'Nine Lives' Marks a Rare Ursula K. Le Guin Adaptation

Nine Lives Paperback

From the author who frequently denied Hollywood comes a moon-based sci-fi cloning comedy. Yeah, another one.

While some novelists are happy to sign over options to their work, dust their hands of the dirty business, and quietly slink away from the theater as their imagination is plundered for box office riches (I’m looking at you Stephen King), Ursula K. Le Guin was never one to compromise her vision.

Her 1971 novel “The Lathe of Heaven” was adapted twice for television, but they were low-budget fare rarely recognized beyond the day of their release. The “Earthsea” trilogy, being her most famous achievement, was transformed into a mini-series for the SyFy Channel in 2004 and Studio Ghibli gave it a stab in 2006 with their film Tales From Earthsea. There are a few more radio adaptations floating around out there, but that’s about it.

Le Guin passed away in January of this year, and without her refusal, doors are no longer getting slammed in producer’s faces. According to Deadline, the first of what is sure to be many adaptations of her work will be the novella “Nine Lives.” Sony Pictures International and the UK based Quark Films have acquired the rights to produce a feature, and they’re pushing forward with a script from Fresh Meat and Plebs actor/writer Tom Basden.

“Nine Lives” centers around two disgruntled factory workers stationed on the moon in the near-future. Tasked with locating new areas to mine for a corporation desperate to discover new resources outside of a rotting Earth, the two men are ready to kill each other after having spent so much isolated time together. The miners are initially ecstatic when they learn that reinforcements are inbound, but that enthusiasm immediately deflates after meeting the 10 clones sent to their aid. Each comes labeled with the name John Chow, and as the story progresses, the miners struggle with their identity. What makes a man a man?

The plot synopsis prompts comparisons to Duncan Jones’ Moon, and while both stories tackle themes of individuality, corporate greed, and the way technology absorbs humanity, Le Guin’s short story leans heavily into the absurdity to score dark laughter. However, “Nine Lives” is often considered hard science-fiction, because the tech gets as much page space as the characters. Le Guin revels in the science behind the cloning process and spends the majority of the story contemplating real-world applications.

We do not yet know what angle producer Gavin Humphries will be taking in bringing “Nine Lives to the big screen, whether he’s attracted to the comedic or horrific elements of the story. What we do know is that his last project for Quark Films was Deborah Haywood’s Pin Cushion. That film was a brutal exploration of the relationship between mother and teenage daughter, as well as the torturous aftereffects of bullying. Pin Cushion can tell a joke, but each punchline reverberates with tragedy. I imagine a similar emotionally abusive aesthetic could be applied nicely to “Nine Lives.”

With a “Nine Lives” movie in our future, many other Le Guin adaptations hang in the balance. It is hard not to feel a little weird about the possibilities. The passing of any creative frees many hands to lunge towards ideas that were once guarded heavily by an individual. After Prince left us, it did not take long before “Let’s Go Crazy” landed in Kingsman: The Golden Circle. Are we cool with that? I dunno.

All we can do is hope that Gavin Humphries and Quark Films can match Le Guin’s passion for the material and deliver on it. Le Guin’s fiction offers several options, and if one is successful, a torrent will be unleashed. Film provides an opportunity for a greater audience to meet her work, and such growth can only be positive.

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Trekkie, Not Trekker. Weekly Columnist for Film School Rejects, co-host of the In The Mouth of Dorkness Podcast.