This past week, two TV projects based on books were announced:
Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy (Red Mars, Green Mars and Blue Mars), is in development at basic cable channel Spike.
Stephen King’s time-travel novel, 11/22/63, is in development at the streaming service Hulu TV.
May I take a moment to express how much I love these books?
I almost never read hard sci-fi, but came across the Mars Trilogy after watching a television documentary about terraforming Mars. I was so captivated by the subject I Googled “novel about terraforming Mars” and Red Mars came up first. After reading a brief blurb for the book, I was totally sold.
The books blew me away. About the first 100 colonists on Mars, they feature some of my favorite characters in literature, EVER. This is something one does not expect of hard sci-fi. Not only that, they also feature several amazing, complex female characters who are integral to the story–again, not something you generally expect of this genre.
The Mars books are both epic and intimate. Similar to George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, the books’ chapters alternate point of view with several major characters. The story jumps right in with the murder of one of the main characters, then flashbacks to the beginning of the mission to colonize Mars. (Oh, yeah, and like George R.R. Martin, Robinson has no problem killing off major characters–though he’s not nearly as bloodthirsty.)
The relationships between the characters mirror the conflicts, upheavals and possible destinies of the newly-settled planet. There are running arguments that are both pro- and anti-terraforming. I’ll admit there’s a lot of science talk that flies right over my head, but I don’t care. Mostly, it’s just a compelling story with great characters.
King’s 11/22/63 is about a high school teacher who finds a portal that lets him go back in time, but always to the same day during the 1950s. He decides to change history and live in the past for the time it will take to stop Lee Harvey Oswald from killing President Kennedy. While he plans his mission, he can’t stop himself from becoming emotionally invested in the life he creates for himself in the past.
This is my favorite King book in years (and YEARS). Like the Mars Trilogy, there is an epic feel to the story, which is also suspenseful and achingly poignant. It tackles some serious themes, yet is a highly entertaining read. It features King’s most emotionally gratifying love story. It’s also a very, very, VERY rare King book with a strong ending. (I was reminded of how many of his books have atrocious endings when I read Under the Dome soon after finishing 11/22/63.)
Both of these projects have been in development before–11/22/63 was supposed to become a feature film directed by Jonathan Demme. Then there was talk of making it a long-running series (much as CBS has done with Under the Dome). Now, it appears it will be a nine-episode miniseries, though they may expand it beyond the initial nine episodes.
In 2008, AMC announced it had Red Mars on its development slate, with Jonathan Hensleigh (Armageddon) attached to write it. Sometime later Robinson himself wrote on his web site that the project was dead at AMC. I was not thrilled with the writer chosen (though it’s not unusual for writers to move from film to television or vice versa and surprise the heck out of people) but was still majorly disappointed when the series never happened.
So when I saw the two announcements this week, my first reactions were: Happy dance! FINALLY! Yay!
Then, my reaction was–OH, NO.
I remembered that other announcements of the books being in development turned into nothing, and the same could happen this time. Many, many things can go wrong between the announcement of a project and premiere of the series. Key players may drop out (i.e. Demme and Hensleigh), the network may reject the series based on the pilot, new executives may take over who aren’t as enthused for the project, or some other project may come along that sinks the prospects of earlier projects.
Then there was the realization of WHERE these projects are set up.
Hulu TV is just now getting into scripted series. (And, ahem, not so incidentally, this will mean I’ll have to subscribe to yet another streaming service.)
Spike, a basic cable channel aimed at the adult male demographic, is also new at the scripted series game. I started worrying the female characters of the Mars Trilogy would diminish in the TV series.
After panicking for a while (and it wasn’t just me, lots of fans of the books were doing the same on social media and the comments sections of articles about the series announcements), I started to calm down.
I remembered Netflix and Amazon are making some amazing scripted series, so there’s precedence for streaming services that offer superior original programming. AMC was mostly broadcasting old movies with commercial breaks before Mad Men. There’s no reason to think Spike won’t present an excellent scripted series. Also, Spike has stopped referring itself as the “first network for men,” so they may be seeking to expand their viewership.
Even more encouraging are the people involved in both projects: J.J. Abrams and Stephen King are serving as executive producers for 11/22/63 and Vince Gerardis, one of the executive producers of Game of Thrones, is in charge of Red Mars.
So now I’m optimistic, both that series based on these fantastic books will finally hit the small screen, and that the respective adaptations will be somewhere in the range of good to awesome.
Wait, I just thought of something.
THEY COULD MESS UP THE CASTING.