Four years on, I’m still shocked by the massive success of HBO’s Game of Thrones. Sure, I expected it to look pretty (it’s HBO after all), and as a fan of George R.R. Martin’s books, I knew the story and characters could more than sustain a weekly narrative. But the fantasy trappings—court politics, warring kings, magical priestesses, heroes of destiny, rapey barbarian cultures, Chekhov’s dragon eggs—didn’t exactly scream “water cooler buzz.” And yet it’s only gotten more popular with each passing season, this year surpassing The Sopranos as the network’s most-watched program ever (finally settling the age-old “mobsters vs. ice zombies” debate).
Those impressive ratings are very good news for sci-fi and fantasy readers. For years, we suffered as adaptations of our favorite books languished in purgatory (The Dragonriders of Pern) or finally arrived onscreen so watered down that little of what we loved about them remained (The Dresden Files, a.k.a. “Dresden in Name Only”). But now, the pop-culture crater created by Game of Thrones has Hollywood seeing dollar signs, and TV networks are increasingly looking to the genre aisles for the next Khaleesi & Friends. In celebration of both the post–Game of Thrones adaptation boom and Page & Screen Weekend, starting this Saturday at your local B&N, here are 7 new and upcoming adaptations hitting a small screen near you. Will your favorite book be next?
Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon (premiering August 9 on Starz)
Both Diana Gabaldon and series executive producer Ron Moore have pretty much confirmed that the success of Game of Thrones played a huge part in proving that Outlander was a viable TV property. And why not? It has all the hallmarks: a richly described world (a historically accurate 18th-century Scotland), compelling character-based storytelling (Jamie+Claire 4eva!), a touch of magic (mysterious time travel!), and, oh yeah, a rabid fan base—the books are perennial best sellers, and the most recent volume, Written in My Own Heart’s Blood, topped the New York Times list on release week. Early reviews indicate the adaptation is very good, and I would expect nothing less from the dude who managed to turn a show called Battlestar Galactica into one of the best dramas of the decade.
The Expanse, by James S.A. Corey (premiering in 2015 on SyFy)
The pitch that won this sci-fi adaptation a straight-to-series order from the SyFy channel included the phrase “Game of Thrones in space,” and if you’ve read the books, the incongruous comparison actually makes sense. Set hundreds of years in our future, at a time when most of our solar system has been colonized and fractious relationships have developed between the residents of Earth and Mars and the far-flung “Belters,” the series offers up complex characters with morality colored in shades of grey, interstellar political machinations, and a core mystery focused on a malevolent alien parasite that hints at worlds much larger than these. Get in on the ground floor with the first book, Leviathan Wakes.
The Elfstones of Shannara, by Terry Brooks (premiering in 2015 on MTV)
Over the past three decades, Terry Brooks has penned over two dozen novels set in the mythical land of Shannara, most of them best sellers (the latest, The High Druid’s Blade, hit in July). It’s a bit surprising that it took this long for them to make it to the screen, but various film studios were never able to get a movie off the ground. That’s where MTV comes in—eager to cash in on some of that sweet, sweet dragon blood, the network optioned the second book in the series, which focuses on a young cast of heroes and tells a self-contained story. With Brooks reportedly deeply involved in the process and the team behind Smallville on board, the show seems poised to deliver on a few decades worth of anticipation.
The Magicians, by Lev Grossman (in development by SyFy)
Lev Grossman’s dark literary fantasy trilogy, which has been likened to a grim, real-world version of Harry Potter, ranks among my favorite books in ages, so I was very disappointed when Fox passed on a TV adaptation in 2012. SyFy, eager to rebuild its reputation and make good on the books’ mix of Potter whimsy and Game of Thrones grit, recently resurrected the property and has ordered a pilot episode penned by a writer from Supernatural.
American Gods, by Neil Gaiman (in development by Starz)
Flush with the early success of Game of Thrones, HBO tried to turn Gaiman’s modern fantasy about forgotten gods roaming the American landscape into its next hit drama, but despite several years of development and multiple drafts, a pilot never went into production. Well, HBO’s loss is Starz’ gain: the network swooped in and acquired the rights in a script-to-series deal (meaning the show will go right into production once the network approves a script, skipping the pilot process). Hannibal and Pushing Daisies creator Bryan Fuller is serving as executive producer.
Redshirts, by John Scalzi (in development by FX)
Scalzi’s metafictional comedic sci-fi novel, about a group of lowly crewmen on a starship not unlike the U.S.S. Enterprise who come to realize they are the unnamed, expendable background characters in a poorly written TV show, has been optioned as a “limited series” by FX with Ken Kwapis, an alum of the U.S. version of The Office, handling producer duties. True, comedy sci-fi is miles from Game of Thrones, but the business model—filming a whole season at once, sticking closely to the book, involving the author, and leaving room for more seasons if things take off—is nearly identical.
The Ghost Brigades, by John Scalzi (in development by SyFy)
It’s a good time to be John Scalzi. A few years ago, Paramount optioned the rights to his Old Man’s War novels, about a group of senior citizens who are transferred into young cloned bodies in order to combat an alien menace, with the intent to turn them into an action-packed military drama directed by Wolfgang Peterson. The movie was never made, but Peterson now plans to bring the story to TV instead, building the series upon the second book in the saga. Whereas once authors knew they had made it when one of their stories made it to the big screen, George R.R. Martin’s success has proven that a hit TV show might be the new bar for success.
What sci-fi or fantasy novel do you think should be made into a TV series?