Four book series that are shaping the future of science fiction on television
If recent Hollywood deals are any indication, science fiction on TV is about to get even more interesting and complex. The trend started with the surprising announcement in late 2016 that Lin Manuel-Miranda’s next project—after completing his run on Hamilton and writing the music for Moana—would be to adapt Patrick Rothfuss’ cult fantasy series The Kingkiller Chronicle for TV and film. Just in the past two months, three more gamechanging options were announced: HBO will adapt Nnedi Okorafor’s Who Fears Death, award-winning filmmaker Ava DuVernay is working on a TV adaptation of Octavia Butler’s Xenogenesis trilogy, and TNT has snapped up N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy. All of these books represented major shifts for the science fiction genre and, until recently, would probably have been considered unfilmable.
To understand the magnitude of this change, consider the Xenogenesis trilogy. Octavia Butler published these cerebral alien invasion novels in the 1980s, shortly before she became the first science fiction author ever to win a prestigious MacArthur “genius grant.” The books follow three generations of people after an advanced alien civilization of three-gendered, tentacle-covered creatures has created hybrid children with the dying, post-nuclear remnants of humanity. It’s a multi-layered story about colonialism and survival, and it includes surreal scenes in which we enter the minds of aliens to experience their unique sensorium. Though critically acclaimed and widely read, the novels never made it to the screen.
One issue was pragmatic. Imagining these novels coming to life without a James Cameron-level budget is hard. Today, however, special effects are cheaper than ever. A clever combination of practical effects and CGI could render Butler’s aliens and their biotech spaceships.