Saturday, October 25, 2014

Peter Watts's "Echopraxia"

Peter Watts is a former marine biologist and the Hugo-winning author of numerous short stories and novels such as Starfish, Maelstrom and Behemoth. He has been called "a hard science fiction writer through and through and one of the very best alive" by the Globe and Mail and whose work the New York Times called "seriously paranoid."

Here Watts dreamcasts an adaptation of his novel Echopraxia, the follow-up to the Hugo-nominated novel Blindsight:
Let's start behind the camera. It's almost tempting to nominate Shane Carruth for Director— after Primer and Upstream Color, don't you want to see what he could do with a budget of more than $8.67?— but given that Echopraxia seems to have left about half its readers confused, we might not want a director whose claim to fame is that his first movie took three viewings to understand. I've got nothing against challenging one's audience, but there can be too much of a good thing.

David Fincher, maybe— the man has a real way with mood, he's received more than his fair share of rave reviews, and bad direction was definitely not one of Alien 3's many faults. Fight Club was brilliant. Also, after The Social Network and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Fincher could probably get Trent Reznor back on board for soundtrack duties, which would be a bonus. I'd green-light Fincher in a second. He'd be the safe choice.

But if I didn’t want to play it safe, I'd risk the whole wad on Steven Soderbergh. He's shown a deft and subtle hand at first-contact scenarios (yeah, Solaris tanked commercially, but I liked it better than Tarkovsky's version). Contagion proves that he knows how to do Science right, which is almost unheard-of in Hollywood. And he was executive producer on what was, if not the best movie based on a Philip K. Dick novel, certainly the most Dickish movie based on a Philip K. Dick novel. I'd be fascinated to see what Soderbergh could do with Echopraxia.

Prometheus alumni need not apply. Sorry Ridley.

Screenplay? That would be me. Not because I've had any experience writing screenplays, but because I'm fucking sick of living hand to mouth as a midlist SF author, and screenplays pay better for fewer words. Besides, the guys who wrote Dude, Where's My Car? didn't have any screenwriting experience either, and look how well that turned out.

The cast. The simplest— and possibly the most compelling— solution might be to have Andy Serkis perform every role in a mo-cap suit, and sort it all out in post-production. Assuming that wasn't on the table, though, I went to my blog and asked for input. I got it, too. Almost a hundred comments worth. And it was helpful, more often than not, so I'd like to thank everybody who weighed in.

And the characters are…

Daniel Brüks: A baseline human, out of his depth, surrounded by demigods with opaque and world-changing agendas. We need someone who can convey haplessness, but who can also buckle down and snarl when backed into a corner. Out of 15 nominees, Tom Hanks and Kevin Spacey got the most votes, and there's no question that either of them could pull it off. The candidacy of Morgan Freeman should get extra weight because it was put forth by the real-life guy I based the fictional Brüks on.

But in my heart of hearts, this has to go to Bryan Cranston. You've all seen Breaking Bad. Who else could so compellingly pull off hapless and ruthless at the same time?

Col. Jim Moore: Reserved, polite, a life-long military man who could kill you in an instant, with profound regret and no malice, should the situation call for it. A failed marriage to which he has long since reconciled himself; a son whose loss he continues to mourn after fourteen years.

People put forth a dozen names for this character. Kevin Spacey showed up again, but I just can't see the dude as career military (maybe I should check out this House of Cards series everyone's going on about). Bruce Willis has the body type, but could he could pull off the combination of quiet camaraderie, increasing obsession, and near-delusional hair-trigger scariness that the role requires? Stephen Lang has the body type and the scariness, but maybe I'm just type-casting the dude after his role as the evil mercenary in Avatar. Hmmm.

Daniel Craig.

Valerie: a member of the short-lived omnisavantic human subspecies that gave rise to the vampire myth. Fifteen nominees ranging from Amy Acker to Sigourney Weaver, but the moment someone mentioned Tilda Swinton it was game over. Swinton would have had my vote purely on the basis of her work in Orlando; having finally watched Only Lovers Left Alive just the other day, I'd say that choice is now clad in iron.

Lianna Lutterodt: A creature of abiding faith, kindness, and intelligence, who has placed too much trust in the beneficence of the hive mind to which she has pledged fealty. Played, I think, by Kandyse McClure— because the way McClure conveys the despair, the resolve, and the One Good Night of Anastasia Dualla just before calmly blowing her brains out is one of the few good things about the final half-season of Battlestar Galactica. This is a person who can both have faith and lose it, to shattering effect.

Rakshi Sengupta: drives the Crown of Thorns, is driven in turn by a mixture of love and rage. Abrasive and antisocial not because she lacks social skills, but because she can't be bothered to implement them. Think of 24's Chloe O'Brien on too much caffeine— and so my mind immediately jumps to Mary Lynn Rajskub, who played that character.

It would be really nice to cast an Indian in the role, just because that's the way I imagined the character. Unfortunately my movie-going tastes are largely limited to North American releases (as are those of my readers, apparently), which are not renowned for their prominent display of South Asian talent. As someone observed on my blog, the (relatively few) reader nominations for the part of Sengupta were either a) actors whose sole qualification was that they were Indian, or b) non-Indians. Nobody seemed able to name a candidate who was both Indian and whose previous performances commended her to the role of Rakshi. Which is kind of a drag.

I would hope that a talent search uncovers a relatively-unknown actor who could channel a very twitchy iteration of Chloe O'Brien. That said, though, the ethnicity of Echopraxia's characters have absolutely zero relevance to its plot; so while it would be nice if the character looked like Sengupta, it would be absolutely vital that she act that way. So if I can't have my druthers, I know Rajskub would nail the part (assuming she'd be willing to risk being typecast).
Learn more about the book and author at Peter Watts's website.

Blindsight is one of Charlie Jane Anders's ten great science fiction novels, published since 2000, that raise huge, important questions.

My Book, The Movie: Peter Watts's Rifters trilogy.

The Page 69 Test: Echopraxia.

--Marshal Zeringue