Worst television versions of science fiction and fantasy books

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The Walking Dead carried all our dreams on its undead shoulders. We're all hoping HBO's Game of Thrones will also rule. But sadly, television has an even worse record of adapting books than movies. Here are 10 book-to-television embarrassments.

And welcome back to Monday Hate, where we hate things because it's Monday.

So there's a huge trend in recent years, of adapting successful books and graphic novels to television — and it looks set to continue, with Ridley Scott making a TV miniseries of Philip K. Dick's The Man In The High Castle, and TV adaptations of The Dark Tower and Locke & Key on the way as well. And according to this AV Club article, there are cable TV adaptations of Carter Beats the Devil and Red Mars in the pipeline. Not to mention The Time Traveler's Wife. But these things don't always work out great.


A few notes: We're not going to list TV shows that are spun off from movies that were, in turn, based on novels — nobody really thinks of the Planet of the Apes TV show as a book adaptation. We're also not going to list every bad superhero TV show, because we already did that — and it's not really an adaptation, in my book, unless it's based on a specific serialized story, the way The Living Dead is.


A Wrinkle In Time.

Sigh. I remember being so excited when this was due to air, because Madeleine L'Engle's original novels were among my favorites growing up. And they could have made for great television — if Mickey Mouse hadn't gotten his oversized greasy white mitts on them. The actual televised version was a travesty, mostly because of extreme blandness and sugaryness as well as the decision to remove all the sharp edges from the book. As L'Engle herself said, "I expected it to be bad, and it is."

The Martian Chronicles.

Ray Bradbury himself summed up this three-part miniseries when he called it "boring." (According to his biography, Bradbury also told friends that "his idea of hell" was forcing people to sit through it.) Starring Rock Hudson and Bernadette Peters and written by the often great Richard Matheson, the miniseries took huge liberties with Bradbury's story collection, but not to spice the stories up. Instead, the writers and producers gave the story a crushing injection of dullness and cheesiness, which — to be fair — has not aged well at all. But you have to love the disco outfit that Rock Hudson wears to Mars. Here's his first conversation with a Martian:


Of course, if you're going to talk about authorial disgust with a televised version of a book, you really have to look to Ursula K. Le Guin's fire-breathing remarks on the Sci-Fi Channel's whitewashed, brainwashed adaptation of her fantasy masterpiece. I don't think there's ever been a writer who was quite so forthright in criticizing the liberties that Hollywood has taken with her work. (We'll be doing a list of the best TV adaptations in a few days, and you can expect a very different Le Guin story there.) Why was this miniseries so bad, apart from the whitewashed casting? Le Guin offers a hint here — the producers were trying to spin her stories into a parable about Christianity and Islam, and believers versus non-believers, but as she says, "Earthsea isn't Iraq."


Sci-Fi/Syfy has tackled Philip Jose Farmer's masterpiece twice, and both times they created a travesty that proudly stands alongside their Earthsea miniseries in the annals of awfulness. Farmer's original series, especially the first book To Your Scattered Bodies Go, could actually serve as quite a decent template for an ongoing television series, and the Victorian explorer Richard Francis Burton makes for a dashing, if problematic, protagonist. But both times, the producers decided it was better to take vast liberties and keep only a few shreds of Farmer's premise. We already detailed why that was such a hideous mistake here. Here's fan favorite Peter Wingfield playing a marginalized, anti-heroic version of Burton:


Legend of the Seeker.

Several of our commenters fingered this adaptation as deserving of a spot on the "worst" list. Says Astrix, "Zeddicus Zul Zorander, what a fantastic character to be slaughtered so pitifully." Adds Zegota, "Legend of the Seeker was more boring than bad, IMO." Says Starsun: "The books are epic in scope, and the series shoehorns that story into an episodic travesty. " Log1c deals the death blow: "It seems that if you liked the show, you probably hadn't read the books."

Day of the Triffids.

We've already complained quite a bit about this British miniseries based on the classic John Wyndham novels — especially since the BBC already made a fantastic version in the early 1980s. There seemed to be a large amount of "missing the point" going on, especially with the lack of blind people after a while, and the lack of compelling human villains — what is it with Eddie Izzard playing bland, smirky baddies? Mostly, though, it just failed to be compelling, and Vanessa Redgrave's evil nun was a really contrived, nonsensical addition. It just didn't work, and missed a lot of the point of the original book.



Sigh. This was actually the second attempt to make an Eastwick TV series, the first being a pilot that aired as a TV movie but never went to a series. And that probably should have happened this time around as well — the idea of an Eastwick soap opera in which the witches grapple with their powers and with the mystery of Darryl Van Horne every week was just a dreadful idea, and the execution was like a hideous Sex and the City riff.


Another series that we've already picked over the charred corpse of — but it didn't have to be so turgid. If they'd actually tried to be truer to Robert J. Sawyer's original book, it could have been a pretty fascinating story about how seeing the future changes us. Even if they'd felt the need to change the timeframe of the future visions from around 21 years to a shorter timeframe, trying to make it a conspiracy/FBI show seems like a mistake — and having our hero see a future in which he's already seen the future is just too confusing and nonsensical. But most of all, they took a tight novel and turned it into a sprawling show in which not very much happened from week to week — except when Ass-Kicking Dad Of POW Girl was on screen, which wasn't often enough.


Stephen King has a really checkered history on television, to say the least — as part of its month-long horror focus during October, Syfy was showing a slew of cheesy King miniseries like Tommyknockers, The Langoliers, and Sometimes They Come Back...Again! Not to mention Syfy's Haven, based on a King novella, which hasn't quite proved to be our cup of tea. At the same time, King purists seem to like the miniseries of The Stand and The Shining. But if you want the absolute worst King television production, you need look no further than Trucks, a Canadian-U.S. co-production based on King's short story "Trucks," which also inspired his dreadful movie Maximum Overdrive. Trucks had the great tagline, "U-Turn, U-Die!" Here's the trailer (no pun intended):

The Andromeda Strain.

We're really glad that AMC seems to be on the right track with The Walking Dead, because they got on the wrong track with this miniseries, sadly. (Update: I was the one who was on the wrong track. AMC did The Prisoner, A&E did Andromeda Strain.) They took one of Michael Crichton's geekiest and most chilling books, and turned it into an episode of Star Trek: Voyager, full of inane technobabble and way-out stuff about wormholes that made no sense.