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Tag Archive: Connie Willis


Review by C.J. Bunce

Let’s cut to the chase:  Daniel Godfrey’s new novel The Synapse Sequence is not just the leading contender for the best science fiction novel of 2018, it’s the most absorbing, riveting, and thrilling science fiction novel I’ve read since I was first blown away by Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park in 1990.  Hyperbole?  Maybe just a little, but when you are reading a new book and you’re taken aback by the twists, turns, and surprises as this book provides, it’s a bit like walking out of a big rock concert, wanting everyone else to witness what you just experienced.  Godfrey is relatively new to the genre, with two solid sci-fi books behind him, New Pompeii (reviewed here) and Empire of Time (reviewed here).  But this story is a completely different take on science fiction, and so deftly written, smartly paced, and completely believable in its speculative reach, Godfrey is worth comparison to some of the greats in the genre for it.

Anna Glover is an investigator with an unfortunately troubled and public past for her conclusions in investigating an airplane crash.  She lives in the somewhat distant future–bots serve man, taking on so many functions that personal freedom is limited.  As told from the alternating viewpoint of Glover in the present and looking back on her life, future London is very familiar and steeped in the world that technology is building right now with so much of life absorbed into the digital world.  When we meet our protagonist she is attempting to lie low conducting trials for a company with an emerging technology, a “synapse sequencer,” which allows a person to be tapped into the mind of another, like a witness to a crime, to experience vivid, shared memories as an observer.  She meets with her boss inside this world, where he lives out most of his life, a life better than he would experience in the real world.  The process requires the help of a monitor, and hers sees that she gets in and out of submersion safely.  But we learn there are risks for anyone who participates in this intermingling of brain activity.  If you’ve seen the 1980s sci-fi classic Dreamscape, the modern classic Source Code, the television series Stitchers, or the shared visions of iZombie, you’ll find no suspension of disbelief issue with the wild ride that awaits you.  The method for the journey isn’t as elaborate (or glitch-filled) as Connie Willis’s elaborate time travel tech, but Godfrey provides enough to submerge us into the stress and angst of Glover as she takes journey after journey to learn the who and why of a case involving a boy in a coma and a missing girl.

You can’t predict where Godfrey will take Glover from chapter to chapter in The Synapse Sequence Godfrey has been likened to an emerging Crichton, but Crichton rarely could craft as satisfying an ending as found here.  The story embraces that speculative futurism like many a Philip K. Dick story (Paycheck, Total Recall/We Can Remember It for You Wholesale, and Minority Report for starters), while weaving in a plausible future from the seeds of new tech today.  He combines the audacious duplicity of Vincent and Jerome in Andrew Niccol’s Gattaca with the foreboding and despair of The Man’s story in Chris Marker’s Le Jetée and Cole’s in Terry Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys. 

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Betrayal.  Duplicity.  Deception.  Intrigue.

Godfrey’s debut novel, New Pompeii, was one of last year’s most entertaining reads (reviewed here at borg.com).  Empire of Time, Godfrey’s sequel, is equal to the first, and brilliantly enough it’s completely readable as a standalone work not requiring the reader to have read his New Pompeii.  Godfrey, who is not a professor of ancient history, has written a narrative about life in Pompeii at the time Vesuvius erupted in AD 79 that would swiftly pass muster with historians.  And his knowledge of history is matched by his science fiction storytelling skill to provide a rousing next chapter for one of the decade’s most nuanced time travel stories.

Suetonius’s Twelve Caesars is one of the more exciting of the primary history texts of the ancient world.  In New Pompeii, Godfrey transported most of the population of Pompeii in AD 79 to a rebuilt facsimile in the present day world, saving their lives from Vesuvius’s lava, fire, and heat.  More fleshed out this time around, the characters who live in the world of New Pompeii in Empire of Time all live, fight, and die in accordance with the politics, literature, art, social, and scientific elements of Suetonius’s world.  Godfrey even hands the classic book to a character for that character’s own twisted inspiration.  Godfrey crisscrosses time with his lead character, former research assistant Nick Houghton as he traverses modern Italy, and follows Houghton in the city of New Pompeii in his Roman persona, Decimus Horatius Pullus–the legendary “man who cannot be killed.”  In a third and parallel story Godfrey presents the exploits of a slave turned gladiator named Achillia, a ruthless, bloodthirsty survivor who establishes even more of the detailed feel for the mindset of people in the real Roman Empire.  A hardened warrior, Achillia will appeal to fans of Robin Wright’s General Antiope from the opening scenes of Wonder Woman.

The same political intrigue that seeped into stories of Italy’s modern-day Cosa Nostra is present among the manipulators, magistrates, and political machinations of New Pompeii.  Readers will travel through most of the novel with Houghton as he sleuths out lost technical data in the normal world that may allow the “Novus Particles” device to repeat the time travel used to transport the ancients to the present day.  He is also charged–in his Pullus persona–with the same mission only under the control of Calpurnia, the “Empress of Time” of New Pompeii.  But is there truly a device to reactivate time travel?  When archaeologists suddenly begin to encounter messages in English in ancient ruins, does that provide evidence that someone in the future can not only pull matter forward in time, but also transport messages backward in a parallel timeline?  And who is sending the messages?

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Time travel.  It’s a fun sub-genre of science fiction when it’s done right.  NBC and the CW have dueling sci-fi series entering the Primetime line-up beginning this month.  On Mondays, NBC airs Timeless, a story about a historian, a computer expert and a soldier acting as timecops as they try to correct changes in history via a time machine in pursuit of another–stolen–time machine.  On Wednesdays the CW airs Frequency, based on the 2000 sci-fi sleeper and cult movie starring Dennis Quaid.  Both are from the creative minds of Supernatural showrunners, and both series began this week with powerful openers.  We think both are worth adding to your weekly watch list.  The challenge will be maintaining their respective concepts for a full season.

Timeless hails from Supernatural creator Eric Kripke and The Shield creator Shawn Ryan. Abigail Spencer leads the cast as a historian much like you’d find in a Connie Willis novel, pulled into a secret time travel project.  Someone (Goran Visnjic) kidnapped a scientist played by genre favorite Matt Frewer, and Homeland Security, including a smartly cast agent played by Sakina Jaffrey (Sleepy Hollow, Mr. Robot), enlists Spencer’s character, an insider IT guy (Malcolm Barrett) and soldier/protector (Matt Lanter) to find them–in the past.  Compared to Star Trek and Doctor Who this show is Time Travel Lite–no complex knowledge or thought required.  The time travel prime directive seems to be that the timecops cannot travel into a time in which they previously existed.  So no do-overs.

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You can’t beat a nicely done re-creation of the Hindenburg disaster.  Even better, a re-imagining revealing the disaster never occurred.  Timeless didn’t waste any time, starting off with a single episode story focused on a historic event and it appears that will be the draw of each episode.  We saw elements of TimeCop, Timeline, Continuum, Quantum Leap, Doctor Who, Terminator, and DC’s Legends of Tomorrow in the first episode alone.  It works and it’s fun.  There’s something adventuresome about Timeless in a Young Indiana Jones vein. Timeless did miss one opportunity here:  Why not begin with the Hindenburg crashing on a false historic date and then land on the real date of the disaster for the ending?  That would have been a heck of a trick, but it shows much more can be threaded into this series.  We know from Star Trek and Doctor Who that time travel is twisty and full of possibilities. Timeless needs to embrace what its savvy audience already knows–and keep the focus on the fun.

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New Pompeii cover

Review by C.J. Bunce

In a thick 459 pages, British author Daniel Godfrey begins a new time travel series full of twists and turns in New Pompeii, his first novel from a major publisher (Titan Books).  Billed as a novel in the tradition of Michael Crichton, New Pompeii is evocative of Crichton’s early novels, but more closely follows the plotting and style of the time travel science fiction novels of Connie Willis (Lincoln’s Dreams, To Say Nothing of the Dog) and the pacing of a Tom Clancy thriller.  Fans of Crichton’s Timeline and Westworld, Philip K. Dick’s short stories and his novels Time Out of Joint and Man in the High Castle, Doctor Who’s “timey wimey” stories and films like TimeCop will appreciate this new entry in the time travel and parallel universe sub-genres.

Despite a daunting 75 chapters, New Pompeii is a quick read.  Godfrey follows Nick Houghton, a history scholar who has yet to earn his doctorate as he is inexplicably courted into joining a venture with a corporation that promises the impossible–Novus Particles plucks people from just before the point of death and brings them into the present, cheating the timeline manipulation restrictions like the field trips in Ray Bradbury’s “A Sound of Thunder.”  Think Philip K. Dick’s Paycheck meets Final Destination.  The company is not a secret–it is well documented that it saved a flight of passengers from a plane crash.  But why are all the survivors now committing suicide?  Who is the ghost student that has been emerging from a bathtub at a college campus over the course of thirty years?  And how do you hide an ancient civilization in the modern world?

Told in short, alternating chapters from the perspective of Nick as he walks among ancient Romans in a secluded Eastern European town in the present day, and college student Kirsten Chapman as she appears unstuck in time across a span of time periods like Jennifer Jones in Portrait of Jennie or Billy Pilgrim in Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.’s Slaughterhouse Five, the truth behind the corporation’s purpose is slowly revealed.  You won’t find a lot of complexity in the time travel elements here, which makes this appealing for the most casual sci-fi reader.  Fans of any Star Trek or Doctor Who time travel story will be familiar with the rules here.

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Assassins Creed Ankh Of Isis Trilogy

Whether you’ve played videogames or not, you likely know something about Assassin’s Creed, the game featuring modern time travelers that are able to tap into the minds of their ancestors to seek talismans, avenge the wronged, and put the future on the right track.  The Assassins appear to gameplayers in various historical contexts, wearing variations on that familiar, oft-cosplayed hooded costume, those nifty gauntlets, and an often blood-soaked sword.  The first English translation of the comic book tie-ins of the game are now available in a hardcover compilation from Titan Books and Ubisoft, called Assassin’s Creed: The Ankh of Isis Trilogy.

French writer Eric Corbeyran and artist Djilalli Defaux piece together an epic story broken into three parts, focusing on three characters mired in a world of violence and mistrust.  First, Desmond Miles, a descendant of the Assassins who uses a mind-based time travel method to improve his “genetic memory” by reaching back to his ancestors, similar to Avatar but more like the time travel technology of Connie Willis’s science fiction novelsand Michael Crichton’s Timeline.  Next, Aquilus is an ancestor of Desmond living in ancient Rome who is odds with the men that would become the Templars, and he seeks to avenge his father’s death.  The third part features Accipiter, a deadly Assassin and leader of Barbarians advancing on Lugdunum, as Aquilus seeks the lost talisman of the trilogy, the Ankh of Isis.*

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Hundreds of years of protective rites and honor are balanced between the Assassins and the forces throughout history that oppose them.  The significance and power of names, the interspersed real historical places and conflicts, and engaging characters, make this a better than average tie-in series.  This includes an intrepid scientist in the present day named Lucy Stillman who facilitates the mind-damaging time travel process but aims to protect Desmond from those who would dismiss his value.

To one extent, Assassin’s Creed: The Ankh of Isis Trilogy reads like a simple 1980s era PC role playing game—where you’d enter new rooms, battle a foe and find the hidden relic.  Whether you’re into the more high tech versions in modern gaming or not (and eight million copies of Assassin’s Creed demonstrates there is a real market for this series), any fan of the adventure genre will find this series accessible, with an audience for older teens and up (for language and violence).

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Bill Murray not in Stripes

It’s not a title that, by itself, will draw crowds to the theater.  But how often does a movie have much more than one reason to get you into the theater to see it?  Maybe its an actor you love, a genre, the fact it is based on a book or property you’re interested in.  The Monuments Men, with its first trailer released this past week, has almost too many reasons to see it to count.  “In a race against time, a crew of art historians and museum curators unite to recover renowned works of art stolen by Nazis before Hitler destroys them.”  Yep, it’s not about Mount Rushmore.  So let’s take a quick look at what this movie has to offer, to bring in viewers for different reasons.

Everyone is always trying to make a war movie that’s not a war movie, add some twist to the genre to make it slightly different to entice new crowds to give war movies a try.  Saving Private Ryan tried it, making a war movie into more of a kidnapping film with the modern trend toward challenging the components of war vs the old Frank Capra-type pro-nationalism films.  And how unique was Quentin Tarentino’s Inglourious Basterds?  In fact, if Brad Pitt hadn’t starred in that movie, you’d think he’d have been a shoo-in for The Monuments Men.  Why?  Because with George Clooney and Matt Damon in pursuit of a seemingly impossible goal, this looks like Ocean’s Eleven all over again.

John Goodman Monuments Men

And speaking of impossible goals, this also looks like The Dirty Dozen, although the trailer tells us there’s eight soldiers engaged in this mission.  Who isn’t ready for another movie of the Dirty Dozen variety?  Remember how good the beginning of Captain America: The First Avenger was with Tommy Lee Jones as a general in the World War II recruitment scenes?  Or go back to Bridge on the River Kwai and recruiting William Holden to go back to the battle.  Of course these are all plays on the original Western recruiting warriors film, Seven Samurai.  And just look who gets recruited for this new mission.

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We kicked off borg.com as a way to catch up on entertainment news, books and movies back on June 10, 2011.  We’ve posted what’s new each day to provide “your daily science fiction, fantasy, and entertainment fix” for two years now and continue to forge ahead as we tick past our 800,000th view by readers today.

We want to say thanks to you for reading.  It’s a lot of fun (and hard work) keeping up on all the great genre entertainment out there, be it on TV, in theaters, in books, or comics.  We also want to thank all the comic book publishers out there that provide us with preview review copies, as well as book publishers and TV and movie studios and collectible companies that allow us to give you first available previews and reviews.  We cover only what we’re interested in and excited about–we figure that if we like it, so might you.

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Some of the most fun we’ve had is meeting new people as we keep up on the coolest happenings in the genre realm, some at conventions, some are friends we are grateful to chat with each week of the year.  And lucky for us, borg.com has allowed us to meet some of our own favorite celebrities over the past two years, sci-fi stars like Mark Hamill, Joss Whedon, Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, Anthony Stewart Head, Scott Bakula, Adam Baldwin, Lindsay Wagner, Saul Rubinek, Zachary Levi, Eddie McClintock, Wil Wheaton, and Mark Sheppard.  Sci-fi and fantasy writers like Peter S. Beagle, Connie Willis, James Blaylock, and Sharon Shinn.  And comic book creators like Frank Cho, Jim Lee, Sergio Aragones, Neal Adams, and Howard Chaykin, and scores of other great comics creators like Mike Mayhew, Mike Norton, Michael Golden and Mikel Janin (and several not named Mike).

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By Elizabeth C. Bunce

As everyone knows, it’s all too likely for a film adaptation of a beloved novel to, well, ruin it. (Witness the travesty of The Seeker, an utterly butchered translation of Susan Cooper’s breathtakingly beautiful fantasy series, The Dark is Rising.) And yet, some of our most brilliant and wonderful movies had their start as novels–Jaws, Gone With the Wind, The Grapes of Wrath, Babe.  When they get it right, they get it really right, so it’s worth suggesting (albeit a bit tentatively) a few literary gems that deserve their day on the screen.

1.  Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card

I almost don’t have to say anything about Orson Scott Card’s brilliant science fiction classic–fans have been clamoring for an Ender’s Game movie since its release in 1984, and the property has come close several times.  One of the early stumbling blocks (filming those dynamic zero-gravity training sequences) will no longer pose a problem, thanks to advances in special effects.  But drafting a script with all the excitement and nuance of Card’s novel intact remains a challenge, as does casting the novel’s impressive ensemble of very young characters.  Hopefully someone will eventually be up for those challenges, and, like Peter Jackson with The Lord of the Rings, be able to do this literary masterpiece justice.

2.  Lincoln’s Dreams, by Connie Willis

Seldom do I read a book and think immediately, “This should be a movie.”  But that is exactly what I thought upon first reading Connie Willis’s stunning debut novel, and what I think every read thereafter.  It’s short, which means it can be adpated wholesale without losing anything in the compression of film.  It’s highly visual, with evocative scene-setting around Washington, DC and various Civil War battlefield sites, as well as graphic Civil War dream sequences.  And the touching mystery and love story of the young historical researcher and the girl haunted by dreams of the past would be a perfect vehicle for young actors.  When I first read this, I thought Tom Everett Scott would be ideal in the lead, but the intervening decades have made that less likely.  Perhaps Jake M. Johnson from New Girl?  Or the always-earnest Jake Gyllenhaall?

3.  Les Miserables (the musical)

Victor Hugo’s classic tale of doomed revolutionaries, redemption, and obsession has been riveting readers since 1862, and has been adapted for the screen and stage countless times.  But it’s safe to say that Claude-Michel Schonberg’s 1980 musical adaptation has been one of the most enduring, spawning legions of devoted fans all over the world.  Alas, it missed the heyday of stage-to-screen adaptations of a generation before–but with the success of movies like Phantom of the Opera and Rent, not to mention current TV fads like Glee and Smash, perhaps it’s time to revisit this one.  NEWSFLASH!!!  According to Wikipedia, this one is on its way at last!  Starring Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, and Anne Hathaway, no less!  We’ll bring you news as we learn more.

4.  Tamsin by Peter S. Beagle

Tamsin is my favorite novel in the world, which means that it’s perfect just the way it is, and the risk for mucking it up is great–but the potential for an absolutely brilliant screen adaptation here is huge, too.  Beagle himself is an experienced screenwriter, and this novel deserves a bigger following.  It’s the story of an American teen who moves to the Dorset countryside and runs headlong into the neighborhood’s older, Otherworldly residents–from the local pooka, to the Wild Hunt, to a company of ghosts at once more lovable and more chilling than she (or the reader) is prepared for.  borg.com has actually heard a rumor that a British TV network is considering adapting the world of Tamsin into a long-running series, so we’ll be watching to see if–and how–that plays out.

5.  Muppet _________

A Muppet Christmas Carol being one of the best book-to-screen adaptations ever made, and Muppet Treasure Island being great fun, too, it’s time the wacky gang gets back into serious literature–particularly now that the Muppets are a hot box office property again.  Screenwriters can take inspiration from a fun series of comics from Boom! Studios, including titles such as Muppet Sherlock Holmes (with Gonzo in the title role), Muppet Peter Pan, and Muppet Robin Hood (Kermit); but allow me to suggest a few other works that may have good Muppet mileage.  How about Muppet Jane Eyre?  (Admittedly, their lack of a true ingenue might be a handicap here.)  Of Muppets and Men?  The Maltese Muppet?  Wait–I’ve got it:  Muppet Three Musketeers.

By C.J. Bunce

When pondering what I want to see in the movie theater that hasn’t arrived yet I think a lot about several Philip K. Dick short stories, or TV series that I’d love to see continued on the big screen, like a big screen Magnum, P.I., or Simon & Simon or Chuck—although if it is as underwhelming as the last X-Files movie then maybe not.  I’d love to see some early twentieth century biopics of Bix Beiderbecke or Karl King (who, among other things, composed the circus themes for Ringling Brothers and played in Sousa’s band).  And it would be fun to take a bunch of Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass songs from South Of The Border and The Lonely Bull and make them the soundtrack to a modern spaghetti Western, sort of like Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers with She’s The One A good Green Arrow or Bionic Man movie, or a good sequel to Return of the Jedi would all be fun.  And some things have been done already, but not quite right.  Space Ghost had his own cartton then interview show, but how about an adaptation of the serious origin series by Joe Kelly?  A big budget movie based on Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air could be awesome (the TV version suffered a bit despite a good cast).  The Russian story of Lieutenant Kije was filmed more than half a century ago with music by Prokofiev, but it needs a good updating.  We’ve seen four Tom Clancy novels about Jack Ryan, but the creepiest of the series, Debt of Honor, has yet to be made.

A lot of films have been made, and in coming up with this list one of my ideas–a film featuring Super Grover and the cast of Sesame Street–seemed long overdue.  I figured Sesame Street got bypassed for the Muppets, as shown in a funny scene from The Muppet Movie where Fozzie the Bear offers Big Bird a ride to the west coast to break into movies, and Big Bird says no thanks, he’s trying to break into public television back in New York.  Well, apparently they made that movie back in 1985 and I missed it, Sesame Street Presents: Follow That BirdYou can’t know everything.

For me this list was tough until I moved away from books as source material.  I think the movies I see in my head are better than how some of my ideas would likely turn out produced by the studios.  But let’s get on with it–with a nod to Art Schmidt for his idea with DC Comics and Jason McClain for mentioning Connie Willis.

    

From the comic books:  DC Comics’ Dark Knight Returns and Hard-Traveling Heroes

At lunch in high school my friends and I fantasy-cast Batman: The Dark Knight Returns over and over.  Ultimately we arrived at (the now late) Paul Newman as the ideal retired Batman, in the graphic novel another wealthy race car driver type.  In real life Newman was very much the Bruce Wayne interpreted in Frank Miller’s four-issue series-turned required-reading—as suave guy, well-liked, a wealthy philanthropist.  In a different universe Clint Eastwood would be great fun as a superhero coming out of retirement to have that last hoorah with the Batman cowl.  Probably too late now.  Of all the Batman stories, The Dark Knight Returns is #1–it is so well-established as more than a cult favorite, even beyond Watchmen, you just have to ask DC Comics and the Hollywood machine:  Why can’t someone just put it on the big screen?

I’ve said over and over here at borg.com that the best Green Lantern story ever is his team up with Green Arrow and Black Canary in Neal Adams’ and Dennis O’Neil’s classic Green Lantern Issues #76-87 and 89, the so-called “Hard Traveling Heroes.”  Imagine Black Canary pulling up on her motorcycle.  Imagine Green Arrow defending the kid robbing the slumlord.  Imagine Green Arrow catching Speedy.  Imagine Hal, Ollie and Dinah driving across America in their pick-up truck.  And harpies.  And encountering a religious cult.  And more harpies.

I’ll echo Art Schmidt: DC Comics needs to catch up with Marvel Comics movies, with Iron Man (the first one), Captain America: The First Avenger, and with Fantastic Four’s brilliant realization of Human Torch and The Thing, maybe my favorite heroes to screen so far.  OK, they nailed it with Christopher Reeve’s Superman and Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson in Batman.  Hopefully with The Avengers, Marvel Comics sets a new bar that DC Comics will have to work toward with a multi-hero story, maybe even with the Justice League or Superfriends.  Art’s recommended Cry for Justice, which we have discussed here before, is a great choice for this.

From the sci-fi novel: Remake, by Connie Willis

If you haven’t read Hugo and Nebula award-winning author Connie Willis’s books then you are in for a great ride through one of several fun and varied works.  For me, the concepts and Hollywood prophesies in her novel Remake are too cool to pass up and I have no doubt represent a foreshadowing of the future of film only slightly touched on in the Ralph Fiennes film Strange DaysRemake is science fiction at its best, and was nominated for a Hugo Award in 1996.

In our near future, Hollywood no longer needs to make new productions.  A film technician rearranges classic films via computer manipulation, so that the viewer can select who he wants to watch the next time he watches Raiders of the Lost Ark.  How about John Wayne?  How about Humphrey Bogart?  Why not edit out all the cigarettes so we no longer encourage smoking for future viewers?  What other movies would be fun to manipulate?  This is the world of our future where Viacom and Paramount are now Viamount, where actors are reduced to stand-ins.  OK, so it probably won’t really be our future as totally envisioned by Willis.

The technician falls for a strange woman who wants to dance in a musical and he is continually sidetracked as he pursues her through the novel.  The love story is well done—but it’s the world of our future that would be fun to see, finally, on the big screen.  And you would not need to film an entire movie, simply clips, like the old soda pop ads that blended dead celebrities with living ones, and that allowed Nat King Cole to star in a modern music video with his grown daughter, the singer Natalie Cole.  Hollywood has the technology today—so why not see how far CGI can go?

I’d frankly love to see any Willis book adapted to film, and in addition those mentioned by others in this series, Bellwether and To Say Nothing of the Dog would be great picks.

From the sci-fi novel: Fantastic Voyage 2: Destination Brain, by Isaac Asimov

When the original Fantastic Voyage was in theaters in 1966, Isaac Asimov created the novelization.  He was not happy with it because he was adapting someone else’s work (it was based on a Jerome Bixby story).  The original film reflected Hollywood basically at its infancy with special effects related to the future of medicine.  In its day it was a good effort.  With the 1987 novel Fantastic Voyage II: Destination Brain, which was not a sequel but an entirely new story, Asimov created the world inside a microscope that only he could envision.  The book is like Dennis Quaid in Innerspace, but with a serious mission and tone.  A group of scientists, such as you would find in the typical multi-disciplined problem solving team from a Michael Crichton novel, shrink themselves down to microscopic size to enter into the brain and try to diagnose the condition of a colleague, Dr. Pyotor Shapirov, the creator of the very technology that finally allows man to transport to such a miniscule size.

In 2001 Imax theaters featured a documentary on its giant-sized screens called The Human Body.  Audiences were able to see (and sometimes be grossed out by) the inner workings of the body.  Filmmakers would hardly need much by way of CGI to show a voyage through the cells.  Maybe this would be fun to attempt for some creative producer, and a project showing yet another frontier of science to science fiction fans.

From the art gallery: the cinematic paintings of Edward Hopper

How about a story for stage or screen where each scene begins or ends as an Edward Hopper painting?  And the focal character is the girl from his Automat, maybe also the same girl from his Chop Suey painting?  New York Movie, First Row Orchestra, Summertime, Cape Cod Evening—they all tell some secret story.  Or at least they all could, in the right filmmaker’s hands.

Hopper’s cinematic compositions and use of light and shadow has caused filmmakers to mimic his style before.  House by the Railroad supposedly influenced the house in the Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and the home in the Terrence Malick film Days of Heaven.  Director Wim Wenders’ film The End of Violence incorporates a tableau vivant of Nighthawks. Surrealist horror film director Dario Argento recreated the diner and the patrons in Nighthawks as part of a set for his 1976 film Deep Red.  Hopper has inspired both Blade Runner and Road to Perdition.

Turner Classic Movies uses animated recreations of Hopper paintings as introductions to classic films and in That ’70s Show the producers recreated the diner from Nighthawks.  But how about a full-scale movie showing us something about these characters we don’t know?  That’s something I’d love to see on the big screen.

From the ancient history books: the world briefly changed by Akhenaten

I could find a non-fiction work for the adaptation, but it’s the story itself I really want to see here.  The pharaoh Akhenaten was the leader of Egypt for about 17 years from circa 1353 B.C. to 1335 B.C.  He was married to Nefertiti and had six or seven daughters and at least one son–Tutankhamen.  In his reign he revamped the religion of his country like never before, moving from a polytheistic pantheon of gods to the worship of a single god, the Aten, or sun-disk.  Following his reign the empire was returned to its prior state and for Akhenaten’s blasphemy his name was chiseled out of a significant part of the written record.  Art during his reign became more expressive and naturalistic.  Images of the pharaoh show a realistic image that hid no flaws, a long face, not the typical glorification and heroic imagery of Egyptian leaders before and after.  Akhenaten is so interesting from a number of levels that it would be a great challenge to reflect his reign in film.  Certainly a rebel and not a traditionalist.  A stunning wife.  How do you show all the Egyptian relationships—including accepted inbreeding as a norm–without coming off as judgmental?  As pharaoh he was “one with the god Aten.”  How do you portray daily life in an interesting way where the ruler is God and what could you show about his family on film?  A great pandemic swept across the Middle East during this period, taking out the Hittite ruler Suppiluliuma, and how did they manage through that?  But even more interesting, with all the stories of the history of conflict in Egypt, what did life look like during the years of Egypt’s own version of Camelot?  This all would be incredible to depict.

From fantasy opera:  Richard Wagner’s The Ring of the Nibelung

I have only seen one version of The Ring that comes close to clarifying this odd and complex story composed of four epic operas for a general audience: P. Craig Russell’s two volume graphic novel of The Ring of the Nibelung.  A few years ago I discussed The Ring with Russell and he said it was a great effort to produce it and it became a sort of magnum opus for him.  But even an adaptation of Russell’s adaptation would need streamlined for mainstream audiences—yet, it would be a great starting point.  Predating that other famous fantasy ring series (the one by J.R.R. Tolkien) by decades, Wagner’s opera is epic in scope and length, taking four nights or 15 hours to perform the full opera.  We already have a superb soundtrack from Wagner, but can someone make a feature-length, meaningful adaptation in the English language that conveys the energy and power of the original without all the nonlinear bits and pieces?  The reward would be a giant vision of gods, heroes, mythical creatures and magic.

Other operas due for a good movie?  The Magic Flute, The Barber of Seville, The Marriage of Figaro.

More than any of the above I would love to see our own Elizabeth C. Bunce’s retelling of Rumplestiltskin, A Curse Dark As Gold (maybe a classic PBS/BBC series or Hayao Miyazaki anime film would be fun) or her fantasy noir Thief Errant series on-screen.  A Curse Dark As Gold has already been performed superbly in a full-length audio CD version by a Broadway actress so I’ve had a little taste of what it would be like to witness it fully played out.  And speaking of ECB, tomorrow she’ll give us her take on stories that should be adapted for the big screen.

By Jason McClain (@JTorreyMcClain)

When the idea first came around to write the top five adaptations of comic books, video games, books or characters that I’d like to see, I thought, “Great, what a great idea.”  Then, it slowly dawned on me.  I hate adaptations in most every case.  Seabiscuit?  Hated it.  The Lorax?  That looks so despicable, I refuse to give it my money.  Harry Potter?  I will never trust anyone that says, “No really, the next one is when they start getting good.”

The next thing I realized is that in some, possibly misguided, corner of my mind, there are still some things that I’d like to adapt.  Stories that captured my attention and that are on my list of things to write after I finish my current project.  I may never get to them, especially since a couple have been on my list for a while, but hope spring eternal, especially at this time of year.

So, how would I approach this?  First, I have to assume that I trust the filmmaker, like I trust Peter Jackson after the The Lord of the Rings trilogy.  I know that’s not a rational assumption.  For every Fellowship of the Rings that Jackson did, there’s a filmmaker who does Batman and Robin, Iron Man 2 or any Harry Potter movie.  For every V for Vendetta that takes Alan Moore material and makes it great, there’s a From Hell or Watchmen and I go back to hating adaptations.

To make a great adaptation, the filmmaker has to respect the source (don’t get me started on Michael Bay and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), understand the vibe of the source and still be willing to go off script and put their own voice into it.  I wonder if instead of a shot for shot remake, if Gus Van Sant had done something new with Psycho, it would have worked.  The cynic in me doubts it very much, but the optimist wonders mostly to himself that it could have been interesting if nothing else.  A shot for shot remake with Anne Heche instead of Janet Leigh?  Why not just watch the original?

So, what does that leave to adapt?  I think it leaves things that I don’t consider sacred and fortunately that still leaves plenty.  I’m not saying these aren’t favorites, but I think they could work nicely as adaptations.  Just to make it more interesting, not only will I choose the five things to adapt, but make them in five different genres.  First the honorable mentions: American Gods (tough to make, but in the hands of someone like Tarsem Singh who did the underrated The Fall there would be some cool, trippy otherworld sequences) and Geek Love (come on, aren’t we due for a great carnie movie?).  Now, let’s do the countdown.

5.  Red Dead Redemption – Genre: Western

I don’t know if there has been a good video game movie.  However, if they follow the story of Red Dead Redemption they’ve already got a pretty cool cinematic western.  John Marston plays the typical western hero of a former rogue looking for redemption and trying to save his wife and child.  It’s been done many different times, but if you have good actors, good scenery and good dialogue to go with this story, it could work.  I can’t tell you much more about this particular story;  I just know that I’m still surprised that a video game actually moved me.

   

4.  Captain Carrot and his Amazing Zoo Crew – Genre: Animated Feature

Originally, this spot was for The Invaders as I love a good WWII movie and there’s nothing better than fighting Nazis.  Then, as I wrote it, I mentioned some other favorite comic book characters: The Powerpuff Girls and Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew and how they would look cool fighting Nazis as well.  Then, I kept reading it over and over, and since Captain America: The First Avenger already went back to World War II, there’s not much space for The Invaders.  There won’t be more Bucky.  There won’t be the original Human Torch, Toro, Union Jack or Namor, the Sub-Mariner.  The Powerpuff Girls already have a TV show and a movie.  However, if you’re looking for a silly parody of super groups as an alternative to The Avengers or I have to assume an eventual Justice League movie, then look no further than Captain Carrot, Yankee Poodle, Fastback, Pig Iron, Alley-Kat-Abra and Rubberduck.  If they can fight the Nazis, that might be the perfect movie.

3.  Doomsday Book by Connie Willis – Genre: Medieval England Period Piece and Sci-Fi

C.J. Bunce introduced me to Connie Willis at his first San Diego Comic-Con when we went to a panel she did, and I read a few of her novels and found them charming, interesting and fun.  I think the appeal to adapting Doomsday Book comes from glimpsing a true epidemic in the form of the black plague in the eyes of someone from the future.  I didn’t like Contagion much, so maybe the book adaptation of Doomsday Book could effectively show the terror of an incurable disease spreading and the feeling of helplessness that follows.  For the protagonist Kivrin, trying to not reveal you’re from the future adds a great layer to that tension, having to remain disconnected while not being sure if she’ll ever leave this doomed time.

2.  Sleeper by Ed Brubaker – Genre: Noir

I’ve written about Sleeper in two previous Borg.com posts, so you know how much I like it.  I also think that it would make a fantastic film noir.  You have the femme fatale in Miss Misery, you have a guy that doesn’t know what’s good or bad anymore and you have crime galore.  If that’s not a great film noir, with bonus super powers, I don’t know what is.

1.  The Great American Novel by Philip Roth – Genre: Baseball Comedy

The Great American Novel might be one of my favorite baseball books of all time.  I took it in the third round of a baseball book draft.  (I knew it would last until then, so I grabbed The Boys of Summer and The Glory of Their Times with my first two picks).  The story of the Ruppert Mundys and the forgotten Patriot League as told by “Word” Smith (thanks, Wikipedia) would run circles around Moneyball the movie.  I think the fictional 14-year-old manager (I think that’s the age – goodness, I need to buy a copy of this book to read again and so I can look up such queries) would make a better representative of sabermetrics than the “fictional” Peter Brand.

Moneyball the book was my fifth round choice in the baseball draft – and just another perfect example of how I dislike movie adaptations of books that I enjoy.  As much as I would like to see this list made into movies now that I’ve written this post, my gut tells me it’s probably better if they’re not.

Come back tomorrow and C.J. Bunce searches out some choices he think would be difficult to adapt but fun to watch.

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