Annihilation is out now, season two of The Handmaid’s Tale is coming soon, and tons of other high-profile scifi and fantasy adaptations are either already making a huge impact (Game of Thrones) or arriving soon with much fanfare (Ready Player One). So what should lure Hollywood’s genre-obsessed gaze next? We’ve got some suggestions.
These recent scifi and fantasy books—written by authors beyond eternal favorites like Neil Gaiman and Stephen King—that would be stellar on the big or small screen. (And if you haven’t read them yet, consider this a recommendation.)
1) Jade City by Fonda Lee
Nearly every review and description of this 2017 book makes sure to deploy its undeniably awesome elevator pitch: “The Godfather, but with magic and kung fu.” Set in an alternate mid-20th century, on a island that’s sort of like Hong Kong (but is distinctly its own richly detailed, fantastical place), Jade City imagines that the title mineral has the ability to bestow superhuman powers upon those who know how to use it—which, naturally, makes it highly prized, particularly by warrior clans who’ve long used it for noble purposes. But younger generations have allowed the ancient ways to begin slipping away, a situation that gets even worse when a new drug is developed that makes virtually anyone capable of harnessing jade’s mystical powers.
Given the scope of Fonda Lee’s book—its intricate family dramas, its gangster intrigue, and its kick-ass action scenes, not to mention the fact that it’s the first in a planned trilogy—Jade City seems ripe for an adaptation... and Lee herself should write the script. In an engaging Reddit AMA, Lee revealed her deep affection for the movies that inspired her, naming off her favorite martial arts films (Enter the Dragon; Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; The Raid: Redemption) as well as gangster movies both Western (The Godfather; The Godfather Part II; Once Upon A Time in America, “restored director’s cut NOT theatrical version”) and Asian (Infernal Affairs; Election; Friend). But while Jade City obviously has plenty of excellent influences, it’s an epic, original, and cinematic tale all its own.
2) River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey
Sarah Gailey’s 2017 novella, a Nebula nominee, already has a sequel (Taste of Marrow), but it’s hard to beat River of Teeth for a title that already has you hooked before you even know what the story is about. And River of Teeth more than lives up to that evocative name, taking flight from a very real starting point. For a brief, hilariously surreal moment in 1909 America, the powers that be seriously considered hippopotamuses as a food source. In our world, the idea was squashed and soon forgotten, but in Gailey’s tale, the hippo-meat plan is put into action. What could possibly go wrong? Or rather, what could possibly go right, especially when a population of imported hippos breaks free and starts viciously rampaging through the bayous of Louisiana? At the center of all the chaos is vengeance-minded former hippo rancher Winslow Remington Houndstooth, hired by the government to assemble a team of hippo wranglers (a delightfully motley crew that includes a con man, an assassin, a riverboat gambler, and an expert in deadly poisons). So it’s got plenty of adventure, monsters, memorable characters, and Wild West flavor, especially since—as you can see from the swampy cover art—the ragtag crew charged with herding the “hops” all ride their own trusty hippos (each of which has its own distinctive personality) as part of the gig. Cross-reference Okja to see how an oversized, charismatic CG creature can seamlessly share the frame with a human actor—and imagine how amazing it would be to see what’s very possibly the literary world’s first alternative history, hippo-centric thriller brought to life onscreen.
3) Barbary Station by R.E. Stearns
We’ve seen plenty of space pirates pop up in scifi over the years, but space pirates are so inherently cool that there’s really no danger of overdosing on them. And we haven’t really seen any like the main characters in Barbary Station: Adda and Iridian, a pair of recently-graduated out-of-work engineers who decide piracy should be their new career path. They already have an entry point, since Adda’s brother is already in the swashbuckling biz, as he’s part of one of several crews that prowls the galaxy in the aftermath of an interplanetary war, looking for corporate ships to hijack. But when the women travel to meet him at the cleverly-named title station, they realize a pirate’s life isn’t without potentially deadly complications—most pressingly, Barbary Station’s all-controlling AI, which has recently gone crazier than HAL 9000 and is determined to annihilate every pirate it can find. With its fast-paced plot, ruthless robot villain, and (as we may have mentioned) space pirates, 2017's Barbary Station already has several key elements in place to propel a movie or TV series. But this scifi adventure’s secret weapon is the supportive, loving bond between Adda and Iridian, whose relationship is a part of the story without being the story—something that seems especially notable after the sorta problematic way Star Trek: Discovery handled that series’ first-ever queer couple.
4) The Twilight Pariah by Jeffrey Ford
Pop culture’s current Stephen King craze means horror adaptations are red-hot right now—and while everyone loves an evil clown, it’d be amazing if we saw a ripple effect that meant other authors saw their work get the TV or movie treatment. This 2017 novella by Jeffrey Ford is an excellent candidate; it opens with a familiar premise, as hometown friends decide their last hurrah before college graduation should involve poking around an abandoned mansion that’s already got a notoriously spooky history. Fortunately, the story that follows that set-up is much more engrossing than most typical haunted-house fare; for starters, one of the friends, Maggie, is an archaeology major, so her interest in the property—which soon ropes in Henry, Russell, and Russell’s boyfriend Luther—is somewhat academic as well as thrill-seeking. When their digging unearths what looks like the horned skeleton of a child, something terrible is awakened, and the friends have to figure out how to send it back where it came from. In the meantime: Frights and horrific murders galore! Since it’s a novella, The Twilight Pariah wraps up in fewer than 200 pages, leaving plenty of opportunity for a scriptwriter to build out the story’s likable and surprisingly amusing characters, as well as its spine-tingling scares. Hell, the book cover already looks like a movie poster advertising something I’d want to watch on a dark and stormy night.
5) The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North
We loved this book when it came out in 2014; read io9's review here, which remarked that “the sheer cracklike addictiveness of North’s tight plotting can’t be overstated—but the worldbuilding in this novel is also super-immersive.” (You can also read an interview with the author, whose real name is Catherine Webb, here.) It’s also got a hell of a story and main character, too, in the form of Harry August, an “Ourobouran” who dies and is reborn to live the same life over and over again. Yes, it’s sort of like Groundhog Day, but with a lot more at stake—including the impending end of the world, which inches closer and closer every time Harry is reborn. What’s even more alarming is the fact that a fellow Ourobouran appears to be the reason that doomsday is approaching, and Harry—rare among his kind because he can remember details of his previous life loops—soon realizes he might be the only person able to prevent it. That’s obviously a thrilling, inventive plot that manages to put a ticking clock on an otherwise potentially endless time frame (we didn’t even mention the fact that Harry and his ilk belong to a global secret society, which adds yet another dimension to the story), but Harry August also digs into both the existential and practical aspects of what it would be like to essentially live forever—but instead of living one long immortal life, cycling through the same life on repeat. A movie or TV show adaptation (which we’ve been asking for since soon after the book’s release; consider this our second request!) could combine historical drama, weird science, and time travel without actual time travel, all while being a sort of biopic of a truly unique, fascinating, and wryly funny character.
Is your bookshelf bursting with recent scifi or fantasy novels that you’d love to see get the Hollywood treatment, be it by way of a traditional studio, or somewhere like Netflix or Amazon? Share your picks in the comments!