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John Scalzi – The Movie-Adaptation Chances for This Year’s Hugo Class

I know you can’t tell just by looking, but as you read this I am on the underside of the planet, in Australia. Why? Because this year’s Worldcon — the premier annual gathering of science-fiction- and fantasy-lit geeks — is taking place in Melbourne. We will gather, talk science fiction, and hand out Hugo Awards, one of science fiction’s very biggest awards.

Last year, I looked at the Hugo nominees for Best Novel and tried to guess their chances for being made into a film, as Hugo winners Starship Troopers, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and Coraline (the last a novella-category winner) have been. Let’s take a look at this year’s class and see how they might fare.

Boneshaker, by Cherie Priest
What’s it about? In a steampunk-ish USA, a woman with a checkered past goes looking for her missing teenage son in the remains of a zombified Seattle.
Why it would make a great movie Action, adventure, zeppelins, zombies, and both a strong female character and a young male character make it a must-see for moviegoers of both sexes and all interests.
Caveats Steampunk films have not done so well; see (or, well, don’t) Wild Wild West or The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen for verification.
Chances for a movie version They would be better if there were a hit steampunk film for producers to want to emulate.

The City & the City, by China Miéville
What’s it about? A police detective in Mitteleuropa tries to solves a murder that takes him to a neighboring city, which shares a fantastical and disturbing history with his own.
Why it would make a great movie The relationship of the two cities in the story is unique enough that I can’t think of another film with a similar conceit. The lead character is perfect for an older but still cool lead. It has a noirish feel that critics would love.
Caveats Moody, chilly story not exactly teen-date-night movie fodder.
Chances for a movie version Make it a smart indie with an equally smart director (like Alfonso Cuarón), and it could happen.

Julian Comstock, by Robert Charles Wilson
What’s it about? A somewhat satirical history of Julian Comstock,
a war hero and then reforming president of a repressive, post-oil 22nd-century United States.
Why it would make a great movie The story follows its character
for decades, into war and then into the presidency, meaning that it has
all the ingredients to be a genuinely epic film.
Caveats Genuinely epic films cost lots of money, and the major
epic film of a hero sewing together a post-collapse United States was
called The Postman.
Chances for a movie version Not great. But you know what? It would make a great HBO mini-series.

Palimpsest, by Catherynne Valente
What’s it about? Four people discover a fantastical city that can only be entered by way of a most unconventional route. (Yes, it involves sex.)
Why it would make a great movie Because it would be possibly the sexiest and also one of the most melancholy speculative-fiction films ever made.
Caveats I really don’t think a major movie studio would have the
slightest idea how to handle this one. Their marketing people’s heads
would explode just thinking about it.
Chances for a movie version In Hollywood? Iffy. Outside of Hollywood?
Give it to a director like Kar Wai Wong or Sally Potter and cinéastes
will have fistfights about it at Cannes. Which would be awesome.

Wake, by Robert J. Sawyer
What’s it about? A young woman undergoing a radical surgery to
repair her blindness discovers instead that she’s gained a different
sort of sight and encounters a newborn intelligence floating out in the
Why it would make a great movie A number of intersecting stories
(including that of an intelligent ape and of a Chinese blogger) give
the story propulsion. Sawyer’s writing offers easy adaptation to the big
Caveats Hollywood might have a difficult time thinking about an
emerging machine consciousness that doesn’t immediately devolve into
Skynet, explosions, and death.
Chances for a movie version Not bad. Sawyer’s involvement in FlashForward, the TV series loosely based on his 1999 novel, means he’s a known quantity. Which is generally a good thing.

The Windup Girl, by Paolo Bacigalupi
What’s it about? Intrigues and power positioning in a future
Thailand where biotechnology isn’t just worth killing for; it’s worth
toppling governments for.
Why it would make a great movie It’s a new take on a
post-abundance world that, if handled the right way and with the right
people (particularly visual designers), could become influential in the
way Blade Runner is influential today.
Caveats Blade Runner wasn’t financially successful in its time, and bean counters remember that.
Chances for a movie version Hard to say, although it’s already won the
Nebula (the other big award in science fiction), so if it wins the Hugo
as well that could add to its cachet as a hot property.

Which book will win? We’ll find out this Sunday evening.

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