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.
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.
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 Miéville, 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?