More adaptation news for fans of science fiction print media. Warner Bros. has acquired the rights to Tad Williams’ sci-fi/cyberpunk book series Otherland and is set to turn it into a feature film produced by Dan Lin (Sherlock Holmes, Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows, The Invention of Lying). Tad Williams’ Otherland is a four-part, sci-fi/cyberpunk novel series – City of Golden Shadow, River of Blue Fire, Mountain of Black Glass, Sea of Silver Light – that was originally published from 1996 to 2001 and is being developed into an MMORPG. The film adaptation of the series will be written by John Scott III, whose zombie screenplay Maggie was named #1 on the 2011 Blood List and is currently in pre-production.
Williams’ Otherland is set in South Africa in the 21st century, when almost every experience is carried out through a massive, completely immersive virtual reality network referred to simply as The Net. A professor becomes suspicious and concerned about what is really happening in The Net after children (including her own brother) begin falling into comas after exiting the virtual world. The four novels (and one novella) follow the characters as they make their way through the different worlds of the Net, evading dangerous forces that pursue them and seeking the answers to a vast conspiracy. The Net is not the simulacrum of The Matrix and other virtual reality-dependent worlds, though. Instead of fighting their way through a virtual representation of reality, Otherland‘s protagonists find themselves in alternate versions of literary worlds (including Carroll’s Wonderland, the Oz stories, The War of the Worlds, and The Lord of the Rings) and historical events. While the augmented or virtual reality angle may not make Otherland a completely unique entity in the science fiction world, this rich intertextuality and its handling of race politics in South Africa should make it more visually and thematically interesting than your average sci-fi thriller.
The way Variety reported the new project makes it sound as though Warner Bros. will be adapting the Otherland series as a whole rather than taking it book by book. With the final book in the series clocking in anywhere between 700 and 1000 pages (depending on the edition) alone, that is a significant undertaking. I haven’t read the series, but the big question with Otherland echoes that which has plagued attempted adaptations of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series: how can you manage to do justice to a lengthy series with a complex plot, world, and set of characters in just one film? Unless Warner Bros. announces that it will actually be adapting the series into multiple films, fans of the books might want to brace themselves for a vastly stripped-down version of the Otherland they love.