Recently, my sister told me that J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek films are reboots, not revivals. You know the ones: where Christopher Pine replaces William Shatner, the planet Vulcan blows up and Spock logically responds by making out with Uhura? Right. Those films. My sister, who was a Trek fan even before I was, says that she can enjoy them as completely separate stories from the originals. That would make them a reboot: a story with the same origins and premise, but without being tied to existing continuity.
But those films aren’t reboots. They’re the worst kind of continuation; the kind that erases the original continuity.
They acknowledge that continuity: ergo, they’re revivals. Here’s how you can tell. Abrams’ 2009 film, ingeniously titled Star Trek, started with the story of a futuristic Romulan warbird coming back in time to destroy Vulcan. This was meant to explain why everything looked so different and everyone was so much more into punching each other out. But wait: if the differences have to be explained, that means it’s not a reboot. It’s still got the original continuity in it. Even future-Spock, looking suspiciously like the original, appeared in the first two films until Leonard Nimoy sadly left us.
When a story acknowledges that the original continuity exists—even through a gimmicky time loop—it has to be called a revival. Yes, I know that these sacrilegious Star Trek revivals try to hide behind the ‘reboot’ dogma by disrespectfully retconning the universe I loved. As much as I’ve vowed religious vengeance on them for that, they did get me to thinking about novels. Films are rebooted all the time; it’s almost a badge of honor these days for an original filmmaker.
So why is nothing ever rebooted in novel form?
Sure there are literary revivals, such as Andy Lane’s Young Sherlock Holmes series, and even lots of remakes featuring different characters, like the adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale as Jeanette Winterson’s The Gap of Time. The Bard has, in fact, been the source of dozens or hundreds of remakes and revivals in novel form, such as Gertrude and Claudius by the departed American genius, John Updike.
But what about a reboot? Has the time come for Hamlet with a happy ending? Macbeth where the mastermind Lady gets full credit? Other than the occasional addition of zombies to a premise, I’m not sure I’m aware of anyone tackling a proper reboot between the leaves of a book.
Just for fun, here are a few novels I wouldn’t mind rebooting myself. Send me a comment to add your wish to the list.
Of Mice and Social Workers
George and Lennie have been recently laid off by a tech firm who needed to let their middle-aged employees go in order to afford a Foosball table in the boardroom. Desperate for work, George urges the impulsive Lennie to knock off the #MeToo moments with every girl he meets wearing a Polar Fleece. They take jobs stocking shelves in a library, where George can read and Lennie can stack. Lennie breaks his promise with the angry boss’ wife, but she takes him down before leaving Curly for her Tae Kwan Doe instructor. George is spotted on CCTV ready to put Lennie out of his misery, and arrested by federal agents for disability abuse.
An Interface to Terabithia
Teenage Jess doesn’t understand the feelings that new student Leslie Burke stirs. When Leslie introduces Jess to the VR helmets that her mother’s paycheck as Chief of Surgery bought for her, the reluctant new friends program an entirely parallel world. In Terabithia, monstrous avatars construct AI profiles of their schoolmates, revealing which peers truly are their friends. Neglected by career-driven parents, the two become lost for hours every day behind their goggles, until Jess has a chance to accompany lovely music teacher Ms. Edmunds for a day in the city. Leslie spends the day in Terabithia on her own, and falls from a broken rope into a raging river. She’s fine, of course—it’s just Virtual Reality—but she and Jess are suspended for a month for using ugly images to ‘drag’ their friends online, and Ms. Edmunds is summarily dismissed for inappropriate socialization with a student. During their suspension, the friends visit Terabithia often, where Jessica confesses to Leslie her first attraction to another girl.
To Respect the Personal Space of a Mockingbird
Deep Southern lawyer Atticus Finch is the only defense attorney who will agree to defend a middle-aged white man against charges of sexual impropriety. He loses, of course, and dies in poverty because no other clients will hire him.
Go on then, twelve readers: give me your very best novel reboots… but leave Trek alone!