Now that we’ve learned that George R. R. Martin has populated Westeros with utterly horrible people who do utterly horrible things, let us ponder what other sci-fi or fantasy book settings would make for good television series. Most of these, you’ll note come from trilogies or long series, which makes sense. The more time an author has to spend in the world they created, the more detailed and consistent it can be. This isn’t an absolute rule, of course. Plenty of authors have loused up their worlds the longer they’ve lingered in them. The authors in my list, however, have done it right and I’d like to see them (or their estates) rewarded with some of that sweet, sweet television series money.
- The Land from The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, Steven R. Donaldson — I want to get this out of the way right at the beginning. So far as I’m concerned, Donaldson crafted the most wondrous, deep, and interesting fictional world in the fantasy genre since Tolkien. No one else is even close. On the other hand, Thomas Covenant is the textbook example of an anti-hero. His character has almost no redeeming qualities (and the few he has are so small as to be practically invisible) and he’s the only protagonist I’ve ever hated. He is abhorrent, through and through. Despite that, I still revisit the books because The Land is such an enchanting place to visit. Any channel that can handle the Boltons or Don Draper could probably handle Covenant, though, and, as we’ve seen anti-heroes are still very much in. I’d probably endure a Thomas Covenant series just to see what it makes of the Ur-Viles.
- Alera from The Codex Alera, Jim Butcher — Take your average fantasy world, stick it an ancient Roman frame and weave a refreshing and different magic system through it and you have the world of Alera. Butcher, whose Dresden Files books are the pinnacle of the urban fantasy genre, stuffed a lot of cool, different races in the six books including a foe that may not always be a foe and another foe that counts among the most implacable and alien species you’ll find in a fantasy series.
- Darwath from The Darwath Trilogy, Barbara Hambly — I’m not surprised if you’ve not heard of these books. Hambly wrote them early in her career, before some of her better-known stuff like her Star Wars and Star Trek tie-in novels, which are very good. These books take place, mostly, in very close spaces — a keep in the great land of Darwath in which the survivors of a great ongoing catastrophe now struggle to live out one last winter. We don’t get to see much of the greater world, but we do get to see how the world works, which is a testament to how skilled a writer Hambly is. Also, “the Dark” is a truly scary menace that would give a good director plenty of room to make a young adult audience (and their parents, too) jump.
- Lands of The True Game from the three True Game trilogies, Sheri S. Tepper — Speaking of a world practically made for young adult television, how about this one? Start with a young man who can change shapes, add in grand conflict based on chess (?!), throw in some intrigue and shifting alliances as well as a demon and boom. This, right here, is a Disney Channel show ready to be made. Oh, did I mention there are nine books in the series, the second set of which tells the story of the first hero’s mother and the second, his young lady friend who becomes a wizard? How is this not in production right now?
- The Real World of The Destroyer series, Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir — This is the series on which the Remo Williams movie was based and there is plenty of room in it for an over-the-top, commie-punching, Chiun insult-slinging, crazy sci-fi pulp adventure series that takes place in the here and now. Well, okay, it’d have to take place in the there and then since Murphy and Sapir’s world was not only firmly fixed in the Cold War but also in a world where a secret guild of agent-assassins set up by President Kennedy would battle a shape-shifting android created by NASA or undead Rasputin.
- Zombie Apocalypse Los Angeles from Ex-Heroes, Peter Clines — I know, I know. Another zombie world? Don’t we have enough of them? No, my friend, we do not, not so long as Peter Cline’s masterful blend of zombies and superheroes remains only in book form. Oh, you perked up when I said “superheroes”, did you? Good. Gooooooood. Clines marries the familiar geography of the world we know with a horrible catastrophe and ongoing conflict between zombies, zombie lords, superheroes, the U.S. Army and, well, lots more. Maybe we should save this one for a series of movies, instead? No, let’s do this on television and make it a series of miniseries.
- The Mouse Territories from The Mouse Guard, David Petersen — I believe there is room for a good show about anthropomorphic animals that lies between Redwall and Watership Down. Stop laughing and check out The Mouse Guard. it’s a comic book — graphic novel, whatever we’re calling it these days — that focuses on the heroic mice who protect travelers from the perils of the wilderness. A world like this provides a ton of story hooks. For instance, what would a minor snowfall of two or three inches seem like to a community of mice? How about a stream that overflows its banks or the arrival of a new predator pushed out of its old home? The magic here is in refocusing our view from the very large to the very small and it could be riveting television.
- Rocky Beach, California from The Three Investigators, Robert Arthur, Jr (et. al., and, loosely, Alfred Hitchcock) — Forget the rebooted “Crimebusters” series of the late 80s and stick to the original set of books that first saw print in the mid 1960s. These books were as formulaic as they come — the investigators would come across a mystery with some sort of spooky or paranormal angle, they’d investigate, and find out there was always a mundane human cause. I loved these stories because they had just enough creepiness and mystery to keep me turning pages (much like the best episodes of Scooby Doo or Jonny Quest) but also had satisfying, logical endings. The Investigators went to all sorts of interesting locations around their home town, including an abandoned amusement park on Skeleton Island. If you can’t make a decent television series out of that, I can’t help you.
- The Territories of The Talisman, Stephen King and Peter Straub — I don’t know how Hollywood has passed on this book when it’s turned other inferior King stories into middling movies (Dreamcatcher, anyone?). The Territories has more than enough to fill a good 13-episode series of television and would make a fair introduction to the Gunslinger series, which is where Hollywood really wants to go in the King-iverse. I’d let The Talisman stand alone because it’s a strong story set is a rich and interesting world. It is that world that provides almost all of the “gee whiz” moments in the books, especially as the plot drives toward the climax, quite literally, on rails. Hop to it, Hollywood. Let’s see us some Twinners and Wolfs.
- The Westlands from The Wheel of Time, Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson — I hesitate to put this one here, but I really must. My problems with Jordan’s bazillion-book series was never that the world he built wasn’t captivating but that he couldn’t tell a story in a straight line. I won’t go into my specific beefs here except to say that anyone who wants to turn these books into a television show or series of movies will have to have a very sharp and durable editing machete. On the other hand, I’d watch that show. The first two books of the series are among the very best fantasy novels I’ve ever read. The magic system Jordan built, the mythology of the world, and how everything in the books (or at least everything important) flows from them are brilliant. I want to see Aes Sedai fighting off Trollocs. I want to see the Aiel in action.
BONUS NUMBER ELEVEN WHICH ISN’T SCIENCE FICTION OR FANTASY AT ALL! HA! THREW YOU FOR A LOOP!
Normal, yet Unbelievably Spooky England from M.R. James’ ghost stories — You probably think there isn’t a market for “antiquarian ghost stories” set in small villages in early 20th century England (or occasionally France or Denmark) but I think you’re wrong. In fact, you shall be haunted by your wrongness with an unsettled feeling of being relentlessly hunted by a shadowy figure that carries with it unspeakable doom. So there. How do you like that? No? I didn’t think so. Seriously, though; if we could get Kolchak: the Night Stalker for a while why can’t we get an anthology ghost story series set in Spooky England? It wouldn’t cost much and the stories are pretty much written (and, I believe, most of James’ stories are in the public domain).
(Photo Credit: Drew Gillmore)
“Now that we’ve learned that George R. R. Martin has populated Westeros with utterly horrible people who do utterly horrible things,…”
Hah. I learned that after the first half of the first volume. Put it down and never looked back.
Never heard of Butcher’s “Alera” series. Thanks for the pointer!
I love Barbara Hambly, and I think any of her extended series would make a good TV series. Darwath was seriously creepy, but I’d also love to see her James Asher Edwardian vampire novels done: non-glittery, non-Rice vampires in one of the great intrigue settings in literature: pre-WWI Europe.
I’m pretty sure you’re going to like the Codex Alera series. It’s not fancy fantasy, but every book is a fun read.
I almost went with “Those Who Hunt the Night” instead of the Darwath Trilogy, but I figure the three books will make a meatier setting. Good calls!
Damn, hit “enter” too soon. Victorian ghost stories are an untapped gold mine, I’ll agree. But I’d love to see a well-done, suspenseful but not gory anthology series of H.P. Lovecraft’s stories set in his fictional New England. Those would be glorious.