13 great sci-fi books to read before they become TV shows

Science-fiction literature has always been fertile ground for movies and television, with generations of screenwriters and directors finding inspiration in fantastic and thought-provoking tales of what might be and what could have been. There’s no shortage of great sci-fi books being turned into movies right now, and with clever anthology series like Black Mirror available now and upcoming series like The Twilight Zone reboot on the way, it’s a good time to be a small-screen sci-fi fan, too.

There is a cornucopia of upcoming television series adapted from sci-fi books and graphic novels in various stages of development and production at this point, from celebrated classics including Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series to more recent works like Justin Cronin’s The Passage. Given the wide range of sci-fi literature making the transition from page to screen, anyone looking to get ahead of the curve will find that there’s no time like the present to pick up a book and get a glimpse at the future.

We put together a list of some of the great sci-fi books currently being turned into TV series, and we’ll update it over time as the shows premiere and other adaptations are announced.

3001: The Final Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke
The Final Odyssey

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.

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Beacon 23 by Hugh Howey
Beacon 23 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 in order 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.

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Foundation series by Isaac Asimov
Asimov Foundation

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. There’s no information at this point about when the series will debut or which network (or streaming platform) will broadcast it.

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Gateway by Frederik Pohl
sci fi tv shows based on books gateway paperback

The first novel in Frederik Pohl’s award-winning Heechee saga, Gateway chronicles mankind’s efforts to investigate an alien space station discovered in a hollow asteroid, and then to learn how to use the technology it contains. The novel and its sequels describe the dangerous trial-and-error experimentation used to determine what the station is capable of, and the political ramifications of finding a potential technological goldmine for the human race.

In August 2015, Syfy announced plans to develop Gateway as a one-hour scripted series, with David Eick (Battlestar Galactica) and Josh Pate (Falling Skies) attached as executive producers. Eick will serve as showrunner on the series. There’s been no update since that point, so the adaptation’s current status is unknown.

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Hyperion by Dan Simmons
Hyperion 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 is currently 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.

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Luna: New Moon by Ian McDonald
Luna New Moon

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.

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Nightflyers by George R.R. Martin
Nightflyers by George R.R. Martin

A Song of Ice and Fire author George RR Martin penned this 1980 story about the crew of a highly advanced, artificially intelligent spaceship on a mission to rendezvous with a mysterious alien species. When the eccentric crew members begin turning up dead, they’re forced to deal with a threat from within their own ship, the Nightflyer, as they hurtle through space.

Martin’s story was previously adapted as an otherwise forgettable 1987 film, but Nightflyers will return to the screen as a series on Syfy at some point in the fall. The series’ script was penned by Jeff Buhler (Jacob’s Ladder), who also serves as the project’s showrunner. In an introduction to the series’ first trailer, Martin described it as “a haunted house story on a starship,” and while he isn’t personally involved in the show (due to his contract with HBO for Game of Thrones), the first footage suggests it will live up to that description. Although the series will air on Syfy in the U.S., it will debut on Netflix outside the U.S. The series will premiere December 2.

$6 on Amazon

The Passage by Justin Cronin
The Passage by Justin Cronin

Justin Cronin’s 2010 novel chronicles the events that lead up to and follow humanity’s sudden and violent downfall after an immunity-boosting drug becomes a terrifying virus that turns people into superhuman, vampire-like creatures hungry for blood. Part of the initial novel is set in the time leading up to the emergence of the virus, while the latter portion of the novel picks up several generations later as humanity is struggling to survive in walled-off colonies around the country. The Passage was followed by The Twelve in 2012, and the trilogy-concluding novel The City of Mirrors in 2016.

Ridley Scott’s production company Scott Free Productions initially planned to adapt the novels as a film trilogy, only to decide that television — specifically the Fox network — was a better home for the story in 2016. The first trailer for The Passage premiered in May 2018, and featured Mark-Paul Gosselaar as FBI agent Brad Wolgast, who’s tasked with procuring test subjects for the drug, and Saniyya Sidney as Amy Bellafonte, a 10-year-old orphan who gets caught up in Wolgast’s mission. The series will premiere January 14, 2019.

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Ringworld by Larry Niven
Ringworld 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 for adaptation. The series was one of several sci-fi projects the studio picked up for its streaming video platform, but the 2017 announcement of the adaptation wasn’t accompanied by any additional information about the show.

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The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
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.

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Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson
Snow Crash 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. Attack the Block director Joe Cornish was previously attached to direct a movie adaptation of the book, and Amazon indicated that he’ll slide into an executive producer role on the television series. There’s been no update on the series since that point.

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The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells
The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells

One of the most influential sci-fi stories of all time, penned by one of the genre’s most acclaimed authors, The War of the Worlds chronicles the invasion of Earth by technologically advanced Martians via a first-person narrative of the events leading up to and throughout the invasion. Wells’ account of the fictional encounter is set in England during the late-19th century, and describes the invasion from its unnamed protagonist’s perspective.

Wells’ tale has been adapted countless times in various forms over the years, including a particularly memorable 1938 radio broadcast that caused a widespread public panic among listeners who didn’t realize the broadcast was a work of fiction. Steven Spielberg also directed a 2005 movie based on the story starring Tom Cruise. The BBC is currently producing a three-episode TV miniseries based on the story that will be set in Victorian-era England and star Eleanor Tomlinson, Rafe Spall, Robert Carlyle,and Rupert Graves. Doctor Who writer Peter Harness penned the script for the project, which is expected to air at some point in 2018.

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Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra
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, but the latest effort appears to be progressing at a quietly steady pace. After it was initially announced in 2015 that FX was developing the series with Vaughan onboard as a writer and co-producer, Michael Green (American Gods) and Aida Mashaka Croal (Jessica Jones) were named co-showrunners on the project. FX announced in April 2018 that it had ordered a pilot for the series, and a few months later, actor Barry Keoghan (The Killing of a Sacred DeerDunkirk) was cast as Yorick, Diane Lane as Yorick’s mother, Imogen Poots as Yorick’s sister, and Lashana Lynch as Agent 355.  The production timeline is unknown at this point.

$13 on Amazon

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