Instead of embracing original storylines, Hollywood instead dumbs things down with countless superhero action flicks or reimagines novels that have already been made into movies: Planet of the Apes, I Am Legend, Total Recall, Solaris, The Stepford Wives…
There are hundreds – no, thousands – of novels out there that could make better motion pictures than the remake of Rollerball, for example. The novels listed below are my humble suggestions to Hollywood producers, who will undoubtedly not be making any of these into feature films any time soon because they’re either too edgy, don’t appeal to a mainstream audience, aren’t commercially viable, etc.
Bottom line: there are no excuses. Like the aforementioned celluloid classics A Clockwork Orange and 2001: A Space Odyssey, go big or go home. Science fiction and fantasy isn’t about playing it safe – it’s about breaking new ground, imagining something never before imagined, trying to hit it out of the park.
Chances are that I’ll be watching yet another remake of Planet of the Apes before ever seeing these novels on the big screen – but a guy can dream, can’t he?
This Hugo Award-winning novel is the best – and most insightful – post-apocalyptic novel ever written. Set in a Utah monastery centuries after a nuclear war devastated the Earth, Brother Francis Gerard of Leibowitz Abbey is on a Lenten fast in the desert when he uncovers an ancient fallout survival shelter containing puzzling clues into pre-Flame Deluge culture. Some of the findings may even have belonged to martyred “booklegger” Isaac Edward Leibowitz himself, a priest who dedicated his life to saving knowledge for future generations. But will Brother Gerard’s discovery help humankind avoid another self-inflicted catastrophe? In my favorite edition of this novel (I have several), Mary Doria Russell puts it perfectly in her introduction: “you’ll be different when you finish it.”
Set in a near future that is garish, superficial, and obsessively self-absorbed, Armstrong's stellar debut novel is as thematically compelling as dystopian classics like Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, PKD’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, and most notably, Burgess's A Clockwork Orange. Equal parts ill-fated love story à la Romeo and Juliet, poignant coming-of-age tale, and disturbingly provocative glimpse into humanity's future, Armstrong's singularly unique debut is unforgettable – nothing short of a science fiction masterwork.
I’ve described Priest’s Boneshaker, an alternate history/steampunk adventure set in 19th century Seattle, as a “transcendent masterpiece of imagination.” With the Civil War still in full swing, this story has a walled city filled with poison gas, zombies, airships, and a cast of brilliantly realized characters. But the beautiful thing here is that if the Boneshaker movie is commercially successful, there are several more Clockwork Century stories to tell! And think of the steampunk merchandising!!!
The first of LKH’s historic Anita Blake novels, this storyline has it all – mystery, romance, supernatural suspense, horror, and, yes, erotica. If done correctly, this sexy and stylish franchise could make the Twilight saga look like an after school special. Blake is a divisive and iconic literary figure – and seeing her and her entourage on the big screen would, I believe, be a positive thing and spark productive dialogue about personal freedom, tolerance, sexual repression, etc.
Whenever I see really bad movies based on fantasy novels (Eragon, The Golden Compass, etc.), I always think of Moorcock’s Elric, the last emperor of Melniboné, ruler of the dreaming city, and keeper of the ruby throne. There are so many positives when it comes to making this series in a movie franchise – awesome world building, fantastic characters, relentless pacing, nonstop action… Elric is an albino sorcerer with a soul-sucking sword. Enough said!
On a nameless planet at the edge of a vast intergalactic empire ruled by an immortal emperor/god, Ostvan is one of innumerable carpet makers, revered craftsmen who spend their entire lives knotting together intricate carpets from the hair of their wives and children. Once complete, the hair carpets – invaluable works of art – are collected and transported to the Emperor’s home planet by imperial shipsmen, supposedly to beautify his sprawling Star Palace. But when strange offworlders begin spreading heretical rumors about the Emperor’s death and asking probing questions about the strange hair carpets – where they’re really sent to and why – the elaborate mystery of the carpets is slowly unraveled: with mind-boggling revelations! This debut novel from Eschbach is a sweeping saga told through the interconnecting lives of dozens of remarkable characters (adventurous explorers, ignorant preachers, arrogant rebels, wily peddlers, etc.) – and the jaw-dropping conclusion is unforgettable!
KSR’s The Years of Rice and Salt is an absolutely mind-blowing read that is breathtaking in scope, chillingly timely, and profoundly powerful. Although it's billed as an alternate history of mankind's last 700 years, it is so much more than that. It's about the significance – or lack thereof – of religion, fate, and the human spirit. It's about the meaning of life. Why are we here? Is there a god? Is the soul eternal? Does it all really matter? This is a life-changing read – and could be a life-changing movie.
My reasoning here is essentially the same as wanting to see an Elric movie but with Salvatore’s signature character, the dark elf Drizzt Do’Urden, there would be a deeper, more existential, undertone. Drizzt – the proverbial outsider – is an incredibly complex character, one that could appeal to a wide variety of people. And like Boneshaker, tons of merchandising opportunities here – like miniature scimitars in Happy Meals!
Both of these novels deservedly won the Hugo Award. Everything about these novels is immense: the scale, the scope, the ideas, the world building, … To see these two novels as motion pictures would be heavenly.
What science fiction or fantasy novel would YOU most like to be made into a movie?
Paul Goat Allen has been a full-time book reviewer specializing in genre fiction for the last two decades and has written thousands of reviews for companies like Publishers Weekly, The Chicago Tribune, Kirkus Reviews, and BarnesandNoble.com. He is a member of the National Book Critics Circle. You can follow him on Twitter at @paulgoatallen and get all the latest Barnes & Noble book news from @BNBuzz.