The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell Is Getting A Television Adaptation From FX
Mary Doria Russell’s acclaimed novel The Sparrow is getting the adaptation treatment from FX over 20 years since the novel was first published. The adaptation will be written by Scott Frank – showrunner of the highly popular Netflix series The Queen’s Gambit. Emmy-award winner Johan Renck (Chernobyl, Breaking Bad) is also onboard to direct.
A Philosophical Story About First Contact
The Sparrow came out in 1996, and was Russell’s literary debut. It is a literary sci-fi novel that deals with discovering proof extraterrestrial life. The novel delves deeply into the moral and philosophical questions surrounding first contact. A synopsis from Random House Books tells us the following about The Sparrow.
In 2019, humanity finally finds proof of extraterrestrial life when a listening post in Puerto Rico picks up exquisite singing from a planet that will come to be known as Rakhat. While United Nations diplomats endlessly debate a possible first contact mission, the Society of Jesus quietly organizes an eight-person scientific expedition of its own. What the Jesuits find is a world so beyond comprehension that it will lead them to question what it means to be “human”.
The novel has won a lot of critical acclaim over the years. Upon release, The Sparrow won a number of prestigious genre awards including the Arthur C. Clarke Award. The story has been praised for its unique take on the subject matter of alien contact. As well as for Russell’s approach to difficult topics like religion, prejudice, and what it means to be human.
The Sparrow Has Come Close To Adaptation Before
Image via Penguin Random House
This is not the first time that an adaptation of The Sparrow has been attempted. In 2006, Brad Pitt’s production company Plan B picked up the rights. Pitt himself wanted to star in the title role (as a character who is specifically described as Puerto Rican…). But that project fell through. Afterwards, Russell revoked all film rights and stated that she did not believe that Hollywood could ever make a faithful adaptation of her seminal work. At the time, Russell didn’t believe there was an audience for ‘science-fiction dramas’ and abhorred the idea of turning The Sparrow into an action movie.
However, there has been a rise of popular sci-fi dramas over the last decade like Ex Machina, and Arrival. And there is even more sci-fi drama on television like The Expanse, and Devs. The changing times mean that there is more demand for sci-fi drama now than there was 20 years ago when Pitt failed to get the project off the ground.
A Diverse Cast of Characters Drawn From The Source Material
Image via Penguin Random House
Russell herself actually wrote a screenplay based on her novel after the first failed attempt. But we don’t yet know if that will set the stage for the upcoming FX series. Russell also has a sequel novel – The Children of God – that could be woven into the upcoming FX series. However, it appears that the show will hew closely to its source material. That means we should see a diverse cast who reflects the original character descriptions.
In the main cast there is Father Sandoz: the Puerto Rican linguist. He is the sole survivor of a Jesuit mission to the new planet Rakhat. There is a Turkish character in Sofia Mendes: an artificial intelligence expert. And that’s not even mentioning the aliens. The ethnicity of the characters seem to play a vital role in the story in regards to character development. So here’s hoping that FX casts the characters according to Russell’s original vision.
Emily O'Donnell is a writer and photographer with roots in some of the earliest online fandoms. She cut her genre teeth on the Wizard of Oz books at the tender age of 6 years old, and was reading epic adult fantasy novels by the age of 10. Decades later, she still consumes genre fiction like there is no tomorrow. She is delighted to be living through the golden age of sci-fi and fantasy popularity. She is unashamed of the amount of fanfiction that still lingers online under her name.