Life After Terra Nova: 4 Sci-Fi Subgenres We'd Like to See on TV

By Julia Bergen

Jan 11, 2012

Remember how excited we all were for Terra Nova? And then remember when it aired, and our excitement deflated so much that it could only be recognized as bemused disappointment?

Terra Nova's first (and possibly last) season had plenty of problems, but if you ask me, they had nothing to do with what the show did. The problems were rooted in what the show didn't do, which is pay attention to what's going on in the greater world of science-fiction. Good sci-fi takes what others have done and makes it better. A lot of the genre's best TV shows and movies come from topics and concepts first put forward in the genre's best novels. Neverwhere, True Blood, Dune, Game of Thrones -- they all started out as books. And there's so much great stuff going on in science-fiction literature right now, it would be a crime for networks not to try to cash in. Novelists today are taking sci-fi to greater heights than even their most respected predecessors, playing with subgenres, crossing them, creating new ones, dusting off older ones, and basically doing whatever they can to mess with readers' expectations.

Which means that the next big science-fi game changer is very likely going to come from one of the subgenres that are making roads right now. Here are the top four we'd like to see adapted for our TV-viewing pleasure.

Alternative History

What it is: Alternative history is all about the question of "What if?" -- What if Hitler won World War II? What if France won the Napoleonic Wars? This subgenre has been around since the 1950s, but has been steadily gaining in popularity. The movie Inglourious Basterds, in which Hitler is successfully murdered, is a prime example.

Why it would be awesome on TV: The success of shows like Mad Men and Downton Abbey prove that audiences love a good period piece. An alternative history set in the 1960s could be amazing: It was such a watershed period that there's a lot of room to imagine what could have been. A world where JFK wasn't assassinated! A world where Bay of Pigs was a success! I could go on.


What it is: There are a lot of definitions of steampunk, but it's basically an interpretation of what the Victorians thought the future would hold. Think Jules Verne. Also think bustles, Tesla coils, monogoggles, airships, and lots and lots of steam-powered robots. Steampunk has a huge following, not just in fiction but also in design and jewelry. Films like The Golden Compass and Martin Scorsese's Hugo, while not strictly steampunk, feature a similar aesthetic. And while a lot of television shows like Fringe and Warehouse 13 have used steampunk elements, there has yet to be a TV show set in an entirely steampunk world.

Why it would be awesome on TV: Steampunk is visually so strong that a steampunk series would not only look incredible, but would offer TV audiences an image completely different from anything else we've seen on television.

New Weird

What it is: New weird is the reboot of weird fiction, a genre created in the early twentieth century and popularized by writers like H. P. Lovecraft (the man who created Cthulhu). Like steampunk, new weird is difficult to define, but overall it attempts to challenge the way we think about modern institutions, particularly urban ones. It often uses disturbing concepts and techniques similar to the horror genres to help the reader see things in a new way. For example, in the novel The Iron Council by China MiƩville, a woman who murdered her baby is punished by having her baby's living limbs magically grafted onto her face. She then joins the ranks of other "remade" criminals enslaved by the government and stripped of even the most basic human rights.

Why it would be awesome on TV: New weird is very subversive, and unless you've been living under a rock, it's pretty clear that a lot of people are unhappy about what's going on in this country right now. A new weird TV series would appeal to viewers who want to see change in the world. Plus, with series like American Horror Story finding a loyal audience, there's clearly demand for more horror on TV.


What it is: Dystopian fiction imagines a future world in a terrible state, usually ruled by a brutal totalitarian state. It's gaining a huge amount of movement, and many publishers are sighting it as the next paranormal romance. The Hunger Games series of novels has been blowing up for the past few years, and the film version is likely to be a huge hit this spring. And TV looks prepped as well, as RKO Pictures has bought the television rights to False Memory, a young adult dystopian novel about an amnesiac teenage super-soldier. The novel is due for release later this year. Talk about jumping the gun.

Why it would be awesome on TV: A huge amount of dystopian novels are aimed at teenagers, which is great for advertisers since teens are a hot market. Audiences are also already getting weened into the dystopian genre with shows like The Walking Dead, where the future is a bleak place.

Which of these sci-fi subgenres do you think could succeed on television? Which ones did we miss that you'd rather see instead?

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  • Sproxar Jan 26, 2012

    How about Tad Williams' "Otherland" series? It has sci-fi, fantasy, alternative history and steam-punk elements (albeit in the form of virtual reality worlds), and can be considered as new weird and dystopian as well. It has an ensemble cast of unusual characters, and like "Lost", has a central mystery for them to unravel over the course of the series. I would suggest something like HBO's "Game of Thrones" treatment though, since this is more suitable as a mini-series than an ongoing make-it-up-as-you-go network show.

    I'd also like to add my vote for "Ender's Game". Even though it's already been parodied on "Futurama", the original story had a lot more going for it than that, and it deserves a wider audience, again probably in the form of a mini-series.

    Many other novel-to-tv adaptations would be better as mini-series as well. The big complaint about many sci-fi shows is that they get cancelled before they really get going, leaving fans hanging with an unfinished story. The mini-series solves this by having a finite story, with an ending in mind right from the start. Even if a network isn't willing to gamble on an ongoing series, OKing 10 episodes should be a bit easier. They can always extend it if it proves wildly popular, and if it doesn't, at least the fans get some closure. Battlestar Galactica did it right by telling their story and then closing the series down before it became a joke.

  • doctorwho747 Jan 23, 2012

    I would absolutely love to see S.M Stirling's "Emberverse Series' THIS IS NOT A SPOILER

    Note the books started out with a three book arc. In the very first page or the second Some of the characters or being taken on a small plane ride, when in a flash the plane goes dead. It turns out in the next few pages and the next chapter that in that flash every single bit of technology from the past 3-400 including electricity, and guns, explosives, and missiles of any kind. Basically over night and two chapters in the world's technology went completely obsolete. Time starts to move back to the middle ages and everyone has to learn to use a sword. Of course we have our groups who have different religions and beliefs. And then there is the guy who was a medieval professor who gathers his own kingdom, and he brings back all the barbaric things from back then. So you find out all of these things in the first couple chapters. And this story is the first 3 books, As I recall it's over 8 years past when book 2 starts, and by the third book it has been ten years. Still I if made into a show it could be fantastic tv series!

  • KennethDeLeon1 Jan 16, 2012

    tv series based on books are fail. they have to follow a predestined script no matter who the actor/actress is. in a real tv series the writers can begin to write scripts and make them work better with an actor/actress's talents better.

  • tv_gonzo Jan 15, 2012

    I would love for one of my absolutely favourite book series to become a tv show. Although it probably would work better as a movie.

    The Thursday Next Series by Jasper Fforde. Its hilarious and would be in the Alternative History section. Seriously everyone who hasn't read it yet. Go get it, its great.

  • DraicKin5 Jan 14, 2012

    From a very personal standpoint I would love seeing more of these kind of series but from a more rational point of view, I have doubts.

    The biggest doubt I have is SCRIPT and good script is essential to every of these sub genres including steampunk, visuals alone is not enough it cannot compensate for a lazy writing.

    Another doubt I have is in the "New Weird" sub genre ,

    1st: people have a very loose definition of weird , seems now that everything is weird somehow , it's laughable !

    An Other concern is directly in the text, "challenge the way we think" , thinking is not really a popular thing right now unfortunately.

    A dystopian serie? the only thing someone needs to do for watching a terrible,depressing world is looking through the window orwatching tv , no need for a serie for that!

    Finally , a big concern is having "video game style" sci-fi series and it's a no go for me.No Offense to video games.

  • Sighfye Jan 14, 2012

    Andre Norton's time travelers or any of her space trader series would be a great movie and series follow up. I can't believe none of her space novels or Witch World novels have been picked up by the money hungry and idea vampires of Hollywood-they'd be sure money generators!

  • pampee1328 Jan 14, 2012

    i really think the dystopian subgenre will do well on tv. i like it

  • chas031 Jan 14, 2012

    Forgot the upcoming John Carter Disney treatment. If Disney can pull off this movie without creating a joke, I'd love to see a series developed. As the forefather of Star Wars and so many others it deserves to be handled with respect and dedication to E.R. Burrough's work.

  • shootingstar609 Jan 14, 2012

    I love alternate history! Because there are so many moments or decisions that came down to one person's opinion or one person being somewhere or not being somewhere that made such a huge difference in the outcome. Also, steampunk sounds awesome. The Victorian Era had some pretty interesting ideas on how they thought the future would be. Steampunk reminds me of the whole Rambaldi storyline on ALIAS, how he was imagining things very far ahead of his time.

  • DrJele Jan 13, 2012

    weird messed up futures are my favorite, because i belive that is what the future will bring, an i think Steampunk or a Alternative History about the second world war would be interesting.

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