We just saw the first trailer for The Moon and the Sun, the movie version of Vonda McIntyre’s Nebula Award-winning 1997 novel, here at Worldcon in Spokane. It’s full of lavish beauty and intense passion, set in Louis XIV’s Versailles.
In the Moon and the Sun trailer, we meet Marie-Josephe (Kaya Scodelario), a young orphan who’s trapped a nunnery—until King Louis XIV (Pierce Brosnan) hears of her amazing harp-playing talent, and she’s brought to Versailles. Then she gets a makeover, to be turned into one of the ladies of the court, but she refuses to be painted with the gaudy clown makeup that everybody else wears. Soon, she’s causing a court sensation, because nobody understands who she is or what her connection to the King is. (And the King tells her that she’s something the rest of them can never be: an individual.)
Meanwhile, Marie-Josephe strikes up a friendship/romance with a handsome young nobleman—but then she makes a startling discovery. There’s a mermaid (performed via motion-capture by Fan Bingbing) living in one of the pools of Versailles. Marie-Josephe hears the mermaid’s song, and dives into the water to meet her. They soon form a close bond—but Marie-Josephe has broken the rules by going to visit the mermaid. And then we discover that the King plans to kill the mermaid, in order to claim immortality for himself. Marie-Josephe schemes to free the mermaid, but the King tells her that she has noplace to run.
The trailer looked utterly beautiful, with the real-life setting of Versailles used to its full advantage, featuring brilliant costumes. The performances all looked like they came from a decent historical drama, that just happened to feature a fantasy creature, rather than a fantasy movie per se. There was just one problem with the trailer: the mermaid. The CG effects looked very much unfinished, and kind of crude and cartoony. Whenever the mermaid came on screen, the movie suddenly looked like a low-budget version of Avatar.
The Moon and the Sun movie was originally scheduled to come out in April 2015, but it was pulled from release at the last minute. McIntyre told the audience that she didn’t know when the movie would finally be released, but added that there’s only one reason for the delay: “They’re trying to get the mermaid exactly right.” Based on what we saw today, that’s definitely still a work in progress.
And readers of McIntyre’s book will recognize, from the above description, that the movie’s storyline is somewhat different from the book.
Moon and the Sun started as a screenplay
“Novelists tend to object to the fact that books and movies are very very different,” said McIntyre. But in fact, she originally wrote The Moon and the Sun as a screenplay. Then she found that she had to leave too much stuff out—so she decided to expand it into a novel instead. But for a novel, she had to do tons more research to develop the world of Louis XIV, the famous Sun King, to make sure the costumes and worldbuilding were accurate—she couldn’t lean on the costume designer and director to figure out how things should look.
Meanwhile, McIntyre’s original screenplay was “the screenplay of the week for about 15 minutes in L.A.,” and she had meetings with Oliver Stone’s people, Danny DeVito’s people and Steven Spielberg’s people, and so on. At the time, in 1994, her screenplay was deemed too expensive to produce. Eventually, the book came out and was optioned—but they didn’t use McIntyre’s own screenplay.
Still, McIntyre says you just have to accept that books and movies are each “their own thing.” In some cases, she wishes they hadn’t made certain choices, but at least the film is going to look beautiful—especially once huge dance sequence filmed inside the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles. They had to film it at night, when the tourists weren’t around, and they were struggling to finish it up by 5:30 AM.
McIntyre insists The Moon and the Sun is a science fiction novel, not fantasy. It takes place during an era when alchemy and natural science were both coming into their own—and nobody knew which was right. That conflict is at the heart of her book. “It was very important to me to explore that. One of the characters is a natural philosopher. The protagonist, Marie-Josephe, is his sister.” And as often happened in that era, she does much of the actual scientific work for him.
In her book, she also tried to capture the relationship between Louis and his court. “He invented keeping up with the Joneses,” she explained. Having experienced a civil war as a child, Louis didn’t want to go through that again—so he kept all the nobles busy spending all their wealth on costumes and fancy houses, so they could compete for his time and attention. “The politics there were essential to the story,” she said. She also wanted to include his relationship to the Catholic Church, his illegitimate children and his legitimate children.
Meanwhile, McIntyre has been writing some stories set in a world with interstellar travel lately, and she’s grappled with the difficulty of imagining how we could travel such vast distances. She’s hoping to understand how these ships function well enough to be able to write from the ship’s point of view—do the ships view their human passengers as parasites? Partners? Commensals? She wants to spend more time imagining what that ecosystem would look like.
The Star Trek novels, and giving Sulu a first name
Writing several Star Trek novels was “a lot of fun,” McIntyre said. During that time, she said there was a lot of freedom for writers of these books because the people in charge were “more or less the T-shirt division.” Nobody had realized how much money they could make off this franchise yet. She hadn’t re-watched the original Star Trek since it first aired when she was 18, and she didn’t want to ruin those memories of loving it back then—so she relied on her younger self’s memories of the characters and the universe to create brand new stories.
The Star Trek book license had just gone to Pocket Books, and David G. Hartwell asked McIntyre if she’d like to write a novel. She was able to write the whole thing, without even having to submit an outline or proposal first. Hartwell asked her to give the resulting book, The Entropy Effect, to him at a convention in Seattle—where he sat and read it in the corner at a party. And then he told her, “Paramount is really going to love this or they’re going to hate it, and I can’t tell you which one.”
Apparently, Paramount did like The Entropy Effect — except that years later, McIntyre found out that someone at Paramount had objected to the fact that she gave Sulu a first name, Hikaru. She was writing a sex scene for Sulu, and she couldn’t figure out how to write a sex scene where the characters only called each other by their last names. After Paramount objected, Hartwell suggested asking actor George Takei and producer Gene Roddenberry what they thought—and they both liked it, so Paramount was overruled.
McIntyre wrote the novelization of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan on an early Osborne 1 computer, and didn’t think she could have written it without a computer. The studio was paranoid about anyone knowing about the ending of the film, where Spock dies, so they only gave McIntyre the first 100 pages of the screenplay, missing the final 20 pages. She got hold of a bootleg copy of the whole thing, but had to pretend she didn’t know the ending. At last, she convinced a studio exec to tell her over the phone how the movie ended—but he wouldn’t let her actually read the script pages, telling her just to go ahead and write a “gobbledygook” version of the ending. If she hadn’t gotten that bootleg script copy, her version of the Wrath of Khan ending would have been pretty garbled.
As it was, McIntyre received hate mail (which she still has copies of to this day) about her novelization of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. She described Captain Kirk’s swim at the end of the movie slightly differently than the way it appears on screen—because she was going by the actual script, rather than the filmed version.
Meanwhile, when she wrote a Star Wars book, McIntyre was explicitly asked to “add some diversity to the Star Wars universe.” And she’s heard from “a small group of people who don’t like that,” and these people “follow reviews of my work around the internet, and if they find a positive review, they go, ‘Well, yeah, but her Star Wars novel was a piece of crap.” She’s gotten tons of positive letters about her one Star Wars novel, but has also experienced more negativity from Star Wars fans than Star Trek fans.
On the other hand, one time a guy turned up on McIntyre’s doorstep with a bunch of flowers and told her he just wanted to let her know how much he loved her stories, then left.
Dreamsnake is “one of the most hopeful books”
Earlier today, I also went to a Worldcon panel to discuss McIntyre’s Hugo- and Nebula-winning novel Dreamsnake, featuring authors Molly Gloss and Elizabeth Bear, who both talked about how much this book had meant to them. Gloss said she didn’t think she could write science fiction, until she read Dreamsnake.
Dreamsnake is the story of Snake, a healer in a post-apocalyptic world who needs to replace one of her snakes that secretes venom that causes hallucinations and relieves the patient’s pain. Snake goes on a quest to get a new healing snake, and meets many weird people along the way, visiting a walled city and a broken dome.
Dreamsnake is “one of the most hopeful books I’ve ever read,” says Bear. She summed up what she thought the message of the book is: “There is always something worth fighting for, even if it’s just each other.” Also, it’s based on real science, with bio-engineering playing a huge role in the book, and real medical issues coming up in Snake’s practice.
McIntyre’s post-apocalyptic society rings truer because it’s a real society, says Bear. “It’s not this Mad Max, dog-eat-dog world.” Rather, it’s “closer to what history shows about how a post-apocalyptic society works. These are people and they have relationships.”
Bear said that Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven is a great post-apocalyptic book but “nobody has any agency.” Nobody is going and planting vegetables. Instead, they’re scrounging for canned food 20 years after the apocalypse. Bear insisted, “plant zucchini, you’ll have more food than you know what to do with. Snake would plant zucchini.”
McIntyre’s Dreamsnake is still out of print—but it’s now available as an e-book through BookViewCafe. And it’s coming back into print in the U.K. soon.