The love of television is always tragic. We're doomed to fall in love with television shows and then lose them, again and again. And often, our love burns the brightest for shows that live the shortest amount of time. We'll never get our favorite cancelled TV shows back again — but the good news is, for every TV show you miss, there are books (or book series) that can help fill the void.
Here are 12 cancelled TV shows, and the books that could help replace them in your life.
This ambitious genre mashup combined Wild West outlaws with spaceships, and spawned a huge fanbase. But despite getting a movie sequel, Joss Whedon's beloved show is probably never coming back in any form other than comics and the occasional unofficial novel.
The book substitute: Consider Phlebas by Iain M. Banks. We recommend this book, the first novel in the Culture series, a lot — but it really fits here. Like Firefly, Consider Phlebas is about someone who's on the losing side of a huge space war, in this case the war between the super-advanced Culture and the Idiran Empire. Our hero, Horza, opposes the Culture because he has philosophical disagreements with their utopian aims. And he winds up joining forces with a band of pirates and mercenaries on the good ship Clean Air Turbulence. This is the best methedone for Firefly withdrawal.
Another ambitious space opera — this show attempted to take the long-running Stargate series in a grittier, less heroic direction. The crew of the Destiny are mostly just trying to stay alive and get home, even as they face the possibility that they've made a huge discovery that could change everything.
The book substitute: The Centauri Device by M. John Harrison. As Gareth L. Powell writes, "Harrison's revisionist attempt to destroy the space opera genre spawned instead a renewed interest in grimy spaceports and down-and-out antiheroes, providing a key influence for the ‘New Space Opera' of the 1980s and 1990s."
We could include all three Bryan Fuller shows, including Wonderfalls and Dead Like Me — but I'm not sure we'd have a different recommendation for all three, because they're all in the same wheelhouse of "quirky supernatural stories with lovable misfit characters." In Pushing Daisies, Ned has the power to resurrect the dead — either permanently or temporarily — with a touch. He uses this to reawaken his sweetheart Chuck — but then if he touches her again, she'll be dead for good.
The book substitute: The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender.
Just as pies provide a huge motif in Pushing Daisies, so too is food vital in Bender's 2010 novel. Rose is a "magic food psychic" who can sense people's secrets by eating their food. Eventually, she hones this ability to the point where she can learn all sorts of things by eating — and this changes her relationships with everyone around her. Like Pushing Daisies, Lemon Cake shows how a strange power can change your relationship with people around you, and with the world.
The Battlestar Galactica reboot managed to play out its entire run, telling the story the creators set out to tell. But sadly, its prequel spinoff only managed to have a single season, which laid out some fascinating themes of cyber-consciousness and virtual reality in a world shaken by religious and cultural divides.
The book substitute: Virtual Girl by Amy Thomson. This 1993 novel follows an artificial intelligence that's used to living entirely in a virtual reality setting, with only limited input from the outside world — and then she gets "ported" to an actual humanoid body, and has to learn to cope with all the input she suddenly receives. She runs away from her creator and makes friends with other A.I.s, who are also struggling with the difference between purely virtual and exterior sensory input. Also, for the dystopian cyberpunk aspects and concern with virtual reality in society, try Lauren Beukes' Moxyland.
Like BSG, Buffy the Vampire Slayer managed to run its course — but its spinoff, Angel, was not as lucky. The story of a vampire with a soul working as a detective in Los Angeles, this show got more interesting as it went along, especially once Angel went to work for his former enemies, the evil law firm Wolfram & Hart.
The book substitute: The Twenty Palaces novels by Harry Connolly, starting with Child of Fire. Basically, if you want a series that's entirely based on the storyline about Angel going to work at Wolfram & Hart, this might be the closest you'll get in book form. There are plenty of great urban fantasy novels about a proud loner dealing with magic in a troubled city, including Mike Carey's Felix Castor novels and Richard Kadrey's Sandman Slim books. But Connolly's books are about a guy who's unquestionably a Tool of the Man — Ray is a "Wooden Man" or fall guy, working for a powerful group of sorcerers who are trying to keep magic in their own hands.
We still miss the hell out of this show about a genetically engineered superkid who sometimes gets drunk and tries to freestyle. The struggles of a non-neurotypical boy with superpowers to fit in were often super-compelling — but so were the supporting characters, including Kyle's adoptive siblings.
The book substitute: Weirdly, we couldn't think of a young adult novel about a genetically engineered kid coming to terms with life among normal people — there has to be a good one out there, but we couldn't think of one. Luckily, there's the Skinned trilogy by Robin Wasserman, which totally rules. Lia Kahn dies in a car accident, but her parents have her brain scanned and downloaded into a new mechanical body, so she has to go back to school as a quasi-cyborg. (Actually, this might be a good match title for Caprica, too.) She struggles with her new abilities, but also with anti-mech prejudice, and winds up learning to value her new existence.
James Cameron's Terminator movies spawned a surprisingly thoughtful show about living in the shadow of an approaching apocalypse, and dealing with the ramifications of artificial intelligence. To this day, it's hard to think about the Terminator mythos without thinking of Cameron, John Henry and Derek Reese as crucial parts of it.
The book substitute: Either Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson, for the pure "robot uprising" carnage and violence — or maybe the classic Neuromancer by William Gibson, for a look at artificial intelligence and how it interacts with humans. Or both, really — you couldn't go wrong by reading Gibson's "Sprawl" trilogy as well as Wilson's story of robots and humans at war. Also, if you want a great story of someone time-traveling and glimpsing a possible dystopian future as well as a utopian one, check out Marge Piercy's Woman on the Edge of Time.
In this show, 4,400 people go missing over the years — only to return all at once, with strange mental powers. The mystery of where these people went and what happened to them is often not as interesting as how their new psychic abilities affect the people around them, and what lengths "normal" people will go to, to acquire these superpowers.
The book substitute: Well, you could always track down the 4400 novels written by Greg Cox. But also, there's The Chrysalids by John Wyndham — this is the classic book about people with strange telepathic powers, hiding among normal people, although it does take place in a post-apocalyptic world. They are oppressed and threatened by the fundamentalist Christian community they live among — but then they learn of another, more advanced community called Sealand. See also the jarring, thrilling More Than Human by Theodore Sturgeon.
A group of alien kids are trying to live in secret on Earth, but they are hunted by other aliens and constantly in danger of being exposed.
The book substitute: This series was actually based on an existing book series, Roswell High, so you could always hunt those down and read them. But also, the folks on the Roswell Fanatics website put in a plug for a book called The Silver Spoon about Stacey Klemstein, about a girl in a small town dealing with the arrival of aliens on Earth. There's also the classic Girl With the Silver Eyes by Willo Davis Roberts, about a girl with amazing superpowers living amongst normal people. Or Dancing With an Alien by Mary Logue, about a girl who falls in love with an alien boy who wants her to go back to his own planet with him.
This show about a small town in Kansas surviving after the nuclear destruction of 26 U.S. cities is a huge touchstone for fans of smart, character-driven post-apocalyptic storytelling. Most of the show's run deals with the mechanics of surviving and rebuilding society — but over time, the characters confront the possibility that the people who set off the nukes are the same people who want to impose a new, ultra-conservative order on the world, including rewriting history.
The book substitute: The Wild Shore by Kim Stanley Robinson. There are plenty of post-apocalyptic novels, but this is a really good look at a community rebuilding long after a nuclear catastrophe, as the people on the California coast try to make a life for themselves in the ruins of American civilization. There are also S.M. Stirling's Emberverse novels.
Dan Vasser becomes unstuck in time, going back to the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s to solve people's random problems — and his marriage and career suffer as a result. This show grew on us, thanks to really well drawn characters and an increasingly sensitive look at the paradoxes involved in Dan's time travel — and then it was cancelled, to make way for My Own Worst Enemy, thus proving that NBC is its own worst enemy.
The book substitute: This one is easy — The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger (ignore the terrible movie adaptation.) Niffenegger's masterful look at a man who becomes unstuck in time, and how it affects his relationship with his wife (whom he meets as a little girl, thanks to time travel) was probably a major inspiration for Journeyman, and it's a pure, incredible dose of everything we loved about the show.
Also worth mentioning: The Confessions of Max Tivoli by Andrew Sean Greer, about a man who ages backwards, and his relationship with one woman. (That underwhelming Benjamin Button movie obviously borrowed a lot from Greer's far superior novel. See here for details.)
A 1930s traveling circus becomes the focus for an epochal battle between the forces of good and evil in this heavily allegorical, canceled-too-soon HBO show.
The book substitute: Mechanique by Genevieve Valentine — if you want desolation, circuses and strange crises of faith and identity, then this Nebula-nominated debut novel is your book. As we wrote in our review, "the secret at the heart of Mechanique is that creating beauty and performance in the middle of a horribly scarred world requires cruelty. The cruelty of the circus is almost as great as its beauty."
Thanks to Cecil Castellucci for the amazingly helpful suggestions!