whether it will survive past its dawning, or be cut short by the gathering forces of evil…
The show: Oh man, this would be cool.
The Emberverse is one of those series that you recommend to everyone you meet. It’s such a simple premise, and yet the complexities that are extrapolated from it are astounding. S.M Stirling has turned the landscape of America (and the rest of the world, every now and then) into a fantastic network of clashing civilizations, each one with their own different theme, and each thoroughly plausible and fleshed out.
To start with, you have the Clan Mackenzie, formed by a Wiccan coven and now a thriving community of neo-Pagan Celtic badasses. You have the Bearkillers, founded by Lord Bear, the main protagonist of the first few books. You have the Portland Protective Association, a powerful mini-nation based around medieval themes. You have… oh, heck, there’s no end to them. Basically, this is one of the few scenarios where you can legitimately have a three-way battle between cowboys, knights on horseback and Roman (well, OK, Roman-styled) legionnaires and have it make perfect sense. If that doesn’t sound awesome on some level, then I’m sorry, but there may be no hope for you.
And even leaving aside the basic awesomeness of the premise, it offers such scope for amazing stuff! You’ve got epic battle sequences with longbows firing and people hacking away at each other with swords. You’ve got tense chases on horseback across perilous countryside with enemies right on your heels. For quieter sequences, you’ve got discussion and interplay between people of different creeds and cultures, and the examination of same, many of them ones that are entirely new. There’s even the occasional special effects that would be necessary as supernatural forces start to creep into the narrative. Visual razzle-dazzle aplenty.
And the characters – ye gods, the characters. I won’t even start listing ‘em off, but there are some great ones. You’ve got heroes, villains, statesmen, warriors, men of peace, pirates, kings, queens, princesses, chieftains, footsoldiers. You’ve got strong female roles aplenty, strong male roles aplenty, along with cowards, traitors and fanatics. You’ve got good guys who turn bad, bad guys who turn good, ambiguous types who play both sides. You’ve got roles for actors of all ages and races, young, old, black, white, Asian, Native American, whatever. This thing would be an actor’s smorgasbord.
Not only that, it’s a story that is broad in scope without being excessive in expense. Sure, you’d need costumes for everybody, and a few big sets built here and there, but this is a scenario that actually rewards taking shortcuts. Consider – we are talking about a future society using the remnants of the modern world for spare parts. Hence, cobbled-together stuff that looks like it was made in someone’s back yard is absolutely appropriate. You could raid junkyards for props and it would be fine. Yes, the story takes place all over the US, so location shooting would be a must, but that, too would be cheap. Shoot on old dirt roads and stretches of woodland, on beaches during the off-season and in old log cabins you can rent for cheap. I won’t pretend this is the sort of thing you could make for a steal, but relatively speaking? Not too pricey.
Now, some might point out that, as with Wild Cards, I’m a little late to the table here, as there have been murmurings that Sony may be interested in a series based on Dies the Fire, the first book. That’s great, and if it happens, terrific, but why stop there? There are nine books in the story so far, with a further four in the works. We’re talking enough material to go on for years – I mean like Star Trek long, with new developments, characters and situations popping up like clockwork in order to keep things interesting for quite a while. Heck, I can see spin-offs coming into being a’la what’s happened with the current Doctor Who – goodness knows there are enough unexplored corners of the series’ world to warrant such treatment.
I’m serious, people, this could be big. Big, baby! Adapt Emberverse, Sony – all of it! You’ll make TV history!