Gary Morgenstein’s A Mound Over Hell is possibly unique among science fiction novels that include a sport. In most cases, such as the movie Rollerball (itself based on a short story), the sport in question is often invented for the story, or otherwise altered to fit a futuristic setting – say, zero-G football. But in this story, baseball as we know it – or at least, knew it – is central to the plot, while also blending science fiction, history and political threads in to a cohesive whole. It’s not a book about baseball. It’s not a book about politics. But it IS a book about all of it. And it blends it all well, which isn’t an easy feat.
It is nearing the end of the 21st century, and America is devastated after having essentially lost World War 3 against the Muslim Caliphate, which now controls most of Europe. A new society has formed, based on the concept of the Family and led by Grandma, has arisen while any show of patriotism to the old country is now illegal. There is no welfare system – people who fail in society now live in Disappointment Villages, seeking to work their way back out.
Baseball, the “national pastime”, is one of the last vestiges of patriotism, and it is having its last season, played in the bombed-out remains of Amazon Stadium (formerly Yankee Stadium), with holographic baserunners and fielders, and a handful of indifferent “fans” in the seats. Puppy Nedick, the last baseball historian, is covering the final season and mulling his future. But then one night he finds a strange visitor in his apartment – a man purporting to be Mickey Mantle. Yes, THE Mickey Mantle. And a few days later, Ty Cobb shows up. And even Mooshie Lopez, the greatest player ever. But how could they all be here, for the last season of baseball, since all of them were dead?
I’ve known Gary for almost 10 years – we first met when he was the director of public relations at Syfy – so when we got to talk recently, we’d reminisce about press tours, scotch, and the Red Sox vs. Yankees – he grew up in the shadow of Yankee Stadium, while I’m a denizen of Fenway Park…but we did manage to talk about the book, and after talking about it I want to read it again!
Doc: So when we met, you were working as Syfy director of communications. But you were a writer, first and foremost before that, and had some novels.
Gary: This is my fifth novel. It’s my first science fiction novel. I wrote a science fiction musical off Broadway a few years ago called The Anthem, so yes, I always had a shadow life. I’d do the corporate world, and then I would come home and I’d write. Write on weekends or in the morning, or when other people went out for lunch and enjoy themselves, I close my office door and wrote.
The BBC has already given a second season order of 8 episodes for the big budget TV adaptation of His Dark Materials, based on the books by Philip Pullman, and which just started filming in Wales, according to Deadline. In addition, it was announced earlier today that HBO has join as co-producer and distributor.
The series follow the young orphan Lyra Belacqua (Dafne Keen, Logan), who exists in a parallel world to our own where each person’s inner self, called a daemon, has physical form outside their bodies in the form of a sentient animal. Their form can vary when the person is young but eventually take a single form as they grow older. Lyra and her daemon Pantalaimon (who has not yet fixed form) discover Dust, a strange particle that was being researched by her uncle, Lord Asriel (James McAvoy, X-Men: First Class), and may hold the key to travel around the multiverse. The series also stars Ruth Wilson and Lin-Manuel Miranda.
HBO acquired the worldwide rights to the series outside the United Kingdom.
Stoking the fiery passion of fans all across the Wizarding World, SYFY and USA Network will transport viewers to Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry like never before with a multi-platform exploration of all facets of the Wizarding World films.
Beginning with the simulcast of the HARRY POTTER WIZARDING WEEKEND from July 13-15, 2018, both networks become the new U.S. television homes of the entire Wizarding World franchise library in a previously announced deal with Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution extending through April 2025. All eight Harry Potter movies – as well as the Fantastic Beasts films slated to begin in 2019, 2021 and 2023 – will air in HD with limited commercial interruption as the networks commemorate 20 years of Harry Potter fandom. The first six films will be extended director’s cut versions. Beyond the HARRY POTTER WIZARDING WEEKEND, SYFY and USA have also programmed monthly stunts including BACK TO HOGWARTS MARATHON, DARK ARTS MARATHON, WIZARDING WORLD WEEK and a special CHRISTMAS MARATHON.
SYFY and USA will be supporting the celebration as the biggest acquisition launch in both networks’ history with marketing, promotion, digital and social campaigns. In addition, special content and promotions with Universal Orlando Resort and Universal Studios Hollywood, both home to the incredibly themed lands of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, are now available where guests can enjoy fully immersive entertainment experiences based on the Harry Potter series. In all, the campaign will be bigger than the Quidditch World Cup itself!
“Whether they’re superfans who live and breathe Harry Potter or a new generation yet to discover the franchise, we’re giving fans of all kinds an entirely new way to experience the magic of The Wizarding World on television,” noted Chris McCumber, President, Entertainment Networks for NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment. “With SYFY, we’re inviting fans to really ‘geek out’ and go deep into their passion and knowledge. And at USA, we’ll be able to fire up a bigger, broader audience with massive scale to introduce a whole new legion of fans.”
“Both networks will have a unique but complementary Wizarding World look and feel for the fans as we create moments and events throughout the year – on-air, online, off-the-screen, on social or at SYFY WIRE – that infuse a wonderful wizarding ethos into our collective creative brands,” added Alexandra Shapiro, Executive Vice President, Marketing & Digital, USA Network & SYFY. “And the biggest moments will always make sure fans are front and center.”
SYFY and USA will present a new viewing experience for fans of the films. The custom design packaged on-air and online will include IDs and bugs supported with hours of new footage delving deeper into the mythology of Harry Potter, trivia and fun facts to test even the most advanced wizard’s acumen, behind-the-scenes footage and fresh interviews with cast members and production crew dishing on their favorite moments, including:
· Eddie Redmayne (as Newt Scamander from Fantastic Beasts)
· James and Oliver Phelps (as Fred and George Weasley)
· Stanislav Ianevski (as Viktor Krum)
· Jany Temime, Costume Designer
· John Richardson, Special Events Supervisor
· Paul Harris, Wand Choreographer
· Miraphora Mina and Eduardo Lima, Graphic Designers
Also included in the on-air campaign will be special footage, including an exclusive behind-the-scenes studio tour from Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter – and fan testimonials from San Diego Comic-Con and and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando Resort, including A Celebration of Harry Potter. Keen observers will also spot some familiar fan faces from the SYFY and USA channels.
Harlan Ellison, one of science fiction’s most prolific writers and also contributed some of the best television episodes of Star Trek and The Outer Limits and was a consultant for Babylon 5 (and made a cameo appearance), passed away at home in his sleep unexpectedly today. It was announced by his wife via a friend, and confirmed by his agent. He was 84.
Ellison wrote uncountable stories, both classic and even horrible ones, the latter of which he would use his pseudonym of “Cordwainer Bird”, reserved for anything he felt wasn’t good enough. He worked on a number of TV programs, including creating the scripts for the Outer Limits episode “Demon With A Glass Hand”, and the Star Trek episode “City on the Edge of Forever”. He also developed a pilot script for a show that became The Starlost, which became an infamous example of creator-vs-producer interference among other problems that resulted in a subpar show (which was credited to Cordwainer Bird).
He was also a divisive figure, never afraid to give out an insult, and wasn’t afraid to sue over stories and rights. He famously sued over The Terminator, claiming it was derived from two of his Outer Limits episodes, the aforementioned “Demon…” and “Soldier”, and in an out of court settlement the producers were required to include his name in the credits. Early in the history of then Sci-Fi Channel, he has a regular segment on the show Sci-Fi Buzz, which he often wouldn’t say the name of (or the channel) because he detested the name “sci-fi”. He could be simultaneously entertaining and infuriating, which made him fascinating.
Producers James Wan (The Conjuring) and Roy Lee (It) want to take author Stephen King’s 1987 sci-fi/horror novel The Tommyknockers to the big screen.
THR reports the two will team up with Larry Sanitsky, who executive produced the 1993 miniseries adaptation which starred Jimmy Smits and Marg Helgenberger.
The Tommyknockers is set in the small town of Haven, Maine (a frequent setting for King’s stories), where during a walk one of the residents stumbles upon a metallic object stuck in the ground. It turns out that the object is in fact a buried UFO which begins emanating an invisible gas. The gas gives inhabitants of Haven enhanced intelligence to begin building things, but don’t really understand what they are doing, and appear to be controlled by the spacecraft.
The 1993 miniseries was successful for ABC. NBC announced development of a remake in 2013, but no mention of it was made after the announcement.
Highly recognized fantasy and speculative fiction author Ursula K. Le Guin passed away yesterday at the age of 88, her son confirmed to the New York Times.
Le Guin, whose fiction spans multiple subgenres over 20+ novels and 100+ short stories, was full of rich visuals and anti-stereotyping, shying away from white male-led stories and being all inclusive. This earned her many accolades over the years, including being named the sixth Gandalf Award Grand Master by the World Science Fiction Society in 1979, the 20th Grand Master of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America in 2003, and a Living Legend by the Library of Congress in 2003.
As we reported last week, Amazon was on the hunt for a mega-franchise, and it appears they’ve got one – and paid a handsome price for it.
Reports are in that Amazon has purchased the TV rights to The Lord Of The Rings – or at least some portion of stories from Middle-earth – for what may be close to $250 million just for the rights, and they’ve made a multi-season commitment already. It is expected a worth production could cost $100-150 million per season. The deal also includes a potential spin-off series.
The twist to the story is that it will not simply be a remake of the movies, but instead cover some period before the time of The Lord Of The Rings. It is not certain if this means it will be set in the time between The Hobbit and The Lord Of The Rings, or delve further back into the expansive mythology laid out by J.R.R. Tolkien.
This is interesting…we hear that the Tolkien estate, which manages all the rights to J.R.R. Tolkien’s works, is shopping around the rights to a TV series based on Lord Of The Rings to various outlets. Even more interesting is the huge price tag they are placing on it, which is said to be $200-250 million – just for the rights.
Such a project would be hugely ambitious and likely expensive to produce properly, which limits the outlets that could potentially take it on. HBO seems like a natural choice, having already done Game Of Thrones, and with it concluding in its upcoming eighth season that may be looking to fill the void it will leave behind (spinoffs notwithstanding.) Another possibility is Amazon, which is looking for its own GoT franchise and has some ambitious projects already in the works. I’d expect any such production to have to run for quite a few years just in order to break even for the rights purchase, which could make it very hard to pull the trigger.
In addition, they would probably have to lengthen to story significantly in order to stretch it long enough, perhaps by integrating a number of other stories of Middle-earth (as flashback storytelling or something like that), but I understand the rights are very limited as well.
At any rate, I think it would be tough to score big with a production that has to live up to and even surpass three great films in order to be deemed a success.
The Walking Dead‘s Robert Kirkman and his Skybound Entertainment has optioned the rights to Frederik Pohl’s 1977 novel Gateway for development as a television series.
Gateway is about humanity’s discovery of a space station (dubbed Gateway by the humans) in a hollowed out asteroid, left behind a mysterious long-vanished alien civilization called the Heechee, and food miner Robinette Stetley Broadhead, who leaves Earth after winning the lottery to seek out a better life. It is the first novel in the Heechee saga, comprised of 6 books, and it won the 1977 Nebula and 1978 Hugo and Locus awards, as well as the 1978 John W. Campbell Memorial Award.
Gateway has passed through several hands recently. In 2014, Entertainment One Television and De Laurentiis Co. had optioned the novel for television, and then a year later Syfy announced that it had placed the novel on its own development slate, with Entertainment One Television and Universal Cable Productions teaming up, and David Eick (Battlestar Galactica) and Josh Pate (Falling Skies) executive producing.
I cam across him in so many ways over the years, although we never had the chance to meet in person. I remember his columns in Byte magazine, one of my favorite parts of the magazine, where he discussed using the various things he was sent to review. And like Larry Niven he provided world building in his fiction stories. I was particularly enthralled by the CoDomunium setting, which I discovered through his collaboration with Niven in The Mote In God’s Eye and the sequel The Gripping Hand, where each author played off each other’s strengths.
I’d later encounter Pournelle again in the tech world through the This Week In Tech podcasts, where he was an occasional panel member.
We will certainly miss him.