Science Fiction Studies

#49 = Volume 16, Part 3 = November 1989

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.

Bradford Lyau

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 revolution.

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.

Pascal Thomas

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. 

George Slusser

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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