Month: October 2015

Let’s Talk | Book to Movie/TV Adaptations

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It probably comes as no surprise to you that book to movie/TV adaptations are all the rage. After the successes that Hollywood has seen with The Hunger Games Divergent, Game of Thrones, and The Martian, it seems like every book is getting optioned. Part of this isn’t surprising, but it is a little off-setting to me. In business, you want to go with proven strategies. Successful models will always be more appealing. But I suspect that there are a lot of franchises being set up to go nowhere at best and down the drain at worst.

In the past year or so, Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice, Wes Chu’s Time Salvager, and Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind. Have all been optioned for various movie, tv, and video game productions (sources hyperlinked).

Let’s start by talking about what this means.

According to legal-dictionary.com, an option means:

A right, which operates as a continuing offer, given in exchange for consideration—something of value—to purchase or lease property at an agreed price and terms within a specified time.

In a way, all of the buzz over this is a bit misleading. Being “optioned” means that a company has bought the rights to produce an adaptation of the story. The company can then take the story and start developing scripts, production ideas, and testing the story on potential markets. What “optioned” doesn’t mean is that those adaptations will necessarily be made or that they will be made any time soon.

An option is a way for a company to test the waters. There may be contract terms which require certain things like script development or production, but this isn’t inherent to the term. To boot, an option is like a lease, after a certain time, you’re done. The copyright holder can move on to the next offer.

What’s more important is (1) what company has optioned a story, (2) if they have anyone on contract for the story, (3) the popularity of the story, and (4) if the story allows the company to tap into a new or a wide audience.

For instance, saying that a small company has optioned a story, but has no one on board to adapt it, it’s only a fairly popular story, and it’s not going to tap into or expand the audience they already have, means less than a large company optioning a story with an enthusiastic and popular team on board for a story that has broken the NYT bestseller list.

Shocker?

Optioning doesn’t mean so much in and of itself, but there has been a slew of optioning, by fairly established companies. Many of these optioning deals have teams to help the potential production on board and are picking up niche, but well received books. Wes Chu’s novel Time Salvager , for instance, was optioned by Paramount with Michael Bay lined up to direct and Chu set to be the executive producer. That’s a serious deal. Considering the works that have been announcing optioning, it’s not unreasonable to suspect that in the next 5 or so years we will get a large number of movie adaptations of hit works.

Optioning: Good? Bad? Meh?

Part of me is ridiculously excited to see so many SFF adaptations (potentially) in the works. It’s been so long since we got an SFF adaptation that was truly energizing. Afterall, there’s so much potential in SFF that hasn’t been tapped into. Star Wars and Star Trek reboots will only get you so far and Scyfy hasn’t made a tv show worthy of weekly watching for quite some time. Lately more shows like Game of Thrones and Orphan Black have been on the rise. The idea of a new, gritty scifi show, or an engaging fantasy show sans-Starks is exciting. But, I’m hesitant about the swath of adaptations for a few reasons.

Choosing stories for the medium

Popular stories are the first place a company is going to look for a potential adaptation. There’s a built in market and the story has been (at least somewhat) vetted. This has the potential to be fantastic, but also means that there is a far more limited field of what’s being considered. And, frankly, plenty of popular science fiction and fantasy stories don’t lend themselves well to visual medium.

Take, for example, Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice. Justice won a Hugo for best novel, an impressive feat made more impactful because it was a debut novel. The story truly pushes the limits of science fiction storytelling and is absolutely captivating. But, a lot of the story is not immediately appealable and the storytelling is extremely complex. It’s difficult to see immediately how a television show will convey the inability of Justice One Esk (the main character) to see gender. The descriptions of how One Esk describes the politics is extremely detailed with a long backstory that may be difficult to build on a visual platform where there is limited time and information. This is not to say it cannot be done or cannot be done well, simply that it will require alterations and reworking.

As a more stark example, Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear have been optioned by Lionsgate for production as a movie.  The King Killer Chronicles has been optioned before. In 2013, Fox –the same company optioning Leckie’s novel– attempted to develop the books into a TV show. It didn’t wind up happening. Much of Rothfuss’ story may simply be hard to explain visually or be less compelling when turned into a script. Without the insight into Kvothe’s mind and the magic system, the story may lose affect. Similarly the story has a non-traditional subject matter. It’s hard to  make a high fantasy story work on screen. The struggle in the book to articulate magical words that you learn suddenly as opposed to through rote practice, the story’s slow pace, the 200 pages of fairy sex, may just not really work for the screen, big or small.

Quality of production

It’s hard to imagine that many start up stories are going to get the money to invest in special effects necessary to really pull-off some of the stories being optioned. The investment in creating a believable version of a magical or science  fiction world is large. Even larger the more detailed it gets. Game of Thrones costs HBO almost $6 million per episode to make. This may be lessened by going with a British series model (6-12 episodes per season), but doing so disrupts much of the current television model in the US. Disruption and a major budget investment may simply be less appealing than going for a more traditional story with a greater chance of conventional success.

Flooding the Market

Perhaps this is unwarranted, but I worry about the ability of the current television market to handle a mass influx of SFF stories. It may be popular to contract those stories for a while, but competition combined with the high cost of special effects will likely force many of these stories out of production. I worry that it will stigmatize optioning SFF in the future. This is probably overthinking, because SFF isn’t always seen as a good bet to begin with, but I can’t help taking it into account.

Overall…

I really am excited to see SFF getting optioned. I just am a worry wart. I want it done well and I want to spread the SFF love. Hopefully that goal is about to be achieved.

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Ladies Night In #3 | Temporary Agency by Rachel Pollack

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You may have missed this last ladies’ night, but don’t worry. You don’t have to ever miss one again! Bree’s Blog on YouTubeand subscribe to get book hauls, reviews, and other features from me in your YouTube subscription feed!

Review | Of Sorrow and Such by Angela Slatter

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It’s the perfect season to pick up Of Sorrow and Such. Slatter’s newest novella, released by Tor.com Publishing taps into the classic witch story.

Of Sorrow and Such airs more on the side of The Crucible than The Craft. The story follows Ms. Patience Gideon, an herbalist and healer in a small village. For the past decade her life has been quiet. The town tolerates her and her adoptive daughter, Gilly, is well-loved. While the townspeople suspect her of more dangerous goings-on than a healer might otherwise have, there’s no doctor in the town and Patience is needed.

But, Patience has dark secrets, and her small family is about to be thrust into danger.

The story’s best feature is its tone. It draws on classic witch stories for its atmosphere, and blends it with an updated sense of humor and subject. The story is clear: there’s a sinister aspect to the villagers Patience lives with, but that is due almost as much to their own hypocrisy and affect as it is to anything inherently evil or suspicious about Patience. Patience may be helping women with unwanted pregnancies and abusive husbands, but she’s far from the only person meddling in the affairs of the village and certainly not the most vindictive.

The story sits at 104 pages, including cover, title, copyright, and author bio pages. It’s very short. The story itself only takes place over a few days, and the plot is paced fine. The problem I had is the background. Patience’s interactions with the villagers and the increased danger to her and Gilly lead to the reveal of some of Patience’s darkest secrets. The background of her secrets is a bit lacking and the reveals don’t really shed much light onto who Patience is or how she came to do some of the things she’s done. The bulk of the story creates a solid picture of who Patience is. She’s likeable, but tough and a bit jaded. The reveals could have added more, but the way they were executed left me wondering why so many were needed.

The side characters, however, are perfectly timed and developed for the story. Their lives and personalities are well developed, understandable, and to the point. The twists in their behavior were lightly hinted at, but still impactful.

The story examines complicated relationships between family members and neighbors. It asks who you can trust and then pushes its characters to their breaking points. The relationships Slatter examines are one of the true high-points of the novella. In particular, I enjoyed the relationship between Patience and Gilly, who, though they love each other, have very different ideas of what makes for a good life and what they want for their futures.

Slatter’s story has witches, were-people, and necromancy. It pits neighbor against neighbor in desperate attempts to protect oneself. Overall, if you’re looking to get into a witchy mood for Halloween, Of Sorrows and Such is primed to help you out.

From Angela Slatter’s Website:

Angela Slatter is the author of The Girl with No Hands and Other Tales, Sourdough and Other Stories, The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings, and Black-Winged Angels, as well as Midnight and Moonshine and The Female Factory (both with Lisa L. Hannett). She has won five Aurealis Awards, one British Fantasy Award, been a finalist for the Norma K. Hemming Award, and a finalist the World Fantasy Award twice (for Sourdough and Bitterwood).
Her novellas, Of Sorrow and Such (from Tor.com), and Ripper (in the Stephen Jones anthology Horrorology, from Jo Fletcher Books) will be released in October 2015.
Angela’s urban fantasy novel, Vigil (based on the short story “Brisneyland by Night”), will be released by Jo Fletcher Books in 2016, and the sequel, Corpselight, in 2017. She is represented by Ian Drury of the literary agency Sheil Land.

I received a copy of Of Sorrows and Such for free in exchange for an honest review.

Review | Rocket Girl: the story of Mary Sherman Morgan by George D. Morgan

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I really was excited to read Rocket Girl. It seems like the kind of thing that’s right up my alley. Lady scientist? Check. Historical timing? Check. Not too long? Check.

Mary Sherman Morgan was born to a poor farming family in North Dakota in the 1920s. She ran away from her family’s farm after finishing high school in an attempt to gain her degree in chemistry. Before she could finish, her life was diverted by World War II. In the next few years, she would go into the job field testing explosive chemical cocktails, leading to a major contribution in the creation of rocket fuel. Her work would be pivotal to the United States efforts to put a satellite in space following von Braun’s emigration to the US and the USSR’s successful launch of Sputnik.

Mary Sherman Morgan has a very interesting life story. Her route to scientific contribution was far from the norm, including a non-traditional education and scandal.

Unfortunately, I think her story would have been better off in the hands of someone other than her son, George D. Morgan.

I wish I had known that the story was written by her son earlier, though. I didn’t realize until I’d started reading. The premise had been enough to hook me. I have a lot of problems with biographies written by family members. Mostly, family members are often not trained to do the research that makes for a thorough biography, but, worse, family members often tell the story they wish they knew rather than the one evidence supports.

George Morgan begins the story with the preface that his mother was extremely private. She didn’t keep records, didn’t tell stories, didn’t take photographs. This would make her story hard for him to tell. But, he states, he had a personal mission: to tell him mother’s story and give her the credit she never took for herself.

The story is told largely in a narrative form. This is one of my biggest problems. While writing Mary’s story, Morgan chose to place it in narrative, but didn’t integrate his citations into the narrative. So, scenes with narrative and descriptions often come off as being more imagined than factual.

The story seems rife with speculation and a kind of willful ignorance of what people were telling Morgan. Worse still, that speculation is often dropped, unsupported, or outright contradicted. At one point, Morgan speaks about his mother, wondering if she had some form of obsessive compulsive disorder. He claims that this explains her behavior towards him. His mother’s colleagues and husband all claim to have never seen any evidence of it. He relays that his sisters were rather dubious of the claim, but still says that his research into OCD matches with the behaviors his mother exhibited. He never says what these may have been or shows obsessive behaviors in her story. The book is riddled with things like this.

I was left wondering how much of his story was similarly unsupported and how much evidence was ignored.

Mary’s story is sandwiched between the stories of von Braun and Sputnik. This would have been great had I not already been fairly familiar with the history of space flight and if it didn’t absolutely dominate the text. Only about a third of the story was actually about Mary. Moreover, there’s a good deal of the story that is dedicated to Morgan’s process of getting a play he wrote about his mother to be produced. There’s very little about the company Mary worked for, how they became involved in the United States space missions, or how Morgan came to know, work for, and contribute to their experiments. It just was an absolutely unsatisfactory balance for me.

I do think that there’s a contribution here, though. Mary Sherman Morgan, by the accounts of her colleagues, contributed greatly to the development of the chemical cocktail used in rocket fuel. Perhaps by bringing her story to light, a more equipped biographer will pick up her story.

Review | Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson

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Aurora is a uniquely skilled piece of science fiction. Robinson blends hard science fiction with a distinctive voice and a fascinating premise. As a result, the story flies by quickly, despite what might otherwise be a slog.

Aurora is a story about a colonization expedition sent out from the solar system. After a 170 year journey, the two thousand people aboard the space ship are nearing Tau Ceti, a nearby star system with an earth analogue planet. Their ancestors took off generations ago to colonize the moon they would call Aurora.

But the ship is falling apart, there’s a noticeable regression among the ship’s population, and tension is becoming ever greater. The ship’s population is about to hit the boiling point.

The story is told from the point of view of the ship’s AI. Devi, the chief engineer–in function, if not in name– has slowly been working on the AI’s self-reflective capabilities and charges the AI with telling the expedition’s story. This is one of the most well executed parts of the book. The AI grows over time. So, while the story has a consistently “non-human” feel, and there is an almost overwhelming amount of technical information, there is also a clear growth in the narrative style over the course of the book. It’s a slow growth, but it’s obvious and the ship incorporates certain stylistic changes into the narration. I found it to be very well done and likeable.

The plot is very slow. The story is recounting, after all, a very slow process. Colonization attempts are by their nature slow, especially when you consider the technical aspects of it, which Robinson does. The pacing is also a side-effect of the narrative voice. The AI struggles to convey the same sort of drama that the same story in the hands of a human might. The story may be slow-going at times, occasionally sprinkled with moments of panic, but it’s consistently detailed, extremely rich in thought, and always interesting.

There’s a distance between the narration and the characters. It’s told from a kind of familiar outsider’s perspective. As a result, the story doesn’t convey all of the immediate emotional changes that the characters are going through. Again, this is a limitation of the AI narrator who cannot really speculate outside of themselves. This improves as time goes on and as the AI becomes more advanced. The characters remain at a distance, even those of whom the AI is fond.

The character growth was a bit dissatisfying. The main character is, in a sense, the AI whose philosophical dilemmas are more of the emotional crux of the book. The population takes on a secondary role and suffers for it. Overall, though a weakness, it wasn’t dislikeable. I found that I really liked the development in how the AI presents each character’s growth as the level of reflectiveness in the AI changes.

My biggest complaint about the book is actually the ending. There’s a lot of political strife midway through the book and an internal splintering of the population occurs. This was interesting to say the least, but there’s little follow up on some of the factions post-conflict. I would have liked to see more. Part of this is due to the limitations of the narrator. However, the last 50 or so pages is told from an omniscient point of view and so, the lack of follow up loses its understandability. Additionally, I thought that the parts told by the omniscient point of view didn’t actually add to the story overall; instead, it detracted a bit from some of the better plot points.

Regardless, this is one of my favorite books of the year. It’s fantastic. If you like hard scifi, this is one to blow you away. If you’re more on the emotional-philosophical side of the scifi spectrum, there’s a lot here for you as well.

Spotlight on Graphic Novels | Black Science

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Rick Remender’s Black Science is one of the more interesting science fiction comics available. In it, Remender and co. present a science team working on creating a device that allows them to navigate the multiverse. It goes, quite predictably, awry. The cast is sent spiraling uncontrollably through universe after universe and is pitted against a variety of dangers.

The story follows scientist and anarchist-now-working-for-the-MAN Grant. After spending upwards of a decade working on devices known as “pillars,” he finally manages to get them working. His first test is to do an actual jump between worlds. The crew is about to launch their first human test–unapproved. But the pillar has been sabotaged.

The characters in Black Science are very likeable. They’re all given fairly extensive backgrounds and their relationships to one another are complex to say the least. The dynamic between the explorers– self-absorbed leader, his followers, and his jaded and neglected children– make for one of the most interesting aspects of the storytelling.

Black Science, Vol. 2: Welcome, Nowhere TP

Some of the plot points I’m not a huge fan of. Some of the characters, in particular a Native-American-esq shaman with magic healing powers, wore a little thin. The nice part of the story setup, though, is that it is self-correcting. Each event has the potential to be undone or redone in the next universe. Versions of the same characters can interact and effect the plot. It can be overly confusing, but also means that when something I don’t like happens, it may not stay that way.

The art is amazing. It’s dark but also vibrant. The characters are ridiculously expressive. The team that works on the art has really tapped into the visuals that can enhance the story and the dynamism that makes science fiction great.

While some of the story is going to need to be ironed out as it progresses, I think that the story is engaging and worth the read.

Review | The Underground Girls of Kabul by Jenny Nordberg

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Well, if you’re looking for a bit of a punch to the gut, I’ve found it for you. The Underground Girls of Kabul is a very good read. Using her journalistic experience and a well-informed, extremely well researched knowledge base, Nordberg constructs an image of Afghanistan that isn’t readily available to the average reader.

The subject of The Underground Girls of Kabul is extremely interesting. Nordberg focuses in on the little-known phenomenon of young girls being raised as boys in Afghanistan. These girls, known as the bacha posh, aren’t often acknowledged by Afghan society. Nordberg noted them by accident, during an interview with a female politician in the Afghani parliament. When she went to gender studies experts in Afghanistan, no one had much to offer on the phenomenon. So, Nordberg undertook to discover more about who the bacha posh are, why they exist, and what the impact is on Afghani society.

In The Underground Girls of Kabul, Nordberg uses a combination of extended interview, narrative forms, and analysis to create a picture of what it’s like to be a girl raised as a son in Afghanistan, and more difficult, describe what happens to the bacha posh when these girls raised as sons are forced back into the traditional family lifestyle and rigid gender roles of womanhood. The story is engaging in and of itself, and Nordberg adds to the interest by writing in a forthright and contemplative manner. She relates the stories of many women who were raised as bacha posh and talks about the difficulties of the transition back to traditional womanhood, and shows the sometimes very tangible benefits of time spent as a son.

I really enjoyed reading this book. It’s the kind of book I find very appealing, and Nordberg doesn’t shy away from the complicated discussion of gender identity and rights that the subject matter invites. The bacha posh introduce a fascinating situation that lends itself to discussion of nature v. nurture, whether gender truly is a learned aspect, and if the international aid community is really achieving what it has set out to do in Afghanistan.

The story is approached in a first person narrative focusing around Nordberg’s experiences interviewing women who had been raised by sons. The tales she relays range the gambit from young girls only now being raised as sons to teens about to have to transition back to the role of daughter, to women who have and have not accepted the transition. It’s emotionally insightful.

While there is a lot of analysis going on, and a lot of interesting and informative sidebar discussions in the book, the women’s stories are the strongest point. Their personal lives are the true hook in the story. Nordberg runs a careful line of contextualization and over-explanation. Fortunately, there were only a few times where she ventures into too much explanation. When it does cross that line however, the analysis isn’t quite to the break down level I’d like. The case studies could have benefited from more depth in the analysis. Nordberg uses the cases as evidence for statements about the Afghan culture without always making the inferences in her argument clear. I’m a fan of challenging one’s assumptions in the course of creating an argument and sometimes I thought Nordberg could have done more to truly support what she was saying. The argument is also straight forward without much allowance for conflicting explanations or confounding variables.

The journalistic sense in the book, however, is excellent, with lots of background research and a very thorough attempt to detail her subjects’ lives. It’s also very emotionally impactful. Overall, I think it’s a good introduction to gender identity and societal influences, but may lead those with a stronger social science background wanting more.

*I received a copy of this book for free in exchange for an honest review.