Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Must Not See TV

Recently, it was announced that the TV adaptation of Neil Gaiman's novel, American Gods, was no longer being developed for HBO. THANK GOD. While this doesn't mean it may never show up on TV, the process has been greatly delayed. I'm so happy I could throw confetti.

"But Meghan," you ask, "you're a ginormious Neil Gaiman fangirl. Wouldn't you love to see American Gods on TV?" to which I have to answer "Hell no!".  American Gods is a beautiful, strange, complicated novel and being thrown haphazardly on TV would ruin it. I always wince when I see a beloved book being made into movies and TV shows. Sometimes it works out well (the Harry Potter movies are classics) and sometimes it's just a major disaster (I'm looking at you, World War Z). TV can be even more of a death knell for a good book series. The Dresden Files, much beloved by urban fantasy readers, had just a single season as a poorly made show on the SyFy network while Game of Thrones, that grimdark fantasy darling, has gone on to be a smash hit on HBO.

It's a total crapshoot. I'm tired of seeing some of my favorite books ruined on the big (or small) screen. Here are five book series that should never, ever be watered down and made into TV shows (and two series that would excel on screen!).

The Saga Comic Series

This acclaimed sci-fi comic series followed the story of Alana and Marko who are from two different planets that have been locked in war for centuries. They have a baby daughter they're trying to protect as everyone from armies to assassins try to kill them. It's a bold, brave story that pulls no punches. The banter between Marko and Alana is incredible and the secondary characters light up the page. It would be nigh impossible to make this work as a TV show. The story is definitely not PG rated and the war and characters are just too deep to be watered down to a half hour show on SyFy. It would also be a wardrobe and special effects nightmare. One character has a TV for a head and many of the characters have horns. This one is better left on the page.

The Culture Books by Iain M. Banks

One of the modern classics of science fiction storytelling, the Culture books tell the story of a culture that use giant ships with AI's called Minds. The ships are incredibly self aware and even give themselves funny names ( "Just Testing", "All Done With This Niceness And Negotiation Stuff") and the people who populate these ships and the various alien worlds are complex, fascinating characters. There is zero way you could distill all this stuff into a TV show. I don't care if it's an hour long extravaganza on HBO with a crapton of money behind it. There's so much political intrigue, violence and death that it would make Game of Thrones look like a children's cartoon. Watering that down would ruin the entire series.

The Parasol Protectorate series by Gail Carriger

Cail Garriger's steampunk series is a staple of the genre, full of humor, exaggerated Victorian manners and fascinating characters. It would be easy to dismiss these books as paranormal romantic fluff. They're incredible looks as a London that never was, where vampires and werewolves jockey for power and one woman without a soul has to keep the peace without missing tea time. It's one of my all time favorite series and I would rather leap out a window then see it picked as the next paranormal series on something like the CW. Carriger took great care to research all of the Victoriana in the series and make everything seem plausible. I have a feeling throwing this one on screen would end up as big of a disaster as the recent Dracula re-imagining. If it wasn't handled with loving care, all of the details and humor that made this series so rich and engaging would be lost.

The Discworld series by Terry Pratchett

Okay, stick with me here. I know the Discworld books have had a few decent made for TV movies (Hogfather, Going Postal) but it's also had a few deeply abysmal outings. The Discworld movies work best when they're using stand alone novels that don't need a huge amount of backstory to make it work. Yes, yes, world on the back of a giant turtle held up by four elephants, etc, but what series would be able to explain all the intricacies of Ankh-Morpork? When done poorly, the Discworld series comes off as unfunny and kooky. When done properly, it's an amazing, hilarious romp. I just don't think any TV show could handle all of the mythos that the Discworld has now. Which series would you even start with?

The Gentleman Bastard series by Scott Lynch

Locke Lamora and his friends are fantastic characters that I simply can not get enough of. The books are just brilliant and the world Lynch has created is lush and fully realized. The books are just plain wonderful and you know how much I love a good thief story. While not on the level of Game of Thrones, the books are creatively violent and bloody. You have to admire the ingenuity of an evil gang leader trying to drown someone in a coffin full of rancid horse piss. I mean, seriously. The stories are much too intricate and so much happens in quiet moments. Getting it on screen would make it lose some of it's emotional punch and it's charm.

On the other hand, these two series would make for great television!

The Sandman Slim books by Richard Kadrey.

These books read like Quentin Tarantino movies mixed with schlocky horror and b-grade sci-fi. They are insanely good. They follow the violent life of one Sandman Slim who has come back from Hell to get revenge on the evil bastards who put him there in the first place. It's got everything you could possibly want; guns and demons and so much snarky humor. It would be amazing on the screen. Put it on Showtime or AMC, keep it violent and you'd have a winner on your hands. I can see it going for six seasons!

The Glamourist Histories series by Mary Robinette Kowal

I love these books because they're so expertly written. Kowal writes like a contemporary of Jane Austen and you can tell how meticulously she researches for each book. The story follows Jane and her husband Vincent as they work as Glamourists, people who can weave and manipulate a special kind of magic. The books take place in the regency with all the required country drama, balls and gossip. I can easily see this being made into a mini series ala Downton Abbey by the BBC and coming to our humble shores on PBS. A costume drama with magic! It could work!

What book series would you like to see on TV and which would you do anything to never get on screen?
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  1. I totally agree with you on The Glamourist Histories! I would watch that in a heartbeat if the BBC made it. I would love to see V.E. Schwab's Vicious be made into a movie. Does it count if the movie rights have sold already?
    I wouldn't want to see The Queen's Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner turned into a TV series. I love that series too much and if they ruined on TV no one would read it anymore and that would be sad.

  2. Saga would be horrible onscreen. They would never do it justice.

    I'm cautiously optimistic about the Discworld Nightwatch TV series.

  3. I saw Iain Banks do a book reading once, and someone actually asked him if he thought the Culture was unfilmable. He said yes, but that he'd still let them do it as long as they got the scale right. If they got the sheer size of a GSV's hold right (pretty sure he talked about the CAT escape scene in Consider Phlebas), then he'd be able to forgive just about anything else.