Friday, May 22, 2009

Stonekettle Station’s Top Ten Classic Scifi Novels That…

…should be made into mini-series.


Things that Chap My Ass about the Stinking SyFy Channel

You know, when they first came out with the SciFi Channel, I, like many fans, thought “At last! Bawahahahaha, at last!”

A channel dedicated to just us. Us Science Fiction fans.

A channel just for geeks, freaks, and nerds.

A channel where Star Trek, The Next Generation wouldn’t be pre-empted for Monday Night football or some Bass Fishing Classic (seriously, how do you get to be a professional bass fisherman? No, really, what exactly do you major in at Fat Lazy Bastard University to prepare yourself?  Beer and hookers? Is there a Union? and more importantly, who the fuck watches two guys in a boat, fishing?)

A channel where they’d show endless repeats of Space 1999, and Star Trek, and, hell, maybe even the excretible Starlost. With movies of the week like the classic Forbidden Planet and maybe Destination Moon and even the hysterically bad Moon 02.

A channel where they’d show interviews with great authors, like a video version of John Scalzi’s The Big Idea.

A channel where they’d show sneak peaks of upcoming SciFi movies and interviews with the cast, crew, directors and writers – kind of a TV version of the old Starlog Magazine.

A channel where they’d make cool new science fiction series without having to dumb it down for the mundanes.

A channel where they’d cover the conventions, live and in color.

A channel where they’d utilize modern technology to blog and plurk and twitter and connect us all.

Man, I was all kinds of excited.

Hell, if it was up to me, I would have gotten the rights to exclusively broadcast NFL football – and then preempt the game with about ten minutes to go. Up yours, jock douche bag knuckle draggers, how you like it? You may now pucker up and kiss my ass. La Dee Da, Bitches, name all the Planets of the Federation and maybe we’ll broadcast the rest of the game - at 11:30PM.  (You may, if you like, visualize me gleefully giving the finger to professional televised sports at this point).




Boy, it sure didn’t take long for that dream to die a small whimpering death, did it?

Instead of a SciFi channel, what we got was SyFy, which mostly consists of ECW wrestling and unbelievably bad movies like Mansquito and Snakehead Fish Monsters of Venus (or whatever it was called, like it actually matters), and Jennifer Love Hewitt hunting ghosts or some silly nonsense (seriously, the girl is nine kinds of funny, why she’s doing this crap is beyond me).

Every once in a while, they manage to pull a decent science fiction series out of their corporate sphincters, Farscape and BSG come to mind.  So it is possible for those running SyFy not to actually shit all over the only people who watch their wretched channel.

Now that BSG has proved beyond any shadow of a doubt that there is great profit to be made in quality Science Fiction, and that a great number of people like me actually prefer intelligent fare over the tractor-pull retarded nonsense of the ECW, and that a science fiction show can actually be referred to as “the best hour on television” by mainstream media, I’d like to suggest that those who run the SyFy Channel pull their collective heads out of their aforementioned sphincters and turn to some classic science fiction novels for inspiration.

In this day and age of relatively cheap and excellent special effects, a decent science fiction series can be done that would have been beyond conception even ten years ago.  And while I’d dearly love to see some of my favorite novels come to life on the big screen, few Hollywood blockbusters could do justice to them.  No, for them to be done right, they need to be a well made mini-series, done with the same dedication and passion as series like Firefly or the BSG reboot. That’s what the SyFy channel should be all about.

Take the following for example:

The World of Tiers, by Philip José Farmer. Specifically the first book in the series, The Maker of Universes.  Set in an artificial universe, upon an artificial planet built by godlike beings to resemble a world-sized  wedding cake, The World of Tiers is filled with strange creatures, odd and wildly varied civilizations, godlike creatures, Indians, knights, steamboats, long extinct animals, evil, good, and many things in between.  It’s a quest and a voyage of discovery – and the ending is both predictable and startling.

Ringworld, by Larry Niven. Louis Wu and his motley crew crash land on an Enormous Big Thing - a sun girdling ring more than a million millions wide. As Niven himself says, the Ringworld is an intermediate step between a planet and a Dyson Sphere.  They find mystery and adventure, floating cities and flying castles, betrayal and trust, old enemies and new friends, immortality, and the ruins of ancient star-faring civilizations beneath the light of the heaven spanning Arch. 

Starship Troopers, by Robert Anson Heinlein. A coming of age story that follows Johnny Rico from callow youth to seasoned and respected officer in the star spanning Mobile Infantry. The classic military scifi tale – and the only way to do this novel correctly is as a mini-series, ideally by the same folks who did Band of Brothers.

The Foundation Trilogy, by Isaac Asimov.  Still considered one of the cornerstones of Science Fiction and written on the scale of Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire, The Foundation Series spans the final centuries of a slowly dying Empire and the aftermath of its collapse. Possibly one of the greatest works ever.  Ideally, a mini-series would devote each season to each specific epoch in the series.

Rendezvous with Rama, by Sir Arthur C. Clarke. Explorers intercept and explore an enormous world sized ship as it transits the Solar System.  They attempt to unlock its secrets and are only marginally successful. Supposedly a movie adaption of Rama, led by Morgan Freeman, has been in the works for over a decade – but that movie is unlikely to be made. 

Alas, Babylon, by Pat Frank.  The classic post apocalyptic survival tale set in small town Florida, often imitated over the years, but rarely duplicated.  Ideally, I’d like to see this told exactly as Frank wrote it, set in late 1950’s America, complete with segregation, and Soviets, and poverty, and the moldering remains of the Gentile South.

The Forever War, by Joe Haldeman.  Another coming age tale and a conflict that spans centuries.  Less about war, than about the toll it takes on those who fight it and the civilization they leave behind - and how their war shapes that very civilization.  This novel was born out of Haldeman’s experience as a soldier in Vietnam, and ideally it would be filmed in the same manner as the classics of that conflict. Apocalypse Now and Platoon come to mind.

The Peace War, by Vernor Vinge.  Vinge’s breakout novel. Set in a world built upon the ruins of our own, controlled by descendents of scientists who ended war and imposed peace upon the world – at the cost of freedom, scientific progress, and the lives of millions.  In this world of ironclad dictatorship an old man who once discovered the technology used to rule the world, a women out of time who was once his love, and a young mathematical genius set out to destroy tyranny.  Along the way they discover a startling secret, turn it into a weapon, and change the world.

Pern, by Anne McCaffery.  (Technically, this is a fantasy, but what the hell). Technology has finally reached the point where the dragons of Pern could be brought to life realistically.  This is a classic tale of discovery and bravery and perseverance in the face of overwhelming odds. For twenty years I’ve carried in my head the opening scene to this series:  The great dragons and their riders soaring low over the exotic coastline of Pern with the Red Star flaming like an eye in the heavens above and reflecting on the dark waters below, and then rising up through jagged dark peaks just as the sun breaks above the horizon and Ruatha Hold appears against the Ramparts.  The Voice, by The Moody Blues is the theme song.

Titan, by John Varley.  Ringmaster, the first manned ship to Saturn, discovers and is destroyed by an ancient and insane world sized creature, Gaia.  The captain, Cirocco Jones, and her crew awaken scattered and shattered inside Gaia. The living world is built like an enormous Stanford torus. Stranded and alone, some altered beyond recognition, some damaged, and some changed in terrible ways, the people from Earth seek each other out and attempt to solve the mysteries of this inside out world and its bizarre inhabitants. Eventually, some of them storm heaven to confront the godlike Gaia herself.


Bonus picks:

The Blue World, by Jack Vance. A vast oceanic world with no land, populated by the descendents of shipwrecked criminals who live on giant sea plants and battle the mighty King Kraken himself. Just because, seriously, this would be so freakin’ cool.

World out of Time, by Larry Niven.  A cryogenically preserved man from the 1970’s awakens in the far future into the body of a brain-wiped criminal.  He has no rights, no citizenship. He’s a slave, and nothing more.  He is trained as a ramship pilot and sent to seed mankind among the stars. Along the way he escapes his fate and finds a way into the future. He returns more than a million years later to a vastly changed and dangerous Earth.

Hell, I’d even suggest David Gerrold’s Chtorr series, maybe that would get him to finish it.


And there you have it, Stonekettle Station’s Top Ten SciFi Novels that should be made into outstanding and captivating mini-series.


What books do you think would make a great science fiction series?


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Good choices all, Thordr, especially Hammer's Slammers - I loved those books.

    Of course, you do that, you've also got to do Pournelle's Falkenberg's Legion Series. Just sayin'

    Hey! I just realized that if I put my cursor over your avatar the head moves. Cool.

  3. Dammit, Thordr, you deleted your comment, which makes me look like I'm talking to myself.

    Does not.

    Yes, it does.

    No, it doesn't.

    Shut up.

    You shut up.


  4. David Drake's Hammer's Slammers, raw fast paced military sci-fi at is best. (could actually work as a series)

    W. Michael Gear's Forbidden Borderstrilogy, larger than life characters, massive ships, huge wars, and a trap the size of constellations.

    Terry Brooks’ Shannara series.

    David Weber’s and John Ringo’s Empire of Man series, don’t mess with a McClintock.

    Robert Jordan’s (RIP) Wheel of Time big characters with lots of development, huge involved stories with interlinking plot threads, only problem with this is that there is not enough money to do it justice.

  5. sorry Jim, I forgot the links, and I somehow doubt anyone would think any less of yourselves.

  6. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress - Heinlein
    Time Pressure - Robinson
    Snow Crash - Stephenson (like to see this one animated)
    Left Hand of Darkness - LeGuin

    Just off the top of my head. Will ponder more.

  7. I belive those would b great seris (particularly starship troopers) however i have to say their best series was Tremors, i loved the movies (as bad as they got) but i was quite saden and offended when they canceled it in it's 3rd season.

    And why didn't they put more fantasy fiction, correct me if i am wrong but arn't a majority of SCI-FI Fans fallowers of Fantasy, i mean TV has never been a big market for classic fantasy until LOR hit big at the box office.

  8. Speaking of Gerrold, his Star Wolf books always seemed very consciously written with a thought towards adaptation to the screen. Or maybe it's just all of his TV writing / teaching screenwriting coming through.

    I'd like to see C.L. Moore's "Vintage Season" even though it wouldn't be more than one episode. Actually, there are a lot of great shorts that would make good hour-long episodes.

  9. The Vorkosiverse (Bujold's Vorkosigan series). The Curse of Chalion would also be fun, but it might be too cerebral and not enough action.

  10. Miles Vorkosigan.

    That is all.

    Okay, not really. In addition to some already mentioned by you and others, I think the Agent Pendergast books by Preston and Child. Technically they're mystery/thriller/horror, but they rule, so there you go.

    Most of the Heinlein juveniles, in particular, Podkayne of Mars.Lucifer's Hammer by Niven and Pournelle. Also, The Mote in God's Eye (by both) and The Integral Trees (by Niven alone).

    Um, yeah. Pretty much anything by Niven and Pournelle...

  11. Yeah, let me second the Lucifer's Hammer / anything by Niven and Pournelle vote.

  12. I l;ike most of the suggestions already made, but here's some other:

    Fred Saberhagen's Berserker stories.

    Alfred Bester - The Stars My Destination

    Cordwainer Smith - Norstrilia. Also almost any of the short stories set in his Instrumentality of Mankind universe.

    Orson Scott Card - Ender's Game and Speaker for the Dead.

    Dan Simmons - Hyperion and Fall of Hyperion

    William Gibson - Neuromancer

    That'll do for a start :-)

  13. I'll also vote for Vorkosigan. One thing it's got going for it is that it's really accessible to non-Sci-Fi folks...great characters, lots of humor, unlikely hero.

    David Drake's Daniel Leary series. Another bunch of misfits beating the crap out of anyone who crosses them.

    The 1634 series. Hell, it's present day West Virginia dropped into the middle of 17th century Germany...what's not to like. (Also pretty damned easy to produce, IMHO.)

  14. I'm gonna have to throw Mutineer's Moon in here too - http://www.webscription.net/p-291-mutineers-moon.aspx

    So basic plot synopsis? The moon is a 50,000 year old spaceship. Enjoy.

  15. Dang, Vince, you beat me to the Ender books & the Hyperions!

    I'll add David Weber's Honor Harrington series to the list. You could get 5-10 years between the originals and fanfic out there!


  16. The Alex Benedict stories by Jack McDevitt, starting with one of my favorite novels A Talent For War. Lots of action and decent questions on what actually is history.

    For a while SciFi used to run old series marathons during the day. I managed to see all the episodes I missed of Space: Above and Beyond.

    Dr. Phil

  17. No offense, but nuts to all of that. I want to see Sentenced to Prism by Alan Dean Foster on the screen.

    It's one of my favorite novels. It may be nothing profound, but I like monsters, and this book's got 'em aplenty.

  18. You know, Scott, you bring up a very good point, there are a number of excellent Foster novels that would translate well into a decent mini-series. In to the out of is still my favorite of anything he's written though.

    And as long as we're wishing, Poul Anderson's Flandry (especially Ensign Flandry) series would be terrific.

  19. One that i would love to see, assuming that it is even possible to pull off is Mother of Demons by Eric Flint. http://www.webscription.net//p-287-mother-of-demons.aspx

    Flint with David Drake doing the Belisarius series would also be great, starting with An Oblique Approach http://www.webscription.net//p-300-an-oblique-approach.aspx

    And i second Nathan on both Leary and the 1634 series, more Flint and Drake.

    And can you imagine doing Drake's Redliners as a miniseries? http://www.webscription.net//p-341-redliners.aspx

    John Ringo's Council War series would also be great and it is't until the second book that any "Oh, John Ringo no!" moments start.

    With Scalzi, i think Old Man's War Might fit on a big screen, though TGB might be unfilmable, The Android's Dream needs a Miniseries treatment though.

  20. Pratchett's anything connected to the Night Watch.

    Stanislaw Lem's Travels of Ijon Tichy

    Definitely Anzhej Sapkovsky's The Witcher.

    Thank you all for a wonderful list of books to read.

  21. Jim, I'm surprised you left out GRRM's Tuf series. "The Plague Star" would make a great 2-hr theatrical release on its own, but you could reasonably adapt sll of them into a series of lower-budget TV movies tracing the arc of Tuf's corruption by absolute power.

  22. i'd love to see a Dennis L. McKiernan novel turned into a mini series, or rather a mini series based loosley around his mythical world of Mithgar.

    Michele has some wonderful reviews of his books on her site, which is ironically how i wound up here

  23. Eric, well, see, here's the thing: I love GRRM's work. Love it. I'm a huge, huge fan of GRRM's scifi (his fantasy, not so much, really don't give a crap about TSOFAI), but I love, absolutely love his Federal Empire/Double War stuff. Tuf Voyaging, of course, A song for Lyra, The Stone City, In the Lair of the White Worm, Songs the Dead Men Sing, The Glass Flower, NightFlyers and especially The Dying of the Light (probably my favorite novel ever, by anybody) - and I have a very specific vision of those worlds and characters and frankly I don't want to see them on the screen.

  24. Well, Pratchett's The Colour of Magic and Hogfather have already been filmed in England and were, I think, shown on Space channel in Canada but more where that came from would be most welcome.

    Also, I'd love to see someone attaempt to do the Posleen books - Hell's Faire maybe? Out and out blood (albeit yellow blood) and gore.

  25. I thought about suggesting John Ringo's Posleen series, but then I said no to myself, they are entirely too fast paced for people too keep up with the timeline of the books, at least in Hell's Fair there isn’t as much jumping forward, but then no one would already be attached to the characters.

  26. I see your point, Jim. Me, I've been imagining the "Plague Star" movie since I read it--in junior high school, in Analog back in the early '80s. So for me, yeah, I can relate to the "own vision" thing, but there's also that the first time I saw Daniel Benzali, my first thought was, "There's my Haviland Tuf."

    (Hey, this only took me 16 minutes to type; using my right hand a little helps!)

  27. The Firestar series by Michael Flynn - I had a cast in my head when I read it.

    The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress would have to be animated for me to love it - as would Ender's Game but I could live with that.

    The people who did Xena and Hercules did a test of Pern and it was a total disaster according to Anne McCaffrey. But if it were done right, it would be a dream. Another series by her would be Crystal Singer which is one of my guilty pleasures. As long as they don't do the last book, it would be fine.

    Grass by Sheri Tepper. Nichole Kidman would not have to be the lead, but if that's what it would take to get it made, so be it.


  28. I'm voting for Vorkosigan too.

    Also, The Regiment Series by John Dalmas. I prefer it to The Forever War.

  29. Startide Rising by David Brin. Bursting full of imagination, sentient dolphins and an interstellar war. It blew my mind.
    It's sequel The Uplift War is pretty good too.


    The Ship Who Sang by Anne McCaffrey. Updated with a great actress and lead, it would pull in the Grey's Anatomy and sci-fi crowd.


    Tuf Voyaging by GRRM. This is such a classic series of stories, it's a crime this has not ever been mentioned for a movie treatment.

    The Many Coloured Land by Julian May. Time traveling humans stuck in the Pliocene epoch caught in a genocidal war between meta-psychic powered races based on the Tuatha de Danaan legends of Ireland. Rich in scope and tragedy, a shame it was never given the accolades the series deserved.

    The Honor Harrington Series by David Weber. Especially On Basilisk Station. That first novel with the ending gigantic naval fight between two space fleetships would be a mind-blowing movie. It also actually has a lot of thought into how space battles would actually play out.

    Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny.

    Great Sky River by Gregory Benford.

    I've avoided mentioning all the numerous fantasy books I think would make great movies since this discussion is limited to sci-fi.

    Of course, the other must be made classics have already been mentioned above too. So I second or third Ender's Game, Forever War, Anything by Larry Niven especially Lucifer's Hammer and the War Against the Chtorr by David Gerrold.

    - tt

  30. Grass -- we have a copy of that novel because its original owner couldn't stand to have it in their house. The images in the opening scenes were too terrifying. (grin) I mention that on my science literacy booklist assignment, and a number of students select that one because they are intrigued by a book that someone couldn't allow to stay in their house. (double-grin)

    I'm not a huge Nicole Kidman fan, but I think she'd be spot on. Though Cate Blanchett would be a better actress.

    As for imagery, the Sector General novels by James White could not have been even attempted until recently. But you'd need someone with a brain and not just a mad or sloppy artist to do the CGI work for the aliens to be believable. Or to make it so I wouldn't hate it. Yes, George Lucas, I am looking at you. And your buddy Spielberg.

    Dr. Phil

  31. What follows below is the list of books-to-flicks that nobody else has listed. Not my top ten, as some of those have already been covered, but still:

    Pattern Recognition, by William Gibson. Yeah, it's not far out there scifi, like his earlier stuff, but this one and Spook Country really are some wonderful reads, which I'd love to see on the screen. I keep hearing buzz that PR is in production, but nothing substantial.

    Heir to the Empire, Dark Force Rising, and The Last Command, by Timothy Zahn. If you're a fan of A New Hope, Empire, and RotJ, then here's a trilogy that could seriously go straight to the screen. Zahn understands what Lucas did with those movies better than Lucas himself, in my opinion, and did a very nice job of mixing familiar and fresh in a way that nobody else has, and believe me, a lot of people have tried.

    Eisenhorn, Ravenor, and/or the Gaunt's Ghosts series of novels by Dan Abnett. Yes, it's pulp scifi, but the first two are like neo-gothic noir, run through a light Lovecraftian filter, and the third is quite literally Band of Brotherswith laser rifles. Look down your nose all you like, these books, particularly the more recent ones, could make some really good movies.

    For the same reasons, I wish somebody would bring The Dresden Files back to the screen. They had the lead cast right, but otherwise, while enjoyable, they came at it the wrong way. Technically not scifi, if you keep scifi and fantasy separate genres, but sue me. I think it could work as a series of straight-to-DVD, as the networks seem so fond of these days, if production values were kept high enough.

    Jim, one more thing I'd add. Know that you aren't that big a fan of Martin's ASOFAI, but wasn't sure whether you saw HBO has greenlit it for a series this year. Maybe, if this takes off, Martin can get a few more projects crossed over. I mean, when was the last time he had something he was involved with on the air? Beauty and the Beast?

  32. They made a TV movie out of Alas Babylon in the late 50s or early 60s. Not long after the book was published. I've no idea if the film is still in existance or even in color.

  33. It was a "Playhouse 90" live teleplay - and had a young burt reynolds in it no less.

  34. Lovely post, although the book list entitled "Things I must find at HalfPrice" grows apace! I'm w/you Mr. Wright, on Pournelle's Falkenberg's Legion. Hell, someone should do the omnibus The Prince w/the follow on novels as well. Which brings me to a similar but different entry, the Childe Cycle by Gordon R. Dickson. I'm a girl, I don't really like military fiction, but I loved Dorsai!
    And why has no one (to date) mentioned the Alliance-Union universe of C.J. Cherryh? I would LOVE to see Cyteen & Downbelow Station brought to life.
    As an aside, there is a director out there-IMHO-who could bring ALL the relevant William Gibson novels to life: Olivier Assayas. If you want proof of this assertion, screen Demonlover from 2002. In terms of mise-en-scene, ambiance, and design (if he can secure the same production team, w/selected augments from Luc Besson's Fifth Element crew) plus a Gibson-approved script (much like the deal John Grisham got for A Time to Kill), he could do the whole of the Sprawl Trilogy (Neuromancer, Count Zero, & Mona Lisa Overdrive) as well as what I am now referring to as the Bigend Trilogy (Pattern Recognition, Spook Country, & Zero History). Assayas might indeed be pivotal to the last, as he is French, and fashion--in it's many and various incarnations--figures heavily in the Bigend Trilogy.
    Just my 2 cents to the hive mind. (My apologies, but I can't seem to get the HTML tags for italics to cooperate. Alas, all titles are therefore incorrectly formatted. Sigh.)

  35. I have been imagining for years who I would cast in a mini series filming of "Mordant's Need: Vols I and II: The Mirror of Her Dreams and A Man Rides Through. (I'm not sure of the correct way to write that, sorry folks)

    I've also considered doing animation instead. In the style of The Last Unicorn or The Hobbit. ( I have a fondness for the old animation)

    I wish, I wish, I wish, I was rich enough to do it.

    Stephen R. Donaldson is one of my favorite writers and Mordant's Need is a perfect introduction to him.

  36. Good reading suggestions! 4 broken ribs, and two 21 inch incisions leave me with lots of free time and a nice amazon bill.
    You are an amazing writer, and hell on these incisions.
    Need more oxy-spiked fruitcake.

    Need answer, though. Did you have to break Eric's other arm?
    And why is my word verification always set up to incite a raging food craving for the currently housebound? Today it contains Brie.


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