French science fiction

French science fiction

French science fiction is a substantial genre within French literature. Arguably dating back further than English science fiction, it remains an active and productive genre which has evolved in conjunction with anglophone science fiction and other French and international literature.


Proto science fiction before Jules Verne

As far back as the 17th century, space exploration and aliens can be found in Cyrano de Bergerac's "Comical History of the States and Empires of the Moon" (1657) and Bernard Le Bovier de Fontenelle's "Entretien sur la Pluralité des Mondes" (1686). Voltaire's 1752 short stories "Micromégas" and "Plato's Dream" are particularly prophetic of the future directions science fiction would take.

Also worthy of note are Simon Tyssot de Patot's "Voyages et Aventures de Jacques Massé" (1710), which features a Lost World, "La Vie, Les Aventures et Le Voyage de Groenland du Révérend Père Cordelier Pierre de Mésange" (1720), which features a Hollow Earth, Louis-Sébastien Mercier's "L'An 2440" (1771), which depicts a future France, and Nicolas-Edmé Restif de la Bretonne's "La Découverte Australe par un Homme Volant" (1781) notorious for his prophetic inventions.

Other notable proto-science fiction authors and works of the 18th and 19th century include:

* Jean-Baptiste Cousin de Grainville's "Le Dernier Homme" (1805) about the Last Man on Earth.
* Historian Félix Bodin's "Le Roman de l'Avenir" (1834) and Emile Souvestre's "Le Monde Tel Qu'il Sera" (1846), two novels which try to predict what the next century will be like.
* Louis Geoffroy's "Napoleon et la Conquête du Monde" (1836), an alternate history of a world conquered by Napoleon.
* C.I. Defontenay's "Star ou Psi de Cassiopée" (1854), an Olaf Stapledon-like chronicle of an alien world and civilization.
* Astronomer Camille Flammarion's "La Pluralité des Mondes Habités" (1862) which speculated on extraterrestrial life.

However, modern French science fiction, and arguably science fiction as a whole, begins with Jules Verne, the author of many of the seminal classics of science fiction. His ideas inspired other contemporary writers like Didier de Chousy, who wrote "Ignis" (1883), a novel where an inventor tries to tap the energy from the centre of the earth in a dystopian society dominated by technology.

After Jules Verne

The first few decades of French science fiction produced a stable of renowned names in literature. Not only Jules Verne, but also figures like:

*Louis Boussenard, a successor of Verne.
*Arnould Galopin, creator of Doctor Omega (1906).
*Paul d'Ivoi, author of the Vernian "Voyages Excentriques" and creator of Pulp heroes Lavarède and Docteur Mystère (1900).
*André Laurie, another successor of Verne.
*Georges Le Faure & Henri de Graffigny, who sent their heroes explore the Solar System in "Les Aventures Extraordinaires d'un Savant Russe" (1888)
*Gustave Le Rouge, author of "Le Prisonnier de la Planète Mars" (1908) and "Le Mystérieux Docteur Cornélius" (1913).
*Albert Robida, a writer and an artist, arguably the "father" of science fiction illustration.
* Maurice Renard, a Wellsian writer, author of "Le Docteur Lerne" (1908) and "Le Péril Bleu" (1910)
*J.-H. Rosny aîné, born in Belgium, the father of "modern" French science fiction, a writer also comparable to H. G. Wells, who wrote the classic "Les Xipehuz" (1887) and "La Mort de la Terre" (1910).

World War I brought an end to this early period. Where the explosion of science and technology of the late 19th century motivated the optimistic works of these early science fiction authors, the horrors of industrialised warfare and specifically the application of advanced technologies in such a destructive manner soured the French literary community on the potential of technological development.

Between the two wars, Rosny aîné published his masterpiece "Les Navigateurs de l'Infini" (1924), in which he coined the word "astronautique". There were few notable new authors during the period:

*Régis Messac, for "Quinzinzinzili" (1935).
*José Moselli, for " La fin d'Illa" (1925).
*Jacques Spitz, for "La guerre des mouches" (1938).
*René Thévenin for "Chasseurs d'Hommes" (1930) and "Sur l'Autre Face du Monde" (1935), the latter under a pseudonym.

After World War II

Until the late 1950s, relatively little French science fiction was published, and what was published was often very pessimistic about the future of humanity, and frequently was not labelled "science fiction" at all. René Barjavel's "Ravage" (1943) and Pierre Boulle's "Planet of the Apes" (1963) are widely known examples.

This period of decline in French science fiction (abbreviated "SF") was the golden age of English-language and particularly American science fiction. When French science fiction began reappearing after World War II, it was the themes and styles of Anglophone science fiction which served as an inspiration for new works. The first genre magazine, "Fiction", at first a translation of F&SF, was launched in 1953.

The major genre imprint of the 1950s and 1960s publishing translations of American novels was "Le Rayon Fantastique" published by Hachette and Gallimard, and edited by George Gallet and Stephen Spriel. Nevertheless, "Le Rayon Fantastique" helped launch the careers of a number of native authors:

*Francis Carsac
*Philippe Curval
*Daniel Drode
*Michel Jeury (writing under the pseudonym of "Albert Higon")
*Gérard Klein
*Nathalie Henneberg

In 1951, publisher Fleuve Noir launched Anticipation, a paperback imprint devoted mostly to French authors which released as steady stream of pulp-like novels. Among its authors were:

*Pierre Barbet
*Richard Bessière
*B.-R. Bruss
*André Caroff
*Jimmy Guieu
*Gérard Klein (writing under the pseudonym of "Gilles d'Argyre")
*Maurice Limat
*André Ruellan (writing under the pseudonym of "Kurt Steiner")
*Louis Thirion
*Stefan Wul

Later, many major names in French science fiction first saw print under that imprint.

Another imprint, "Présence du Futur", was launched in 1954 by publisher Denoël. Among its authors were:

*Jean-Pierre Andrevon
*Jean-Louis Curtis
*Gérard Klein
*Jacques Sternberg
*Jacques Vallee (writing under the pseudonym of "Jérôme Sériel")

Throughout this era, there was very little mainstream critical interest in French SF. French cinema, however, proved a bit more fertile a ground for science fiction. Jean-Luc Godard's 1965 film "Alphaville"—a thriller and satire on French politics—was the flagship example of French New Wave science fiction.

In the late 1960s and 1970s, French SF regained some of its lost momentum. Unlike American science fiction, space travel was not the major theme for these post-1968 French authors. A new generation of French writers, who had few memories of the horrors of the past two generations, were inspired by the transformation in France in the post-war era. Especially after May 1968, French SF authors took on political and social themes in their works. Authors like Michel Jeury, Jean-Pierre Andrevon and Philippe Curval began to attract acclaim for their reinvention of a genre which, at the time, was still primarily considered a juvenile entertainment.

In the 1970s, comics began to play an important role in French SF. "Métal Hurlant"—the French magazine that spun off "Heavy Metal"—began pursuing the possibilities of science fiction as a source for comics. Graphic novels are now a major—if not "the" major—outlet for French science fiction production today.

In the 1980s, French authors began to view science fiction as a field for experimental literature. The influence of postmodernism on literature and the arrival of cyberpunk themes catalysed a new body of French SF, near the end of the decade: the Lost Generation (represented by such writers as Claude Ecken, Michel Pagel, Jean-Marc Ligny or Roland C. Wagner)

At present, French SF is particularly well represented in graphic novels, and a number of titles reach print annually. As in most of the developed world, magazine culture has declined dramatically, but a number of French SF magazines remain in print, including "Bifrost", "Galaxies" and "Solaris". Despite the space opera revival of the beginning of the 1990s (Ayerdhal, Serge Lehman, Pierre Bordage, Laurent Genefort) the influence from English language science fiction and movies has considerably diminished since the Lost Generation, while the influence of animation, video games and other international science fiction traditions (German, Italian) has increased. The role of Japanese manga and anime has also been particularly noticeable in recent years, but not in literature.

Other notable French science fiction authors post-World War II

*G.-J. Arnaud
*Pierre Bordage
*Serge Brussolo
*Richard Canal
*Maurice G. Dantec
*Michel Demuth
*Sylvie Denis
*Dominique Douay
*Jean-Claude Dunyach
*Claude Ecken
*Jean-Pierre Fontana
*Yves Fremion
*Laurent Genefort
*Philippe Goy
*Johan Héliot
*Joël Houssin
*Emmanuel Jouanne
*Serge Lehman
*Jean-Marc Ligny
*Xavier Mauméjean
*Michel Pagel
*Pierre Pelot (writing under the pseudonym of "Pierre Suragne")
*Julia Verlanger (writing under the pseudonym of "Gilles Thomas")
*Élisabeth Vonarburg
*Roland C. Wagner
*Daniel Walther
*Bernard Werber
*Joëlle Wintrebert

Literary awards

The Prix Rosny-Aîné is an annual award for French-language science fiction.

Other Awards for French-language science fiction (non exclusively) include or have includes the Prix Apollo (1972-1990), the Prix Bob Morane (1999- ), the Grand Prix de l'Imaginaire (1974- ), the Prix Julia Verlanger (1986- ), the Prix Jules Verne (1927-1933; 1958-1963), the Prix Ozone (1977-2000) and the Prix Tour Eiffel (1997-2002).


Source: Some of the information contained in this article was excerpted from:

[ French Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror and Pulp Fiction] by Jean-Marc Lofficier & Randy Lofficier ISBN 0-7864-0596-1.

External links


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