As recently reported by the SF/Fantasy pop culture site io9.com (here and here) and others, three great novels are being developed for the big screen: Lauren Beukes' Arthur C. Clarke Award-winning Zoo City, Cherie Priest's Hugo-nominated Boneshaker, and Charles Yu's critically acclaimed How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe.
This is in part a coincidental series of events, as the three deals have nothing to do with one another. However, it does confirm the general trend of movie-makers acquiring SF/Fantasy properties, given the popularity of franchises such as the Harry Potter films, perhaps fed by advances in CGI technology. Each of these novels while being unique also falls into popular categories of fiction right now. Zoo City is a gritty noir novel that blends science fiction and fantasy in a way that could be described as "urban fantasy" even though it's not really in that subgenre. Boneshaker is one of the main fictional ambassadors of the Steampunk movement, and How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe takes pop culture and the red-hot time travel genre and mixes it with a very personal story.
All of which boils down to this: movie fans have some great stories and visuals to look forward to in theaters at some point in the future. In fact, we asked all three creators what they were most excited about seeing on the big screen from their books. (Note: some spoilers ahead.)
For Lauren Beukes it was "Mainly just seeing Johannesburg as this strange, riveting place of tenement slums and gated suburbs with electric fences and Jacaranda blossoms. More strange and riveting than normal, that is, with email scammers and refugees and pop stars and magical animals and hell-sucking darkness." Specifically, though, she's "dying to see (slightly spoilery, but no big reveals, I promise): Zinzi meeting the creepy Marabou and Maltese with their oh-so-creepy animals for the first time, the chase scene through the storm drains under the city, the consultation with the sangoma throwing the bones and sparking terrible visions, getting to hear the twin teen sensation iJusi's bubblegum pop before one of them goes missing, the killing of the Bear, the scam scene at that bastion of colonialism, the Rand Club, Zinzi's ramshackle apartment block with jerry-rigged walkways and shortcuts through the floors of gutted apartments, and, of course, Zinzi's companion, Sloth!"
Cherie Priest said she "can't wait to see the blighted, walled-off city of Seattle. I loosely patterned my version of the city's grid after the street system pre-fire (of 1889) and before/without the turn-of-the-century hill regrades, so it shouldn't look much like the city of today. Of course, I have no idea how accurate the filmmakers intend to be; maybe they'll throw it all out the window and build something new from scratch. Regardless, I'm looking forward to seeing how it's handled."
"There are scenes from the novel that have been in my head for almost three years now," Charles Yu told Omni, "and I would be so excited to see how they might be visualized. The re-entry of Charles, as he circles for his landing back 'into' time. The scene on the retcon shuttle, when he's in the interstitial matrix between stories. And even something as simple as what Ed looks like. What does a non-existent dog look like? But more than any of that, I'd have to say I'm most looking forward to seeing the scenes in the garage. Those are the heart of the story. And specifically, the first trip through time that Charles and his father take in their prototype. It's short and out-of-control, a minute of pure joy, fear and exhilaration for a father and son."
As for the act of transferring characters and scenes to film, Beukes focused on "getting the animals exactly right," including the main character's "familiar," Sloth. "I'm no expert, but I imagine it will involve a combination of CGI, animatronics and possibly a real, trained sloth (under the most professional, ethical and humane conditions, of course). He's so involved in every scene and it's critical to get the emotional connection, how he's there for her, how he gets cranky when she does something stupid. That critter is gonna have to act, baby."
Structural issues came to mind for Yu: "I think the metafictional bits will be the hardest. Breaking the fourth wall in a book is one thing, but doing it on the screen seems so much more risky. Especially the section with the TOAD, where Charles is simultaneously writing and reading and dictating the book. Chapter 17, the point where the book folds in on itself - how do you translate that to film? I can't imagine. Then again, I'm not a director. But I can't wait to see what Brendan Bellomo and Chris Columbus and the producers come up with. They are brilliant people, so I'm sure it will be amazing."
We asked Priest what the movie deal meant for her career, and she answered that she honestly didn't know. "I'm thrilled beyond measure that someone's basically making a 90 minute commercial for my books, but I won't be participating in any aspect of the production (as far as I know), so it's not like I, personally, am breaking into Hollywood. I have a handful of friends who've seen their works translated to the screen, and they all advise me to sit back and enjoy it.
"As for my career going forward ... if this takes off, I suppose I'll keep writing steampunk. Not that I had any immediate plans to quit or anything, but sometimes a series will start to trail off and dwindle after X-number of books; I've always been a little afraid that the shelf-life of my franchise might be limited, but I hope this means I get to keep playing in this crazy, awesome sandbox a bit longer." One great side-effect, of course, is that more and more readers will encounter these great novels.