Tag Archives: Jo Walton

5 SFF Adaptations That Would Greatly Improve Genre Diversity in TV and Film

Another day, another list of upcoming SFF adaptations that is a big, depressing sausage fest.

I feel like the common wisdom on the issue of diversity in media is that things are improving, but it’s very telling when just a quick count of the properties listed on this list of upcoming or possibly upcoming book-to-film/television adaptations shows forty based on work by men, but only five based on work by women. It probably goes without saying, but there are also only a couple of people of color on the list.

Moving on to the subjects of the projects, things are somewhat better, but not much. A full half of the projects focus on men’s stories, more if you count ensemble projects whose main characters are men. Only two projects are primarily about women. It’s a depressing toll, especially when we’d all like to believe that television and film are improving in diversity. If this list represents any improvement at all, it’s not good enough.

I don’t pretend to know exactly what would be good enough, but there are numerous books and comics that I think would improve the film and television landscape. Certainly, any of these would be significantly more interesting than another crop of shows starring square-jawed white dudes.

  1. The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
    Space opera has gotten popular again, and this one is very good. I’d love to see it as an ongoing television series, though that would require some expansion upon the source material. However, the novel itself is very episodic in nature, being told as a sequence of vignettes, each one focusing on a different character. This would lend itself well to being adapted as a miniseries or as a short series on a digital platform such as Netflix or Amazon, or it could be easily streamlined into a long film. The major downside of this book is that the high number of alien characters would require expensive special effects to produce, but the right production company could create something really wonderful if they were willing to spend the money on it.
  2. Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor
    This book just begs to be made into a big summer blockbuster a la Independence Day. I want to see it at the drive-in.
  3. Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho
    Like Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, but more fun. Either film the book as it is for a delightful miniseries, or start where the book ends and continue the adventures of Prunella and Zacharias. Or both. Both would be good.
  4. God’s War by Kameron Hurley
    While I’m not often a fan of just lifting characters from a book and writing all new stories around them for television, Kameron Hurley’s Beldame Apocrypha would be perfect for that treatment. Nyx is an amazing character of a type that doesn’t often get to be female, and her shifting crew of associates would make great fodder for a gritty sci-fi bounty hunter sort of thing. The world and characters Hurley created in this series are more than strong enough to carry a long-running television show, which would allow some of the bigger plots of the books to be explored at leisure.
  5. The Just City by Jo Walton
    The goddess Athena gathers thinkers and dreamers from all ends of history in order to build Plato’s Republic. Apollo decides to become human so he can grow up as a child in the Just City. There are robots. And Socrates. And philosophical debates out the wazoo. I would watch this on TV, and I think I’m not the only one.

Obviously, I’m not saying no more square-jawed white dudes, ever, but all of these suggestions would make for a very nice change in the current landscape of entertainment. They would be even better if we could get more diversity behind the camera and in writing rooms for them as well.

The truth is that every time there are new surveys of the industry, it’s proven over and over again that the needle of diversity hasn’t moved much in thirty years. While there have been somewhat more actors of color in highly visible roles, it’s simply not true that things have really improved that much overall. The same can be said for the presence of women in cinema, and those who don’t fit neatly into the gender binary fare even worse.

Any (but preferably all) of the five works I suggest here would be a step in a better direction.

Book Review: The Philosopher Kings by Jo Walton

I’m not sure that most people would agree with me that The Philosopher Kings is a fun read, but I enjoyed it at least as well as I did its predecessor, The Just City.  After the rather abrupt and somewhat shocking ending of the previous book, I couldn’t wait to see what happened next.

This book returns to the Just City, but after a gap of about twenty years. Since the Last Debate (between Socrates and Athena) things have changed considerably. After transforming Socrates into a gadfly, Athena departed in a huff, taking all but two of the robot Workers with her. Kebes and about a hundred and fifty other people (including several Masters) disappeared with one of the settlement’s two ships. After all this, the remaining people in the city split into more cities, each dedicated to realizing Plato’s Republic in slightly different ways. This went well enough at first, but in later years the cities have begun to fight over the art that was originally brought to the Just City, and there are now frequent battles between cities and works of art are stolen back and forth between them.

The Philosopher Kings begins with one of these art raids in progress, and Simmea (one of the points of view in The Just City) is killed in the fighting. Pytheas could have killed his human body, regained his powers as Apollo, and healed Simmea before she died, but she stopped him. The rest of the book is, ostensibly, about Pytheas’s quest to figure out why Simmea did this. Really, though, The Philosopher Kings picks up where The Just City left off with exploring the answers to the question: What would happen if people actually tried to put Plato’s ideas into practice?

It turns out that all sorts of things could happen, and we get to see several of them in this book. It’s fascinating to see how the different cities that split off from the original one have turned out, and it’s interesting to see what Kebes and his people have done after leaving the island. I like that even though the original city has fractured into smaller groups, even those smaller groups aren’t entirely like-minded.

The new narrator for this book is Simmea’s daughter with Pytheas, Arete (“excellence”), who is fifteen. She’s smart and kind and likable, but she still manages to seem like a fifteen-year-old. It’s nice to read a teen protagonist who isn’t overly precocious and who doesn’t have everything all figured out. Besides Arete, Pytheas returns as an occasional narrator, and it’s clear how much he’s grown up in twenty years. However, Simmea’s death affects him deeply and forces him to go through yet another sort of coming of age in this book. We really get to see how much he depended upon Simmea and how pretty much his entire life was his relationship with her, especially as the children they’ve raised are all adults now except for Arete. For Pytheas, this book is about finding his place in the community outside his own family. Also returning with point of view chapters in The Philosopher Kings is Maia, who is now in her fifties. While few in number, her chapters are by far my favorite parts of the novel.

The only problem that I had with The Philosopher Kings is the way it dealt with rape. While I appreciate that this book didn’t forget Maia’s or Simmea’s rapes in The Just City, Simmea’s rape is used too much as a motivating force for Pytheas and Maia’s rapist, Ikaros, is largely redeemed by the end of the book, in the narrative if not in the eyes of the reader. While I think the intent is not to treat rape lightly–rather, the impression I got was that it’s just one more messy aspect of human interactions that would be better in a more just society–I also think it kind of does treat rape lightly. Ikaros, in particular, is given too much credit, in my opinion, for being a fundamentally decent person, and there are some things he says to Maia in this book that had me absolutely seeing red on her behalf.

Some readers have complained that the book is overly philosophical with too much debating going on, but I, personally, adore the debates between characters. This was a common complaint about The Just City as well, so if you didn’t like that book you probably won’t enjoy this one any more. Another complaint that I’ve seen about this book in particular is that it abruptly and unexpectedly turned into science fiction at the end, but this is also something that appealed to me. Of course, that’s partly because, to my mind, this series has always been science fiction (I mean, robots.), but it’s also because I enjoy heavy handed genre bending of this kind.

With that in mind, I was super thrilled to learn that this isn’t a duology as I originally thought, but a trilogy. The bad news, of course, is that it’s not a six month wait like between the first two books. Per Jo Walton herself, it looks like we can’t expect to see Necessity before mid 2016.