Sunday, September 10, 2023

When a book becomes the Foundation for a different story on screen.

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Does this keep happening to you? Because it keeps happening to me: A book you read and loved gets made into either a movie or TV show; you wait with breathless anticipation for the premiere; and when it finally arrives, you realize as you watch that the story isn't quite the way you remember it.

Silo was kind of like that, although it stayed truer to the Wool series than many adaptations I've seen. It helped a lot that the author of the series, Hugh Howey, was heavily involved as an executive producer of the show.

Dark Winds is a lot like that, as I blogged about a while back. Anne Hillerman, daughter of Tony Hillerman, who started the Leaphorn and Chee mystery series, is an executive producer and has written several books of her own in the world her father invented. And yet I didn't recognize much about some of  the main characters except their names. Would the Joe Leaphorn created by Tony Hillerman have meted out justice on B.J. Vines the way Joe Leaphorn did in the final episode of this season? I tend to think not (in fact, he didn't).

And so it is with Foundation, the classic multivolume sci-fi saga written in the 1940s and '50s by Isaac Asimov. I read the series some 30 years after they were first published and have never re-read them. Still, I remembered enough about the books to think about watching the series on Apple TV+. When Silo's first season ended, the second season of Foundation was about to begin, and I had time to catch up on season one before the second season finished its release.

So there I was, watching the first season, and thinking to myself, "Who is Gaal Dornick?" and "Wasn't Salvor Hardin male?"

Yes, indeed, Salvor was male in the books. So was Gaal -- and he was not a major character, which is why I didn't remember him. Then you've got Demerzel, the right-hand robot to the Cleons on Trantor, who's female in the series but male in the books (he was a sort of alter ego of Daneel Olivaw, the character who tied Asimov's Robot series into the universe of Foundation). And speaking of the Cleons and their weird way of keeping the empire all in the family -- that wasn't in the books, either.

So what gives? Are these people just trying to confuse me?

Nah. They simply updated the series for today: changing some characters' genders, throwing in some special effects, and -- to my delight -- imbuing the characters with more emotion than they had in the books. I've been known to say that Asimov was a brilliant man, but he couldn't write dialogue to save his life. I think now the problem is that Asimov didn't give his characters much emotional depth; it wasn't that his dialogue was wooden, it was that his characters were.

Anyway, late to the party as always, I am just now learning that Asimov's literary estate was one hundred percent onboard with all these changes. (Asimov's daughter Robyn is an executive producer of the show.) Showrunner David S. Goyer says, "Robyn Asimov and the estate completely embraced it. They said that Asimov himself would have embraced that and they were absolutely comfortable with that."

That's all well and good. But what about the fans who loved the books and wanted to see a TV show about those stories? Goyer makes the excuse that Foundation was written during the Cold War, so things needed to be updated. Except that didn't seem to trouble Peter Jackson when he made the Lord of the Rings movies; those were written during World War Two and the postwar years, and yet Jackson didn't feel the need to take as many liberties with Tolkien's story as Goyer has with Asimov's.

Does it sound like I'm mad about the changes to Foundation? I'm not. I'm enjoying the show. I guess maybe I'm in the sweet spot -- a person who remembers enough about the books to be interested in the show, but who doesn't remember enough about the books to be angry or sad or disappointed about all the changes. To me, it's kind of like this show is "the further adventures of Hari Seldon" or something. (Hari, by the way, was not nearly as much of an egotistical jerk in the books. That's one change I am disappointed about.)

I'm kind of getting to that spot with Dark Winds, too. I'm starting to think of the TV show as a story about people with the same names as the characters in these books I've read. 

At least that attitude saves me from feeling the need to throw things at the TV.


These moments of adaptive blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Stay safe!


Judi Moore said...

I love Asimov, but his characters were on the wooden side. It was the flights of imagination and plotting that he was so good at. I don't remember his dialogue, which probably doesn't speak well of it. I must reread the Foundation series too. The early ones were so *little*. So much original thought in so few pages.

Lynne Cantwell said...

Popular fiction was a lot shorter back then. Most genre novels were the length of a NaNoWriMo novel, give or take. I actually like a lot of those lean, mean stories better than the doorstop novels we get now -- although I also enjoy a long, well-plotted read. But hey, everybody's different...