SCIENCE FICTION IN FRANCE
Arthur B. Evans
Science Fiction in France: A Brief History
Abstract.--As one of the world's oldest and most varied literatures within the
genre, the SF of France has a history that is richly heterogeneous in both theme and
narrative format. From the utopian fantasy and imaginary voyages of Rabelais and Cyrano de
Bergerac, through the scientifically didactic dialogues of Fontenelle and the incisive contes
philosophiques of Voltaire and Diderot, through its late l9th and early 20th century
"golden age" in the many romans scientifiques of Jules Verne, the
futuristic caricatures of Robida, the cosmic spiritualism of Flammarion, the hybrid
fantastic-SF tales of Renard, and the alien encounters of Rosny the Elder, through its
derivative and pulpy post-war "space opera" phase of Fleuve Noir romans
d'anticipation, to its more modern configurations of socio-psychological allegory à
la Curval or post-modern surrealism à la Brussolo, French SF has witnessed considerable
growth in its popularity and academic study during this latter half of the 20th century.
Although largely unknown in English-language countries, French SF offers to those with a
palate for speculative fiction an unusually wide assortment of narratives which are
intellectually stimulating, historically important to the genre as a whole, and still
relatively unexplored in literary studies.
Technocratic Anxiety in France: The Fleuve Noir
"Anticipation" Novels, 1951-60
Abstract.--Following World War II, France embarked on a process of
modernization designed to restore its place as a first-class power. The novels original to
Fleuve Noir's "Collection Anticipation" for the years 1951-60--and there were
hundreds of them--reflect a diversity of attitudes towards this unprecedented technocratic
Among the 11 French authors who wrote books for this series, only two offer visions
pretty much wholeheartedly approving of technocracy. Inspired by Saint-Simon and under the
pseudonym of F. Richard-Bessière, François Richard and Henri Bessière represent the
technocratic order as an ideal paradigm.
Four other Fleuve Noir authors largely accept Richard-Bessière's assumptions, but
dissent from them in regard to specifics. M.A. Rayjean questions technocratic priorities;
and Stefan Wul would put a De Gaulle-like leader above the managerial elite and revolorize
traditional ways of thinking. Kurt Steiner and Jimmy Guieu, meanwhile, emphasize the
biological side of an evolution towards technocracy. Their visions somewhat resemble
certain of Olaf Stapledon's or J.D. Bernal's (though in Guieu's case, an ambivalence
attaches to the futuristic picture of scientists disincorporating the brains of other
human beings to preserve the species).
A third group more or less adamantly opposes technocracy or some of its consequences.
Kemmel doubts the wisdom of a scientific elite in matters of practical decision-making;
Maurice Limat takes a traditional religious stand against technocracy's philosophical
basis; Jean-Gaston Vandel and B.R. Bruss have problems with the inequality and
oppressiveness of any technocratic scheme of things; and Peter Randa suggests that
virtually any form of social organization is inimical to the radical kind of individualism
that he favors.
Finally, in a class by himself and counterpointing Richard-Bessière, we have Gérard
Klein. The one book he wrote for "Anticipation" during the period covered at
first reads like an apology for technocratism. But careful examination suggests that Les
chirurgiens d'une planète may well be a deliberate parody of such a rationale.
Furthermore, Klein's novel is perhaps also satirizing the Fleuve Noir formula itself,
implying that the demands and expectations of the "Anticipation" series preclude
any vision truly alternative to a technocratic one.
The Current State of Science Fiction in France
Abstract.--After the intense activity of the late '70s, French SF has moved
away from political concerns to center on aesthetic questions. Exponents of this new trend
changed the genre's boundaries but have not met with much public acceptance. A thriving
current of pulp SF still exists. However, the more interesting French SF writers remain
isolated, the older ones in retreat, the younger ones hampered by market conditions. Serge
Brussolo's surprising success pertains more to the horror genre than to SF.
The Beginnings of Fiction
Abstract.--Fiction was far from being simply the French version of The
Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Over the half-dozen odd years from its
outset in 1953, the editors of the former sought to identify what French SF peculiarly
was--and could be.
This process of definition involved placing SF in relation to categories traditionally
recognized by French culture: the fantastic, the uncanny, "mystery fiction." The
result was both a sense of generic function without equivalent in the Anglo-Saxon SF world
at the time and a very particular, and traditional, sense of what SF is: a literature that
explores alternate and parallel, rather than other, worlds; a literature that turns away
from expansive paradigms to explore the inner world of the imagining organ--the rational
mind itself. To follow this process of definition step by step, this essay focuses on the
work of two early Fiction critics: Jean-Jacques Bridenne and Gérard Klein.
Bridenne seeks, in the early issues, to establish the nature of the French SF traction by
bringing to light a series of native precursors. Building on the direction this lineage
sets, Klein analyzes the work of a number of new American "masters" in the light
of a gradually forming French sense of the SF genre. As Klein comes ultimately to define
it, this SF is Cartesian and surrealist in nature. Which means that it seeks a logical
cultivation of dream worlds. And should do so in hopes of preserving the privilege of the
cogito in relation to a material universe otherwise defined by Pascal's two infinities.
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