Reading the Screen: Cowboys & Aliens (Screen to Book)
Posted by: David Pitt
After there was Cowboys & Aliens the movie — well, not after: at roughly the same time — there was Cowboys & Aliens the novel, published by Tor and written by Joan D. Vinge.
Novelizations, books written from screenplays, can be pretty awful (I have a few things to say about them over here), but this one isn’t. It’s really good, actually. Vinge is a veteran fantasy writer and, um, movie novelizer — she did Ladyhawke and Lost in Space and Willow — and the book stands on its own two feet.
In terms of story book and movie are virtually identical (naturally), but the novel adds layers to the story. Vinge allows us to see inside the characters’ minds, as here, with Olivia Wilde’s character (p.111):
Ella stood alone at the top of the ridge, her face stark with failure, watching Jake disappear until he was only a speck on the bleak rising plain, lost to her eyes among the distant rocks and desert scrub. He never looked back, even once.
How could she have been so wrong about him…about everything? The desperation inside her doubled. How did these miserable people live with themselves, let alone each other? Why was she even here–?
That’s a purely visual scene in a movie, but here it carries more dramatic weight because we know what’s going on in Ella’s mind. In a movie, the actors add dramatic weight through their performances — facial expressions, body language, that sort of thing — and Vinge is doing the same thing here by taking us inside the characters.
Vinge also does a very nice job of giving the action scenes a cinematic feel. Here’s a snippet from the story’s opening scene (p. 9):
The man flipped the carbine as he caught movement out of the corner of his eye; he swung back to see the father struggling upright, raising his drawn pistol. The man cocked the carbine again with barely time to aim, and fired. The bullet hit the father in the chest, and he went down like he wouldn’t be getting up again.
If you’ve seen Cowboys & Aliens, I think you’ll enjoy the novel. It’s an excellent example of what can happen when you get a good writer to turn a good movie story into a book.