Summary

  • Many science fiction books have successfully been adapted into popular TV series, showcasing how the medium suits the genre more than film.
  • TV adaptations often capture more detail, nuance, and depth than movies, making them ideal for bringing sci-fi novels to life.
  • Several sci-fi books, such as
    Nineteen Eighty-Four
    , J
    ohn Dies At The End
    , and
    The Girl With All the Gifts
    , have great potential for TV adaptations due to their compelling content and relevance.

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Some of the best, most popular television series of the past few years have been based on science fiction books. From The Man in the High Castle based on the novel by Philip K. Dick, to The Handmaid’s Tale based on the novel by Margaret Atwood, to The Expanse based on a series of novels by James S. A. Corey, it’s clear that turning sci-fi books into TV shows can work really well, and is often a medium that suits them much more than film.

There are countless sci-fi books out there, many of which have never been adapted to screen. There are also plenty that have been adapted into movies and TV shows, but the adaptations either missed what made the books work or perhaps it’s simply just been long enough to justify doing it again. Due to their limited runtimes, movies in particular often fail to capture the amount of detail, nuance, and depth provided by a novel, meaning that TV adaptations often work much better. These 10 sci-fi books could all make for great TV adaptations.

10 Nineteen Eighty-Four

1956 movie of 1984 by George Orwell, showing Big Brother on a screen

As well as a number of films, George Orwell’s seminal classic was previously adapted for television by the BBC in 1954, only five years after the publication of the novel. The adaptation proved hugely controversial, with its “shocking content” allegedly causing the death of one viewer (per The Telegraph). It was, in typical fashion for 1954 television, essentially a live broadcast of a stage play. Due to how reliant on inner monologue Nineteen Eighty-Four is, it’s particularly difficult to capture its essence outside of literature, but its content is as relevant today as it’s ever been which means it’s overdue for an update. A new adaptation would be just that.

9 John Dies At The End

A meat monster from John Dies at the End (2012)

John Dies at the End was a web serial written by Jason Pargin (under the pseudonym David Wong, who went on to become both the Editor of Cracked.com and an unlikely TikTok star). It was published as a paperback six years later, in 2007, and has since spawned three sequels: This Book Is Full of Spiders, What the Hell Did I Just Read and If This Book Exists, You’re in the Wrong Universe. It was adapted into a film in 2012 which met with mixed reviews. The sporadic, episodic nature of the story (not to mention the material provided by sequels) makes it much better suited to a television format.

Related: John Dies At The End: Why The Sequel Never Happened

8 The Time Machine Did It

Writer John Schwartzwelder cameo on The Simpsons

John Swartzwelder is best known as the most prolific (and perhaps the most eccentric) writer of The Simpsons, with 59 episodes credited to him across the show’s first fifteen seasons. Since then, he’s been publishing comedic sci-fi novels about the character, Detective Frank Burly. 11 have been released to date (plus two short stories), with the first being The Time Machine Did It in 2004. Taking its cues from classic detective serials, the book plays out like The Naked Gun if Frank Drebin was a time-traveler sent back to the 1940s who spends the majority of the plot trying to find a way back to the present.

7 The Girl With All the Gifts

The Girl with All the Gifts

The Girl with All the Gifts by M. R. Carey is unusual in that it was written concurrently with the film that followed. While the film is severely underrated, serving as one of the last zombie movies containing truly original ideas, the book features an abundance of emotional and empathic depth that’s largely lost. TV could be the perfect way to recapture this, not to mention expanding the world by including its prequel novel, The Boy on the Bridge. Between its young girl protagonist and a mutated Cordyceps infection that turns people into “hungries,” The Girl with All the Gifts could be the UK’s answer to The Last of Us.

6 Rendezvous With Rama

Morgan Freeman in 57 Seconds

An adaptation of Arthur C. Clarke’s Rendezvous with Rama is one of the most infamous projects to languish in Development Hell. It’s been Morgan Freeman’s passion project since the early noughties when his production company first attempted to get a film made. Both David Fincher and Denis Villeneuve have been set to direct over the years, but unless Villeneuve decides to follow up Dune: Part Two with yet another classic sci-fi adaptation (which could happen), the project doesn’t seem likely to move any time soon. TV would be the perfect place for it, in part because so many movies have already taken such heavy inspiration from the book.

Related: Every Unmade David Fincher Movie (& Why They Didn’t Happen)

5 A Clockwork Orange

Alex and his droogs drinking milk in A Clockwork Orange

Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 adaptation of Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange is a masterpiece, but it also famously reinterpreted the book, completely inverting its intended meaning by omitting the final chapter. Seeing Alex mature and better himself because of his own, innate morality conveys the book’s message that humans are inherently good and forced morality isn’t real morality. A remake seems like heresy, but there’s plenty of room for a television companion piece that skews much closer to the book’s original intent while standing alone. It could even be reinterpreted as a loose sequel set in the same universe, but examining the themes through the lens of Burgess instead of Kubrick.

4 World War Z

World-War-Z-Trailer-2-Zombies

While Brad Pitt’s movie adaptation of Max Brooks’ meticulously well-researched novel did make a lot of money, even when it was announced, a movie rather than a TV adaptation seemed like a questionable choice. The movie has almost nothing in common with the book, only retaining the title, zombies, the idea that Israel builds a wall, and a single line of dialogue. The novel follows a journalist compiling an oral history of the zombie outbreak 20 years ago. It’s an anthology that follows everything from a celebrity who foolishly live-streams their safe-house location to an astronaut who can only look down at Earth and watch the chaos. It’s a riveting story with a format that would be better suited to a TV adaptation than the resulting film.

RELATED: How World War Z Originally Ended (& Why It Was Changed)

3 Last And First Men

A dystopian future as depicted in Futurama episode

Last and First Men by Olaf Stapledon is essentially a fictional historical document, outlining the “history” of a future that is yet to take place. It depicts numerous civilizations and the ways in which humanity evolves with cycles of society rising and falling back down again. Its episodic and limited-narrative nature is perhaps why no film or TV adaptations have yet materialized (spare for a loose 2020 Icelandic multimedia art film), but it’s the perfect source material for an anthology series. Each episode could cover one of the 18 different species of human featured, with plenty of room to keep going beyond the time periods covered in the book.

An image of the League of Extraordinary Gentleman surrounded by an explosion

If there’s anything to learn from Watchmen, it’s that perhaps Alan Moore’s work is better suited to television than film. While he would no doubt bristle at the thought of another adaptation of his comic book series following the abysmal 2003 film, there are four volumes (and two spin-offs) of the series to work with. To avoid comparisons to the movie (based on Volume I), a show could start with Volume II where the characters are transplanted into the events of H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds. A series with the likes of Mina Harker, Mycroft Holmes, and Dr. Jekyll squaring off against a Martian invasion would be really something.

Related: Sean Connery’s Final Movie Appearance Was 20 Years Ago Today – Why It Made Him Retire

1 The Chrysalids

Daisy Ridley and Tom Holland sit in Chaos Walking.

It’s a mystery how there’s never been an attempt to adapt John Wyndham’s 1955 sci-fi novel to screen. The author is best known for The Day of the Triffids and The Midwich Cuckoos (aka The Village of the Damned), but many cite The Chrysalids as his best work. It’s an early example of young adult fiction that follows David, a child in a post-apocalyptic Earth (implicitly destroyed by war) where mutations are rife but driven out by a fundamentalist society that fears them. David and a group of children who have developed telepathy embark on a mission through the wasteland to find a society where they’ll be safe.

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