Netflix Can Turn Classic Utopian Novel Into Perfect Sci-Fi Thriller Series

By Jeffrey Rapaport | Updated

It’s incredible how many of the best screenplays, powering the best films and series, derive from works of fiction: Blade Runner, Game of Thrones, and Jurassic Park, to name a few. Given Netflix’s penchant for risk-taking, the streaming giant should seriously consider adapting Aldous Huxley’s utopian 1962 novel (and his final work), Island. The book could make for genuinely gripping sci-fi with engaging philosophic undercurrents. 

Best-Selling Classic From A Master Author

Huxley is best known for his earlier novel Brave New World. Beating George Orwell to the chase, this novel paved the way for dystopian fiction, envisioning a society shaped by genetic engineering, all to service capitalism and consumerism.

However, the author’s 1962 accomplishment, in many ways a reworking of Brave New World, warrants adaption for today’s streaming audience. Following the surreal, thought-provoking story of jaded journalist Will Farnaby, Netflix’s new series, if they would be so inclined, begins with Farnaby shipwrecked purposefully on the shares of an island kingdom, Pala, halfway between Sumatra and the Andaman Islands. 

Stumbling Across A New Society


Local children happen up on the shipwrecked foreigner and carry him to their grandpa, Dr. Robert MacPhail. The latter’s daughter-in-law, Susila, soon employs hypnotherapy to heal the injured Farnaby, demonstrating the isolated society’s unique, effective way of life countering typical Western expectations. 

As Farnaby learns more about this special culture and his bond with it deepens, a la the similarly themed blockbuster Avatar, a sinister plot is revealed. It is helmed by a pact between the neighboring country’s militaristic dictator and Pala’s future leader. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the conspirators wanted to tap Pala’s rich, unexploited resources—particularly oil reserves. 

The Plot Sounds Familiar

james cameron

As a Netflix series would no doubt depict, while Farnaby is initially complicit in the plot and there to help get it off the ground, his experience on the island gradually transforms him. His encounters with the small nation’s singular mix of Western science and Eastern spirituality, alongside the impressive, advanced educational system and forward-thinking societal structures, persuade him to throw in his hat with Pala.

One compelling facet of the Palanese, as they are called, is that they take a psychedelic drug (this is Huxley, after all) called Moksha, a medicine to gain spiritual enlightenment and preserve their harmonious utopian society. 

Easily Support A Streaming Series

The potential for world-building is a bit staggering; Netflix has an abundance to work with Island. From the Pala’s way of life, especially the psychedelic imbibing of the Moksha drug/medicine, to the Mutual Adoption Clubs, or communal bands of adults who collectively raise the society’s children, the Pala environment, depicted on screen, could raise interesting questions.

If only through the novel unity of Western scientific knowledge with Eastern traditions, namely Buddhism and aspects of Hinduism, the culture depicted in the book would provide a rich and novel background for sci-fi thrills to play out. 

Hollywood’s Interpretation Of A Literary Classics


Of course, Huxley’s novel is a novel of ideas; as such, it advances a utopian vision almost like an essay or hypothetical proposal delivered through the lens of fiction, world-building, and dramatic stakes. To keep streaming audiences binging, a Netflix show would probably need to up the conflict in Island, “Hollywooding” it a little more than it unfolds in the book. However, that would be an achievable task because the novel’s universe and narrative offer much to work with. 

The looming threat of invasion from an aggressive neighbor, the additional, impending menace of greedy interested parties trying to cannibalize the island—it all provides for compelling and dynamic contests between relatable protagonists, the converted journalist and the utopian islanders, and equally relatable antagonists, drawn from our world. Farnaby could face nail-biting decisions as he pits his original goal, infiltrating the island and serving the antagonist forces, against the islanders he increasingly empathizes and identifies with. 

Imagine Lost Meets Avatar

Netflix producers should be happy that, complementing this internal conflict, the eventual fight with the militarists next door would provide ample external drama, too.

Ultimately, Netflix would be remiss not to adapt Island, which carves its niche through profound (and profoundly relevant themes), utterly individual world-building, and a potentially gripping setting. The series could resemble some love-child of Lost, 1984, and Avatar. 

All of this means this novel should be adapted into a streaming series as soon as possible.