Weird fiction isn’t something that occurs exclusively on the fringes of the literary world. Consider Neil Gaiman’s Hugo and Nebula award-winning novel American Gods, which, as we all know, was adapted into a television series on the Stars network. There’s no denying the literary weirdness of American Gods, even if Gaiman isn’t quite as strange as the work many of his lesser-known, oddball colleagues such as Thomas Ligotti. China Mieville’s The City and The City also appeared as a television serial for BBC in April, 2018. Although I haven’t read the novel or watched the series, my sources tell me it’s a well-know weird classic (and that it isn’t very good, although I’d prefer to confirm this myself). As everyday life in the 21st century feels increasingly like weird fiction, its no wonder that mainstream audiences find themselves adaptable to entertainment firmly beyond the pale.
Although I prefer books to television, I’m entirely in favor of the weirdification of popular entertainment. That’s why I’ve compiled a list of 6 works of weird fiction that ought to be adapted to television. While television is well outside of my expertise, I’ve watched more than my share of it like any good American. I’ve included short attempts to rationalize my choices below. What would you add to or omit from this list? Let me know in the comments below!
Of course, why not begin with a sci-fi masterpiece? This novel is dark, strange, and meandering enough to make it a perfect fit for television. Delaney’s writing is also beautiful, and while a transfer to the screen inevitably entails a certain loss when it comes to language, no prose is better suited to a representation by strong imagery than the prose you’ll find in Dhalgren. Rich, melodious, and eerie, Delaney’s writing strives heroically to be visual. Why not add an explicitly visual dimension, then, to this unsettling dystopian nightmare? Delaney’s haunting novel is packed with a wide cast of colorful characters, a jumble of intertwined subplots, and a compelling aura of mystery surrounding the protagonist, making it an ideal candidate for adaptation to television.
While we’re on the subject of huge, meandering novels, why not include Roberto Bolano’s critically-acclaimed 2666? While you’re likely to find this title in any mainstream bookstore, it’s certainly as weird as they come. What screams “television” more than the hunt for an elusive serial killer centered on a “heart of darkness” narrative located in a small Mexican town? The answer might be “a lot of things,” but as a devoted fan of the first season of HBO’s True Detectives, I see a ton of similar potential here. Again, we are faced with a daunting cast of characters, perspectives, and loosely connected plots; while this may seem discouraging from a production standpoint, I see an opportunity for the enterprise to spill over into multiple seasons. A looming, dark, Latin American counterpart of True Detectives? Count me in!
“Come on, man. You must be kidding.” I know, I know; I can practically feel your protest, but just hear me out. While Ligotti’s short fiction seems hardly suitable for TV, imagine a resurrection of Twilight Zone based on these macabre little mind benders. True, Ligotti employs some literary mechanisms, like epistolary narratives, which would be hardly translatable to the screen, but imagine the kind of imagery the right director could glean from these stories! Think a black and white noir series mixed with slick CGI for scenes like the one in which the cosmic void opens in a dream within a dream before the psychoanalyst’s patient in “Dream of a Manikin.” I’d sure as hell watch it.
Speaking of choices that make no sense at first flush, let’s consider Gateways to Abomination. As a series of disconnected short stories and vignettes based around the town of Leeds and the occult WXXM radio station (apparently only available to listeners who stumble across it by accident), Matthew Bartlett’s stunning book may seem like a producer’s worst nightmare. To glean a unified story rather than a series of independent episodes a la Twilight Zone or Black Mirror, some rewriting might be necessary. Even so, the story of someone unsuspectedly stumbling across Leeds and into the kaleidoscopic nightmare world of Bartlett’s disturbing and vivid fiction is destined to be better TV than American Horror Story.
As the teen werewolf and vampire craze, as represented by shows like The Originals and The Vampire Diaries, eventually dies, choking in the steaming viscera of insipid writing and overplayed tropes stolen from Anne Rice, someone needs to come sweeping in with a strong series that washes the sour aftertaste away. Stephen Graham Jones set out to do exactly that with Mongrels, and he should be duly honored by carrying his purgation boldly into the realm of television. Mongrels is a coming-of-age novel based on a family of werewolves sans the overwhelming cliché of trendy teens driving unrealistically nice cars. In short, Mongrels isn’t pretty, but it’s compelling enough to serve as an antidote to the whitewashed world of TV “horror” aimed at audiences more concerned with high school romance than the darker aspects of life.
What is more TV-friendly than celebrity, sex, and terrorism? What about an unholy mashup of the three? I’ve told Bob before he needs to write a script for this, and I hope one day he does. If someone made it into a television series, that would be awesome as well. Celebrity Terrorist Sex Bomb is a weird and wonderful ménage a trois of violence, extremism, and biting cultural satire just waiting for a witty personality to bring it to life for the screen. Hilarious, irreverent, and exorbitantly colorful, there’s no doubt that this little book holds plenty of potential for an engaging series based on a female protagonist abducted and indoctrinated by Islamic terrorists only to be deployed as a WMD against the shallow culture of America’s rich and famous.
What do you think? What would you add? Am I way off base here? Do any directors or actors come to mind for the above adaptations? Let us know in the comments below!
-Justin A. Burnett