While science fiction has been a staple for films since films began, the translation of science fiction literature to the silver screen has had at best spotty results. Here are a few SF greats whose works deserve the cinematic treatment.
Arthur C. Clarke – Clarke is best known as the author of 2001: A Space Odyssey, which was developed both as a book and a film in conjunction with the late Stanley Kubrick. But Clarke has some other works that cry out for movie magic.
The City and the Stars is set billions of years in the future, when the human race, having once traversed the stars, has retreated to two very different enclaves on an aging Earth. The story is about a young man named Alvin who dreams of the wide universe beyond the confines of the very last city on Earth and who goes on a quest that will eventually reclaim humankind’s star faring heritage.
The Songs of Distant Earth is set on a human colony planet called Thalassa. A colony ship, bearing the last million refugees from a dying Earth, appears on its way to another world and a clash of cultures ensues. The novel, like much of Clarke’s best work, is filled with ideas and predictions.
Finally, The Fountains of Paradise depicts the building of a space elevator on Clarke’s beloved Sri Lanka. The action is split between the near future project and one undertaken by an ancient King who was eager to reach the gods.
Robert Heinlein has had a mixed experience on film. Destination Moon remains a classic of early SF film, which attempted at some degree of scientific accuracy. Starship Troopers, on the other hand, was a travesty on film. It’s a book that cries out for a remake, this time with a director who understands the material. John Milius comes to mind.
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress has actually been mentioned as a project somewhere in development. The story is set on a future lunar colony in which a motley crew of rebels (including a self aware computer named Mike) launch a revolution against their tyrannical Earth overlords.
Poul Anderson is an underappreciated writer whose works usually read like epics. One book that would be great as a film is Tau Zero, about a bussard ramjet ship filled with human explorers who, because of a malfunction, cannot stop their vessel until the end of the universe and the beginning of another.
Starfarers, a later work, is about an interstellar expedition that discovers that interstellar exploration is a simply a phase civilizations go through before withdrawing from the stars. How the crew of the ship react to this revelation is one of the most awe inspiring stories I’ve ever read.
One of Anderson’s best characters is the interstellar entrepreneur, Nicolas van Rijn, based rather loosely on 17th Century Dutch merchant adventurers. Two novels featuring Van Rijn as well as his crew of explorers, including David Falkhayne, are Mirkheim and Satan’s World.
Isaac Asimov has not been treated well on film. Nightfall the movie was simply awful. I, Robot was a pretty cool auctioneer with Will Smith, which actually included some of Asimov’s ideas about the three laws of robotics, but in the end somehow missed something.
Both Caves of Steel and The Naked Sun are both entertaining detective novels set in a future when robots and human coexist. And, of course, the Foundation series is a gold mine of material that could make numerous good films in the right hands.
Finally, I should like to put in a vote for a novel that has three authors, Fallen Angels, by Jerry Pournelle, Larry Niven, and Michael Flynn. The story concerns a group of space colonists who find themselves marooned on an Earth where a tyrannical government has clamped down on “inappropriate technology”, including the burning of fossil fuel. One result is that the phenomenon of global warming is “solved” so well that an ice age has ensued. It’s Al Gore’s dream and everyone else’s nightmare.