Mind Meld: Exploring Potential Media Empires

Some novels become living entities, spawning spinoffs in countless allied narrative forms. The Harry Potter series begat movies, a plays, and the Pottermore website; A Song of Ice and Fire currently spans five novels, a host of novellas and short stories, an in-world volume of lore, a blockbuster TV adaptation, video games, and countless other mediums. With that in mind, we asked our panel…

Q: What novel or series do you think could be expanded, and what would you like to see happen?

Cassandra Rose Clarke
Cassandra Rose Clarke grew up in south Texas and currently lives in a suburb of Houston, where she writes and teaches composition at a pair of local colleges. Her work has been nominated for the Philip K. Dick Award, the Romantic Times Reviewer’s Choice Award, and YALSA’s Best Fiction for Young Adults. Her latest novel is Our Lady of the Ice, out now from Saga Press. Visit her online at cassandraroseclarke.com and @mitochondrial.

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers feels like it would perfect for this treatment. The book itself already seems like a small piece of a much larger universe, just like the first Star Wars movie, and I think it would fun to explore the characters and worlds of the book through lots of different media–TV shows, RPGs, even more books.

Another interesting choice might be the comic book The Wicked and the Divine by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie. The premise of the book is that every ninety years a pantheon of gods is manifested on Earth in the form of pop stars, where they get to live for two years and the die. Since the book is so tied up with music and celebrity, I think it would be super cool to see it expanded to include music and (especially) music videos, which are basically an online form these days, plus video games, web shorts–just let it take over the entire Internet. It would be neat to see the various characters in pop star format as well as in their story format.

 Foz Meadows is a genderqueer author, blogger, essayist, reviewer and poet. Her third novel, An Accident of Stars, was published by Angry Robot in August 2016; she has also written two YA urban fantasy novels, Solace & Grief and The Key to Starveldt, and a queer Shakespearean novella, Coral Bones, belonging to the Monstrous Little Voices anthology. In 2014, she was nominated for a Hugo Award for Best Fan Writer for her blog, Shattersnipe. She currently lives in Brisbane.

I tend to think of big stories like these as belonging to sandbox worlds – narratives whose settings are complex enough that the original narrative doesn’t constrain or constitute the whole of their possibility. Katharine Kerr’s Deverry is one of my favourites, with the fourteen-book series spanning hundreds of years of history; she’s currently writing a new novel in that setting, but in a more “recent” (compared to the others) time period, and I can’t wait to see what she does with it. I’d sell my soul for a proper timeskipping Deverry TV series, though it would also work amazingly well as a graphic novel serial.

Likewise Tamora Pierce’s Emelan and Tortall books are situated in two fascinating, in-depth worlds, any one of which I’d love to see adapted for TV as animated or real-life dramas.

I’d love to see a film version of N.K. Jemisin’s Dreamblood duology, or an anime-style series adapted from her Inheritance Trilogy, with each book made the basis for an individual season.

There are so many things I want! I don’t know how to choose!

Martin Cahill
Martin Cahill is a writer living in Astoria, NY. While in the day he works for a marketing company, by night, weekend, and every other free time of the day, he writes fiction of all kinds, as well as reviews and articles for Tor.com, Book Riot, and Strange Horizons. He has work forthcoming this year at Fireside Fiction and Beneath Ceaseless Skies. You can find him on Twitter at @McflyCahill90, where he loves to discuss Locke and Key, Stranger Things, and barrel-aged beer.

1: Ada Palmer’s Too Like the Lightning Role-Playing Game

One of the richest, most dense books I’ve read this year, chock full of narrative potential, is Ada Palmer’s Too Like the Lightning, a story of layered narratives set in the year 2454, as told in the style of ancient philosophers by a criminal named Mycroft Canner. Utopian in flavor, this world still has it’s tensions and troubles, most of which are often gamed, fought, solved, and dueled with, you guessed it, language. The manner of speech, the way someone speaks, the tone, the style, the mannerisms, the subtleties, and the nuance, are all pieces in the verbal game of chess that characters in Palmer’s world use when seeking something they want. Similar to Dungeons and Dragons, or other role-playing games, the complexity of inhabiting roles in Palmer’s future, and navigating the myriad cultures and societies of 2454 through dialogue and verbiage alone would encompassing, challenging, and an absolute blast.

2: Stop-Motion Movies with Catherynne Valente

Catherynne Valente’s work is rich with visuals: colors, feasts, beasts, monsters, heroes, magic, and more. And while there are many different routes you could take when translating her work, something about the stop-motion beauty we’ve seen from Laika studios, responsible for Coraline and the recent Kubo and The Two Strings, seems to strike in me that mythological, delicate, and beautiful note that Valente always aims for in her work. And while I wanted to reserve this only for the Fairyland series (because honestly, who wouldn’t want to see a stop-motion wyverary in action?), it can really be applied to any of her stories: Deathless, Six-Gun Snow White, Radiance; the list goes on. The versatility of stop-motion, and the focus on choreography, color, expression, and detail would fit any Valente story you’re trying to tell.

3: Yoon Ha Lee, Ninefox Gambit by way of Mass Effect

Yoon Ha Lee’s debut novel is one of my favorite books of the year, and if you take a look at it even for a moment, it won’t surprise you why. Ninefox Gambit is a beautiful and brutal science fiction book about an advanced empire on the verge of collapse from within, the rebels outside of it trying to overthrow it, and the soldier caught in the middle trying her best not to succumb to the ghost of an ancient general who can help her when he’s not actively trying to get her killed. Rich in mythos, technology so advanced it’s like magic, sympathetic, violent, and complex characters doing their best to survive, and conspiracies within conspiracies, Ninefox Gambit recalls to me Mass Effect in terms of class, character, weaponry, power, and what moral strictures you’d bend or even shatter to get what you want. Whether it puts you in the driver’s seat of Kel Cheris and Shuos Jedao, the protagonists of Ninefox Gambit, or plants you firmly in the empire, the Hexarchate, it would be a game of cunning, power dynamics, dialogue, action,and resources, part real-time war strategy simulator, part puzzle game when it comes to unraveling calendrical rot, and part roleplay as you manipulate others in your pursuit. Whatever story is told in the world of Lee’s Hexarchate, something tells me it wouldn’t be dull by far.

Kelly Robson
Kelly Robson (@kellyoyo on Twitter) is an SF/F/H short fiction writer from Toronto. She’s a finalist for this year’s Nebula, World Fantasy, Sunburst, and Theodore Sturgeon awards. Kelly’s novella Waters of Versailles won the 2016 Aurora Award, and this year her work is included in five year’s best anthologies.

Walter Jon Williams’ Dread Empire’s Fall space operas (The Praxis, The Sundering, and Conventions of War, plus novellas Investments and Impersonations (coming in October)) would make a stunningly rich cross-media empire.

Humanity is just one of many conquered alien races in an oligarchic galactic empire ruled for thousands of years by the Shaa. When the last Shaa dies off, the empire is thrown into chaos as the aliens scramble to fill the gaping power gap. Our heroes are two human military officers, Gareth Martinez and Caroline Sula, whose partnership over the course of three books result in pan-galactic warfare, planetary insurrection, collapsed wormholes, a massive body count, and a few broken hearts. Martinez and Sula are both wonderful, complex characters. I’d love to see them played by Sense8’s Miguel Ángel Silvestre and Bae Doona.

The Dread Empire’s Fall books have everything: massive space battles, bloody planetary conflict, bizarre aliens, subterfuge, heroism, romance. They always makes my list of top ten favorites. Walter Jon Williams writes space battles better than anyone else. It’s just so much damn fun!

David Annandale
David Annandale writes Warhammer 40,000 and Horus Heresy fiction for the Black Library. You can find him on Twitter at @David_Annandale. His website is www.davidannandale.com.

My answer here is going to be strongly tinged with nostalgia. But so be it. Starting when I was twelve, I disappeared into Anne McCaffrey Dragonriders of Pern books. Though I had read (or had had read to me) series before (Earthsea, Narnia, The Lord of the Rings, and so on), this was my first experience of a world and characters that existed in book after book after book, permitting what felt like indefinite immersion, even as I ripped through the novels at blinding speed. And though it has been quite a few years since I last visited Pern, the memories of feeling like I had lived in that world are still with me, and are why I think the books would be a natural for (in particular) a television series. There are plenty of books here, enough for multiple seasons. While the history of Pern does move forward from book to book, the novels each have their own identity as well, telling a full story, and so would fit a one-book-one-season formula quite nicely. The nature of the progression in the books, being fairly gradual, shifts the narrative propulsion to the individual novel/season, thus sparing us the frustrating asymptote of the always-anticipated-never-achieved that plagues so much series television. The sweep of the stories goes from the intimate to the world-spanning, and there’s a richness to the world and the range of characters that would find a natural home in the expansiveness possible with multiples seasons. While I would like to see some changes regarding the more troubling relationships in the books, I think there’s more than enough material here to light up the small screen.

Lesley Conner
Lesley Conner is an author and managing editor of Apex Publications and Apex Magazine. Her debut novel The Weight of Chains was published by Sinister Grin Press in 2015. Find out more by following her on Twitter at @LesleyConner.

I’m not typically a fan of series or adaptations for film or TV, so this question required a lot of thought before I came up with something I really think would work well. What I came up with is Mira Grant’s Newsflesh universe. The originally trilogy (Feed, Deadline, and Blackout) is by far one of my favorite series. And the fact that Mira Grant is expanding on it by giving the readers new stories within the universe, but with new characters gives me, as a reader, exactly what I’ve been craving. George and Shaun’s story is done. I want to know what other people are doing in this world! (Yes, I’ve already preordered my copy of Feedback! Haven’t you?)

I think the Newsflesh universe would work really well either as a TV show or movie. The blend of science fiction and horror would appeal to a large audience, and since Grant has written/is writing other material in the same universe with new characters, it would be easy to keep the material fresh.

Beyond a movie, a video game based off the Newsflesh series would be really cool! Build your own blog team – deciding whether or not you want to be a “Newsie,” an “Irwin,” or a “Fictional” – and then go out on missions, fighting off zombies, and reporting on the world around you. I’m imagining an interactive community where you can team up or go against other players.

I’d like to see something from before the original series begins. Maybe a graphic novel based around the scientists developing the cancer and common cold cures, and the point at which they realized that the viruses were combining in a horrific way.

Hell, give me an adult coloring book full of portrayals from books! I’d color pics of Shaun fighting zombies, blood testing kits, George interviewing Senator Ryman, and zombie dogs!

Paul Weimer
An expat New Yorker unexpectedly finding himself in Minnesota for the last 13 years, reader, writer, podcaster and photographer Paul Weimer has been reading SF and Fantasy for over 35 years and exploring the world of roleplaying games for over 30 years. Besides his chatty presence on Twitter (@Princejvstin) Paul can be found at his own blog, Blog Jvstin Style, Skiffy and Fanty, and many other places online (including here at the B&N Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog).

There are many properties, past and present, that could do with a “shared universe” of properties. Some of them have had expanded forms in the past but could really do with a modern, fresh narrative universe of things for people to go deep on. So I am going to pick such a property, a property that has had a series of novels, a few comics and even an Roleplaying game, but could start all that again, and more. Much more. I think it is high time that we expand Larry Niven’s Ringworld.

For those who don’t know, the Ringworld is Niven’s great “Big Dumb Object”, a habitable band around a star the size of Earth’s orbit and wide and long enough to have almost three millions times the surface area of Earth. It is the original and some ways best megastructure ever devised in science fiction. Even in the Ringworld novels, after the Ringworld is discovered, only the tiniest fraction of its potential is discovered and exploited. Nearly all of the Ringworld remains a mystery and unknown, terra incognita. Even if Niven wrote nothing but Peter Hamilton sized novels set on the Ringworld, he couldn’t exhaust its potential.

I’m thus surprised Niven hasn’t thought to open up the Ringworld as he has the Kzin Wars in that same universe to other writers. Plenty of authors and writers could set their stories on the Ringworld, and never intrude or impede on others, using one of the biggest canvases in science fiction to tie it all together but give any and all writers room to maneuver. Writers like Julie Czenerda, Kameron Hurley, James S A Corey and Pat Cadigan could do so much with such a place to play on.

Novels though are just the beginning. Think of it. Ringworld the Roleplaying Game, a new edition with good mechanics and story options. Ringworld the CCG. Ringworld the coffee table map book, with gorgeous detail of the explored and known regions, and get some artist types to unleash themselves on the project. There’s room enough for anything, and it could plausibly be there. There is an ocean on the Ringworld which has life size models of the continents of Earth and a bunch of other planets sitting in it. And that ocean, tens of thousands of miles in size, is just a small portion of the Ringworld. (And there is an ocean of the same size on the opposite side of the ring). So you can have all sorts of societies. High tech civilizations looking for a way to get off the ring. Primitive, fallen areas where sword and sorcery (without the sorcery) are the rule of the day. And everything in between.

You could make an endless number of video games about adventures in various regions of the gigantic ring. I can imagine a Borderlands or Halo like game set in various parts of the Ringworld. (The Ringworld, by the way, is so large that you could drop the 10,000 km diameter Halo into it and never find it again). You could do a No Man’s Sky style game and just have the players explore various parts of the Ringworld, procedurally generating stuff for them to find and do.

And then there is the visual media. You could have multiple television series, movies and more set here. Every so often there are rumors and intimations that a series is going to happen, but nothing has come of it. At this point, CGI is good enough to show us the Ringworld, and it’s high time we did see it. It’s a property whose time has come to be known by all and sundry.

Rene Sears
Rene Sears is an editor by day and writes by night (and in the morning before the kids get up, and at lunch, and…) She lives in Birmingham, AL, with one husband, two children, and a dog. You can find her at @renesears and renesears.net.

This is such a tough question, given the wealth of wonderful worlds out there to explore! I have done my best to narrow it down to a few personal favorites.

Most Likely to Spawn an Animated Series: Aliette de Bodard’s The House of Shattered Wings posits a Paris inhabited by fallen angels who have split the city into different Houses, inhabited by both mortals and immortals, who plot against each other while searching for the lost Morningstar. With plots layered upon plots, this seems like a natural setting for an ongoing animated series–plenty of opportunity for cross to be followed by double cross.

Creepiest Toys For the Win: Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Shadows of the Apt series posits a world in which various tribes (kinden) of humans take on the characteristics of their insect platonic ideal so that Spiders plot in a web of manipulation, Beetles’s endurance and industry allow them to proliferate, and Ants’ link as part of the nest gives them a telepathic link. Some kinden–the Apt–have mastered technology while others–the Inapt–are incapable of it. That only scratches the surface of this 10 book epic, but what springs to mind as an expansion is the possibility of a line of insect-human toys. Mantids with fully poseable death claws included.

Blown Away by a Movie That’s Entirely CGI: Martha Wells’ Books of the Raksura, a series populated by dozens of nonhuman species, are absolutely perfect for a vision of an alternate earth, with floating islands, a plethora of humanoid species, and dragon-esque shapeshifters. With a fish-out-of-water protagonist in Moon, a human audience will have no trouble relating as he struggles to find his place and his family, even if the entire cast is computer generated to fully take advantage of all their forms.

Julia Rios
Julia Rios is a writer, editor, podcaster, and narrator. Her fiction, non-fiction, and poetry have appeared in several places, including Daily Science Fiction, Lightspeed, and Goblin Fruit. She was a fiction editor for Strange Horizons from 2012 to 2015, and is currently the poetry and reprints editor for Uncanny Magazine. She is also a co-host of the Hugo-nominated podcast, The Skiffy and Fanty Show, a general discussion, interview, and movie review show, and Walkthrough, a discussion of exercise and geekery with Amal El-Mohtar and Layla Al-Bedawi. She has narrated stories for Podcastle, Pseudopod, and Cast of Wonders, and poems for the Strange Horizons podcast.

In the past year I have read so many things that I would love to see expanded! One novel I had tremendous fun with was Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho. I would love to see the BBC miniseries of it, and maybe some spinoff radio plays from Big Finish, and a video game! Magic, awesome women, dragons, Regency England! What’s not to love?

Two series that I would adore seeing the HBO treatment of are Max Gladstone’s Craft sequence (starting with Three Parts Dead), and Aliette de Bodard’s series that begins with The House of Shattered Wings. The setting for The House of Shattered Wings is alternate history early 20th century Paris, and it’s a lot more dark and edgy than the fun and fluffy tone of Cho’s novel, but I think it would have gorgeous visuals! Imagine the lush costuming of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries and the political intrigue of Game of Thrones, and you’ll start to get the idea. Gladstone’s series has interesting characters and really cool twists on urban fantasy and corporate culture that I think would translate really well to television. He’s actually already written a couple of tie-in games for that world through Choice of Games, and they’re on my list of things to play. I’m pretty sure those are just text games, though, and I would personally love to see a really beautiful game for home consoles. The world has so many interesting cities that I can imagine being really fun to explore in a game like that.

Finally, some novellas! I absolutely love all the work C. S. E. Cooney has been doing, and I’d love to see more interpretations of the novellas in her collection, Bone Swans. The story from which the collection’s title comes, “The Bone Swans of Amandale”, is full of such strange and fascinating things. It’s funny and dark and emotionally gripping. I’d love to see it as a graphic novel or a Studio Ghibli style animated feature.

 Alex Bledsoe’s new novel, Chapel of Ease, hits stores on September 6. You can find him on Twitter (@AlexBledsoe) and Facebook (Author Alex Bledsoe).

In 2003, the original Underworld film came out. To be honest, I wasn’t impressed with the trailers and marketing; I assumed that the film would use star Kate Beckinsale as an object, and that while she might participate in the action, she would be there primarily as eye candy while the male lead (Scott Speedman) saved the day.

Boy, was I totally wrong. Underworld is a complete inversion of that trope: Speedman is both the damsel in distress and the eye candy, while Beckinsale’s character Selene is the unqualified hero, with a well-defined character arc and virtually no leering. When my daughter gets old enough, I’ll show them to her as an example of female heroes done right.

Both this film and its sequel Underworld: Evolution established a hidden world of vampires and werewolves who have battled out of the public eye for fourteen centuries. Underworld: Rise of the Lycans filled in some back story and made Selene’s relationship with her mentor Viktor more comprehensible. In Underworld: Awakening, the hidden war becomes public, creating a three-way conflict as humans seek to wipe out both vampires and lycans.

Those four films (and a hard-to-find animated feature that really didn’t contribute anything to the canon) create a rich, mostly nocturnal world filled with fascinating characters and what-ifs that never get explored. What about Amelia, for example, the third vampire elder who alternates ruling with Viktor and Marcus? What about the science of the vampires and werewolves? What about past humans who have discovered this war?

So why is there no game based on this?

Some say there is: Vampire: The Masquerade. When the first film became successful (conventional wisdom: nobody sues flops), gaming company White Wolf filed suit alleging infringement, which was settled out of court as such things usually are.

But that doesn’t explain the dearth of even the most basic tie-ins: novels, comics, action figures. There are some (my buddy Greg Cox, master of tie-ins, novelized the first three movies and did one original, and there was a game for PS2, Underworld: the Eternal War), but not what you’d expect from a series with such deep backstories and such a strong visual presence. Why is that?

One reason might go back to that settlement that White Wolf received. “The film had word-for-word dialogue taken from one of the Vampire: the Masquerade short stories (“For Love of Monsters,” by Nancy Collins, published in 1994),” a gaming insider told me. “Additionally, Selene from Underworld is visually similar to Selena from Vampire: the Masquerade (similar clothes, similar attitude, etc).” Another industry figure told me, “I think the fact that White Wolf managed to get a settlement speaks volumes about the validity of their claim.” So it’s possible that part of that settlement was an agreement not to compete against White Wolf’s existing properties.

Another reason might be that this is a film series that resolves around a very strong female central character (or characters, if you count Sonja from Lycans), who for the most part isn’t overtly sexualized. I’d hate to believe this, but the misogyny rampant in gaming fandom speaks for itself, and the folks in charge might believe that such extended world properties weren’t worth the effort to develop.

A third, and possibly most crucial, reason is that the movies, while successful enough to continue the series (a fifth, Underworld: Blood Wars is slated for 2017), have never been real blockbusters. Their fan base simply might not be large enough to support an industry the way Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings have done. Which again boils down to economics.

I’d love to see more Underworld stuff. I’d love to see Selene get cosplayed more (my wife observed, “I bet you would.”). I’d love for there to be a strong, existing fandom for my daughter to discover in a few years.

But as I’ve learned from being a writer, not every story speaks to every reader. There are plenty of insanely popular things that don’t speak to me. So I’m not assigning blame for a lack of Underworld swag, just wistfully wishing more people saw it like I did.

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