Nowadays, a lot of the best TV shows are based on books, especially book series. But the amazing thing about science fiction and fantasy books is, there's always more riches to explore. We've barely scratched the surface, in fact. Here are 10 more book series that would make terrific TV shows.
Top image: Da Vinci - Mars Design
To compile this post, we tried to think of book series that had enough material to sustain a TV series without having to start inventing characters and plot twists out of whole cloth in the first year or two. We also thought about series that have complex worldbuilding, intense political and social conflicts, and vivid characters who stick in your mind — without requiring massive space battles or dragon wars on a TV budget.
The Mars Trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson
This ambitious, huge series is nothing but political conflicts and complex worldbuilding, with a huge dose of philosphy thrown in. The first colonists land on Mars and debate the ethics of terraforming the planet, and incidentally humanity's place in the universe. Over time, the series also gets into questions about how to organize scarce resources and the best form of government. HBO or Showtime could turn this series into an addictive, bleak, hypnotic drama — like BSG, only even more adult and grounded.
The Tiffany Aching books by Terry Pratchett
Pratchett's sprawling Discworld series, in general, is fantastic stuff and full of potential — we're still waiting for the City Watch TV series, being developed in the U.K. But we'd especially love to see a TV show based on the story of Tiffany Aching, a young witch who befriends a tribe of small blue dudes called the Wee Free Men. There's a lot of brilliant silliness in these books, as you'd expect — but there's also a solid character-based story about Tiffany learning to wield power with humility and devote herself to helping people rather than seeking glory. There's a rich supporting cast, and you could draw on the whole rich pageantry of Discworld, but the core of the story is the character of Tiffany and her relationship with her teacher Miss Level.
The Patternist Series by Octavia Butler
The full scope of this five-book series might be hard to capture on television — but there's plenty to explore in the story of telepathic super-humans shaping the evolution of the human race. We have plenty of TV shows about mutants with mental and other superpowers, but Butler takes it further, and in more beguiling directions, than Heroes or Tomorrow People ever dreamed. Just the relationship between Doro and Anyanwu, the two immortals who clash across generations, could become a fascinating and intense drama.
Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner
Here's another series that would probably have to be on cable TV, if not premium cable — there's a gay romance at the center of it, and at its heart it's a series about Renaissance era manners and institutionalized dueling. Basically, a more fantasy-oriented version of The Tudors. What makes this series a potential win on television is that it's a secondary-world fantasy with virtually no magic, so it could feel like a worthy successor to Game of Thrones, which famously starts with very little magic. Sexy and swashbuckling, this series could rule the small screen.
The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander
Everybody's rushing to adapt young-adult book series for movies and television. But where's our live-action of this classic kids' series? This is the story of Taran, who starts out as a young assistant pig-keeper but slowly grows to adulthood and rises to become a hero. These books may be for kids, but they have a similar coming-of-age theme to the Tiffany Aching series — or the Harry Potter series, for that matter. And in the right hands, they could be as emotional and as intense as anything on The CW nowadays. Image by SyrusbLiz on Deviant Art
Chronicles of the Deryni by Katherine Kurtz
Another great fantasy series — these take place in a fictional medieval realm where everybody knows about the existence of the Deryni, who are superhumans with magical powers. What's great about these novels, especially in the wake of Game of Thrones, is that they're as much about politics, and about who will rule the Eleven Kingdoms, as about magic, or good versus evil. They're sprawling political sagas, based on real medieval history and succession challenges, in which magic is another weapon in the political feuds. Image by Pyracantha
The War Against the Chtorr by David Gerrold
Like the Mars trilogy, this book series is especially relevant nowadays because it deals with ecological collapse — the Earth is already in bad shape when an alien ecology arrives and "colonizes" our planet by introducing superior species. And it's up to a group of humans to figure out how to eliminate these invasive plants and highly predatory fauna, before it's too damn late for the human race. There could be some VFX challenges in creating the massive worms that give the series the "Chtorr" name with their terrible noise — but after Falling Skies and the Skitters, I fully believe it's possible. This could be a smarter, more focused Falling Skies. Plus a TV deal would provide Gerrold with an additional incentive to finish the series at long last.
Fitz & Fool series by Robin Hobb
This series is another one that could provide a natural
companion to Game of Thrones — the story of an assassin named Fitz who gets
enlisted to save the Six Duchies by the Fool — a court jester who claims to be
the White Prophet, able to shape the future using Fitz as his Catalyst. We presented
the first glimpse of the next Fitz and Fool novel the other day, but
there's already tons of dark, gritty material in the existing novels, in which Fitz
battles the evil Red-Ship Raiders and searches for a missing prince. Image by John Howe.
The Bordertown Series by Terri Windling, Mark Alan Arnold et al.
This is mostly a series of shared-world anthologies, in which a number of authors including Neil Gaiman and Patricia A. McKillip tell stories of Bordertown, the liminal space between the human city and the realm of elves. You can read a few sample stories here. The urban fantasy vibe is very strong with this series, and the notion of elves roaming New York and humans wandering into elf territory is full of endless potential.
Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey
And finally, here's a series that actually is being developed for television. This gritty space opera about working-class stiffs in space, inspired by things like Alien, could bring spaceships back to television, and also win over the people who were blown away by Battlestar Galactica but haven't found another grown-up, challenging space series to replace it since it went away.