The great Golden Age of science fiction in the 1940s and 50s was perhaps the last time where there was a noticeable gap between science fiction and science fact. Since then, the pace of innovation has accelerated to the point today when we hardly have the time to think of a new invention before it is launched and discounted on Amazon.
In the 1950s, science fiction was used to explore mankind’s reaction to the impact of technology, rather than the technology itself. John Wyndham was a master of this, exploring what happens when society breaks down due to genetic modification in the form of Triffids, by rising ocean levels brought on by the Kraken, or by our own prejudices in The Chyrsalids.
Of all Wyndham’s books, it was The Kraken Wakes that stood out to me. The idea of monsters from the mysterious depths of our oceans were always more probable, and therefore closer to reality than roaming triffids. Indeed marine biologists have recently discovered high levels of intelligence, strategy and humour in octopuses, squids and cephalopods. In the book, there are themes of fake news and media sensationalism, the oceans rising as a result of polar ice caps melting, and highly militarized politicians. To say that the themes in the book are relevant today is quite an understatement.
It is perhaps easy to feel helpless as a reader of these apocalyptic scenarios, and why as a young reader in the 1980s, I dreamed of somehow being a part of the stories – to influence them, to help the characters save the world.
This dream moved a step towards reality this week as we announced a rights agreement with John Wyndham’s estate through Pollinger Limited for the exclusive rights to develop the interactive version of The Kraken Wakes.
Wyndham’s characters from the book will come to life through our artificial intelligence chat technology that means you can talk to them, immerse yourself in their world, influence the story, and perhaps even learn a tip of two about how to survive an apocalypse, and finally, save the world.
Our aim with The Kraken Wakes is to start a new genre of adaptations based on stories with strong characters who can leap through the screens and with whom you can build as strong a relationship as if they were real. The experiences we gained bringing Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock to life in the official app, creating the original online interrogation thriller The Suspect, as well as interactive Perfect Boyfriends and Perfect Girlfriends show that audiences are ready for these new forms of stories. Conversations with our characters are lifelike, and as with any other form of writing, audiences will suspend disbelief if the combination of technology and storytelling is good enough.
There is a rich history of game adaptions of book titles. From the earliest days of ZX Spectrums, Commodore 64s and BBC Micros, there were adaptions of The Lord of the Rings, of Alice in Wonderland, Fighting Fantasy and Tom Clancy novels. The ability to explore narratives, worlds and characters in depth is a strength that books and games share. It is surprising that so little focus is put on game rights sales in comparison with film and television. With video games revenues exceeding those of film, hopefully we will soon see authors, agents and publishers seeing the games industry as the best creative and financial match for fiction and non-fiction titles alike.
Rights agreements for new forms of adaptions of book titles have always been challenging. Commissions agreed at my time at Penguin contemplated the Internet certainly, but not mobile, virtual reality, or the differences between casual and console games. Rights, like patents, should exist to expand knowledge of and revenue opportunities for a work and its author – bringing them to new audiences and expanding value rather than mothballing and protecting for hypothetical Hollywood approaches that may never arrive.
The Kraken Wakes is the first classic title on our slate, but we are expecting a busy London Book Fair this year as we continue to work with estates, agents and publishers to champion the cause of interactive adaptions. Our search for characters that work interactively spans not only science fiction but crime, espionage and even romance. It is for strong characters with great dialogue with whom audiences can build a new relationship.
In his books, Wyndham saw positivity in mankind’s ability to survive, and in these highly unstable times, we can perhaps gain present-date factual insights from his 1950s fictional worlds in The Kraken Wakes. Is it time to come together, start new communities with new rules that make better sense for the new world? Or perhaps it is more simply to “find a nice, self sufficient hilltop, and fortify it.”
One way or the other, the decision will soon be yours.