In Quebec, the patiently awaited release of the adaptation of Dune by Denis Villeneuve will have eclipsed the launch of a few cinematographic and television novelties of interest to lovers of science fiction and fantasy. Like Dune, these works are inspired by extremely complex imaginary worlds created by their authors over many novels. Hours, hours, and hours of reading for anyone planning a lot of free time this winter.
The emergence of VOD services, such as Netflix, Disney + and Prime Video, is leading to the proliferation of audiovisual sagas productions of all kinds. And if there are authors who are masters in the art of stretching the sauce, it is the authors of fantasy and science fiction.
As 2022 begins in a semi-confined mode, visiting or revisiting the original or translated works that brought these sagas to life on the small and large screens is a sure way to occupy several hours over the coming months. It is hard to see why we should shun this pleasure, especially since it is aimed at all audiences, regardless of age, gender or … the planet of origin.
Earlier this fall, Denis Villeneuve expressed the wish, in an interview with specialized American media, to make the saga Dune a trilogy… “at least”. It must be said that the author of the series, Frank Herbert, has created a bushy and exploded story that stretches over six rather imposing volumes. As Villeneuve himself says, the more the story goes, the more it becomes a psychedelic delirium that it will be difficult for him to adapt in its entirety for the cinema.
And we are only talking about the work of Frank Herbert! Beginning in 1999, his son Brian and author Kevin J. Anderson continued to explore the universe of Dune and published a dozen additional books.
The Quebec director has already made it a little easier if he himself intends to go beyond three films to tell a story that goes much further than the fate of the young hero Paul Atréides: after all, and without anything to disclose, its first part of Dune covers only about the first half of the first of Herbert’s six novels.
If the story of the Atreides family, told from the first (hundreds of) pages of Dune, takes place mainly on the planet Arrakis, nicknamed Dune, we learn from the outset that this universe goes much further than the limits of this immense desert of sand infested with large omnivorous worms. Many other planets have also been colonized.
For the sake of the story, Frank Herbert places the action a thousand years in the future, giving humanity time to develop spaceships capable of exceeding the speed of light thanks to extremely powerful “thinking machines”, and also to have the time to fear them enough to ban them and apprehend all forms of technology.
The decision of our distant descendants to banish these machines has led to the creation of a feudal-style galactic empire where intrigues typical of medieval times are played out. Add to that a spice that turns some characters into a kind of mentalist magicians and you have all the ingredients for a recipe halfway between the series Foundation, d’Isaac Asimov, et the sLord of rings, by JRR Tolkien.
Little known to those uninitiated in fantastic literature, The wheel of time is a saga published between 1990 and 2013 which was initially supposed to hold in 6, then in 12 books, but which finally counts 17 (14 for the main story, plus an antépisode and two other books telling parallel stories). Translated into several languages, including French, and sold over 90 million copies worldwide, the saga is the subject of an ambitious eight-episode TV series recently available on Amazon’s Prime Video platform.
Faced with the success of the series, the most watched in 2021 on the Amazon platform, its producers began filming a second season during the summer, which could be put online in droplets next spring, if we trust rumors. We have also heard that the main director of the series, Rafe Judkins, intended to summarize in eight seasons the action which stretches over a little over 11,500 pages.
The reader intrigued by this fantastic universe will have to plan to invest a lot of time in it. It will be rewarded in several ways, because each brick that makes up the series depicts with breathtaking level of detail and precision a dense imaginary world populated by characters with complex psychology.
It must be said that Robert Jordan, the original author of The wheel of time, drew its inspiration from different Indo-European cultures and mythologies. There are nods to Buddhism, Hinduism and Taoism, as well as to Christianity, Islam and Judaism. The fantastic world he created goes a long way in explaining his system of magic and in the characters’ relationship with religion and the supernatural.
The author, unfortunately died in 2007 from an illness which prevented him from completing his work himself, will have had time to dictate the end to his successor, the American author Brandon Sanderson, who carried out the work brilliantly.
Between 2012 and 2021, Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck hid behind the pen name James SA Corey to write a saga in nine volumes, The Expanse, which was declined in a series for the television first diffused between 2015 and 2018 on the American channel Syfy, then recovered by Amazon. The sixth and possibly final season of this sci-fi series is just starting to air on Prime Video.
For its part, the ninth and, most certainly, the last volume of the saga has also just been marketed. Nothing will be revealed by simply saying that he comes full circle in a story that begins very timidly when James Holden, the second in command of a ship carrying ice from one planet to another in the solar system, puts the hand on an object which will cause the complete collapse of humanity – literally and figuratively.
For various reasons, the TV series has already taken a certain distance from the work of the two American authors. We already know that the reader will be able to go much further than the viewer in exploring the intergalactic universe of The Expanse since the two thieves have also produced eight short novels orbiting the main opus.
More science fiction than fantasy, The Expanse nonetheless poses a recurring question in stories with a medieval connotation: what can happen if we leave in the hands of a torn and decadent humanity almost magical tools created by an unknown and vanished civilization? The answer is not very happy.