Directors and screenwriters have often looked to science fiction novels for inspiration, from well-established classics to critically acclaimed modern works of sci-fi literature. There are plenty of great sci-fi books being turned into movies right now, but there are also plenty of television adaptations in development, too. From Hugh Howey’s Beacon 23 to Isaac Asimov’s Foundation, there’s plenty to look forward to among TV’s sci-fi adaptations currently in the works.
If you want to get ahead of the curve, there’s no time like the present to get a glimpse at the future by picking up a book. Here’s where to start.
The Three-Body Problem
By Liu Cixin
The first novel in the Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy, The Three-Body Problem is set in a universe where the population of Earth is anxiously anticipating an invasion by the inhabitants of another Earth-like planet discovered in a nearby solar system. The inhabitants of the Earth-like planet have suffered an endless cycle of destruction as their planet’s orbit shifts between the three stars in their system, and they intend to invade Earth to create a more stable civilization. The novel was the first Asian work of literature to win the prestigious Hugo Award as the year’s best novel.
In September, Netflix announced that Game of Thrones creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss will develop an adaptation of The Three-Body Problem for the streaming service. The pair will serve as writers and executive producers on the adaptation along with Alexander Woo (The Terror: Infamy). Star Wars: The Last Jedi writer and director Rian Johnson will also serve as an executive producer on the series, along with Brad Pitt and Rosamund Pike.
There’s no word yet on a premiere date for the series.
By Frederik Pohl
In the award-winning Frederik Pohl Heechee saga, Gateway, we see humanity’s attempts to inspect an alien space station exposed on an asteroid. The humans proceed to try and figure out how to use the alien technology, resulting in consistent and perilous trial-and-error experimentation (which led to sequels). The characters seek to learn the station’s capabilities and the political consequences of discovering a technological motherload for mankind.
In August 2015, Syfy released an announcement stating that they were planning on developing Gateway as a one-hour scripted series. This series would feature popular actors David Eick from Battlestar Galactica and Josh Pate from Falling Skies as executive producers. The plan was for Eick to act as the series showrunner. However, we haven’t heard any updates since then, so we’re unsure of the current status.
Y: The Last Man
By Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra
What would happen if every male mammal in the world suddenly died, leaving one guy and his pet monkey as the only living carriers of the “Y” chromosome? That’s the premise of Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra’s groundbreaking, award-winning comic book series that debuted in 2002 and followed amateur escape artist Yorick Brown and his Capuchin monkey pal, Ampersand, on an epic journey that brought them around the world as they dealt with the ramifications of every other male mammal suddenly dropping dead for unknown reasons.
One of the greatest comic book series of the modern era, Y: The Last Man has been the subject of numerous failed adaptation attempts over the years. After it was initially announced in 2015 that FX was developing the series, the following years saw the project hire and subsequently lose various members of its creative team and cast, only to finalize its cast and team shortly before the coronavirus pandemic forced production to halt. As it stands now, The Book Thief actor Ben Schnetzer is attached to portray Yorick Brown, with Diane Lane playing Yorick’s mother, Olivia Thirlby as Yorick’s sister, and Ashley Romans as Agent 355. There is no premiere date set for the series at this point.
By Annalee Newitz
This novel was released in 2017 and written by Annalee Newitz, the co-founder of sci-fi website io9. The story takes place in the year 2144 and follows Jack, a scientist-turned-pirate who attempts to offer patented medical solutions to suffering people but runs into a severe issue when one of the medicines has fatal side effects. As a result, he is pursued worldwide by two agents (one human and one robot), who try to track him down and stop the drug’s secret from being showcased to the world.
In November 2018, AMC optioned the book, intending to turn it into a full-fledged television series. Newitz co-wrote a pilot episode with screenwriter and producer Amanda Segel (Person of Interest, Nikita).
By Larry Niven
This 1970 novel follows a man living on Earth in 2850 A.D. who decides — mostly out of boredom — to join an expedition to a mysterious, ring-shaped vessel discovered beyond the boundaries of known space. Niven’s novel spawned four sequels and four prequels, and also inspired future sci-fi storytellers in various media to use similar, ring-shaped megastructures in their tales, including the “Halo Array” in the Halo video game series.
Initially picked up by Syfy for development as a television series, Ringworld was later shifted to Amazon Studios with screenwriter and producer Akiva Goldsman attached to develop the adaptation. The series was one of several sci-fi projects the studio picked up for its streaming video platform, and in May 2020, producer Goldsman announced that Game of Thrones and The Sopranos director Alan Taylor will direct the pilot. The precise production timeline remains unknown, however.
Luna: New Moon
By Ian McDonald
Set 50 years after the colonization of the moon, Luna: New Moon chronicles the machinations and intrigue of the moon’s five ruling families as they battle for control. Known as “The Five Dragons,” the five dynasties sabotage, poison, marry, and backstab each other in a constant struggle to increase their influence over the feudal society that has developed on the lunar surface.
Ian McDonald’s novel has frequently been described as “Game of Thrones on the moon,” so it’s no surprise it was the subject of an intense bidding war for the adaptation rights. CBS Television won that war in 2015 and tasked writer-producer Shane Brennan (NCIS) with developing it for television.
By Hugh Howey
This 2015 story from Wool author Hugh Howey was released in a five-part, serialized format and later collected into a complete novel. It tells the story of a former soldier in the 23rd century who is tasked with manning a lighthouse beacon in deep space that’s intended to guide spaceships across the universe — in much the same way lighthouses once guided sailing ships on Earth. When the beacon fails, he must confront his own demons to prevent a disaster.
The television rights to Beacon 23 were acquired in April 2016 by Studio 8, with The Sarah Connor Chronicles creator and Avatar 3 screenwriter Josh Friedman attached to write and produce a series based on Howey’s novel. As of October 2018, however, the series is now being developed for Charter Communications’ Spectrum Originals studio, with Ready Player One and The Avengers screenwriter Zak Penn adapting Howey’s novel.
By Isaac Asimov
Considered one of the best sci-fi series ever written (and the recipient of a Hugo Award stating as much), Isaac Asimov’s Foundation saga unfolds over thousands of years in humanity’s history among the stars. The generation-spanning tale follows a brilliant mathematician and generations of scholars acting on his predictions as they attempt to preserve the collective wisdom of the human race ahead of an impending collapse of civilization. The series began as a trilogy, only to have Asimov add four more chapters to the story — both prequels and sequels — 30 years after the publication of the first book, Foundation.
Westworld co-creator Jonah Nolan announced in 2015 that he was developing a TV series based on the Foundation saga for HBO, only for that project to stall out. A new version of the project surfaced two years later with David S. Goyer (The Dark Knight) and Josh Friedman (War of the Worlds) as executive producers and showrunners, and Apple won a bidding war for the series in April 2018, giving it a 10-episode, straight-to-series order. In June 2020, Apple released the first trailer for the series (see above), which is expected to premiere at some point in 2021.
The Sirens of Titan
By Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
The second novel from acclaimed sci-fi author Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., The Sirens of Titan sends the richest, most privileged man in 22nd century Earth on an interplanetary journey of self-discovery as a war between Earth and Mars looms. The adventures of protagonist Malachi Constant serve as an exploration of the nature of free will, among other philosophical concepts, and the value of human history.
Rick and Morty co-creator Dan Harmon and Small Crimes writer Evan Katz are adapting Sirens of Titan for television, with Harmon citing Vonnegut’s work as a major influence on his own sci-fi storytelling. The involvement of Harmon and Katz was first announced in July 2017, and that was the most recent update on the project.
By Dan Simmons
Dan Simmons’ mind-bending, time-twisting saga follows a group of seven people in the far-flung future who are chosen for a pilgrimage to the enigmatic Time Tombs on the planet Hyperion in the midst of a galactic war. They know that one of the travelers is a spy for the enemy, and that the tombs — strange monuments that appear to be traveling backward in time — are guarded by the terrifying, metallic Shrike.
That’s the basic synopsis of Hyperion, the first novel in Simmons’ award-winning saga, and its fans include actor Bradley Cooper of The Hangover fame. Cooper was reported to be working with Syfy to adapt the saga as an “event series” — basically, an extended miniseries — with Boardwalk Empire writer Itamar Moses penning the script. There’s no word on how far along the project is at this point, but the adaptation was first announced back in 2015, so it’s anyone’s guess as to whether it will eventually find its way to television.
By Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang
This clever sci-fi comic book series written by Y: The Last Man scribe Brian K. Vaughan follows a group of 12-year-old girls whose newspaper-delivering job takes a bizarre twist when their small Cleveland town gets caught up in a war between rival factions of time-traveling invaders. The series ran for 30 issues, debuting in 2015 and concluding in July 2019.
The same month the series wrapped up, Amazon Studios won a bidding war for the rights to adapt the comic for television, with Toy Story 4 co-writer Stephany Folsom attached to pen the adaptation. There’s no timetable on production at this point, but the project did receive a full series commitment from Amazon.
3001: The Final Odyssey
By Arthur C. Clarke
The fourth and final installment of Arthur C. Clarke’s Space Odyssey series that began with 1968’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, this 1997 novel circles back to the saga’s roots for its concluding chapter. The story brings back the protagonist of 2001, Frank Poole, and continues to explore the nature of humanity’s origin and relationship to the mysterious monoliths created by the even-more-mysterious space- and time-traversing entities known as the “Firstborn.”
Stanley Kubrick’s groundbreaking 1968 film based on 2001 is widely regarded as one of the greatest science-fiction movies ever made, so it’s no surprise that the final chapter of the series has been the subject of development rumors ever since 3001 was published. In 2014, Syfy announced plans for a miniseries based on 3001 with Ridley Scott attached as a producer, but other than a brief mention of it as “in development” in 2016, there’s been no update since the initial announcement.
By Neal Stephenson
Hiro Protagonist is a part-time pizza delivery guy and full-time hacker in this 1992 cyberpunk classic that has Hiro and his pal Y.T. (Yours Truly) navigating a future world in which the government has ceded control to criminal organizations and massive corporations. When Hiro comes into possession of a dangerous data file, he soon finds himself at the center of a mystery with implications for both the real world and the Metaverse, a virtual-reality internet where coding ability is power.
In August 2017, Amazon Studios announced that it planned to turn Stephenson’s novel into a drama series for its streaming video platform, but the project eventually found its way to HBO Max. As of December 2019, the adaptation of Snow Crash is expected to be written by Michael Bacall (Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World) and directed by Attack the Block filmmaker Joe Cornish. Angela Robinson (The L Word) will serve as co-showrunner on the series with Bacall.