Classic sci-fi novel The Sparrow may finally be out of development hell

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Feb 5, 2013, 12:14 PM EST (Updated)

After more than 15 years of new scripts, false starts and two different Hollywood options, it looks like one of the most acclaimed science fiction novels of the last two decades may finally get filmed.

Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow was released back in 1996 to huge acclaim, both as a work of science fiction and as a work of literary significance. It garnered, among other honors, the Arthur C. Clarke Award and the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. It's the story of first contact with an alien planet in the year 2019, and the failed mission by the Jesuit Order to travel to that planet, and it's still praised for its big ideas and philosphical depth. 

Thanks to all that acclaim, Hollywood came calling early. In the late '90s, Universal Studios optioned it with plans for Antonio Banderas to star, but they couldn't get it off the ground. Then in 2006 Warner Bros. and Brad Pitt's production company picked up the option for Pitt to star. Again, no luck. Russell even took a crack at a screenplay herself at one point, but it was never filmed.

Now it seems the small screen might be coming to the rescue. Russell confirmed on her blog Friday that AMC has picked up The Sparrow and its sequel Children of God for a possible series. After getting numerous questions from fans about her involvement with the project, Russell also took to her Facebook page to let everyone know that she's really not involved at all.

"I won't be writing scripts. I won't have input to scripts. I don't expect to be consulted in any way on scripts, casting, or story arc," she said.

Still, thanks to the success AMC's had with shows like Mad MenBreaking Bad and, of course, The Walking Dead, Russell is cautiously optimistic about her novel's third time out in the development cycle, especially since HBO is also at work on an adaptation of Doc, her latest historical novel about the life of legendary western figure Doc Holliday.

"I suspect that what I write is better suited to long-form television than to feature-length films. There is now a real possibility that in a couple of years Doc will be on HBO and The Sparrow will be on AMC. Very cool. Very cool, indeed… But nothing is real in Hollywood until the cinematographer is on the set eating a breakfast burrito. For now, we just sit back and wait to see what happens."

What do you think? Will the third time be the charm for Russell and her much-beloved book?

(Via Mary Doria Russell)