World War One in Fantastic Fiction: The Frenetic People

My look at pre-World War II apocalyptic romans scientifique continues.

Essay: The Frenetic People, Ernest Pérochon, trans. Brian Stableford, 2012.

Cover by Yoz

The effects of World War One on literature are vast but usually hidden behind metaphors, displaced into other settings. This series is about the overt use of World War One in fantastic fiction. Pérochon’s novel uses the war in both ways.

Born in 1885, Pérochon saw combat, briefly, in the war. He was conscripted and went to the front but suffered a heart attack there in 1914 and was discharged. Another heart attack would eventually kill him in 1942 but not before he saw more horrors of the twentieth century. He ran afoul of the Vichy government. His only child and her husband joined the French Resistance, but she was imprisoned in Buchenwald though she escaped.

Pérochon was not one of those authors who routinely wrote science fiction. This was his sole venture into the genre. His usual stories were about the French poor working the land.

Stableford’s “Introduction” notes that the inter-war years saw no shortage in either Britain or France of stories about civilization destroyed in a future war. It seemed entirely plausible that the next war would see chemical, biological, and even atomic weapons delivered to cities via aerial bombardment. These stories tended to be more extreme in French romans scientifique. The Great War had, of course, been fought on French soil. Those French works tended to displace their future war stories more in time than British scientific romances did.

Published in 1925 as Les Hommes frénétiques, Stableford contends this novel doesn’t quite match the “sheer brutality of its excess” of José Moselli’s Illa’s End, also from 1925. However,

its far greater sophistication and mock-laconic attention to detail renders its account of superscientific warfare even more effective in its horror.

Having read both novels, I agree.

Our story opens at the Avernine Institute in the fifth century of the Universal Era. Avernine is a great scientist whose work resulted in an energy grid, using the ether, that extends around the world, a work so important that the time is called the Age of Avernine.

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World War One in Fantastic Fiction: On the Brink of the World’s End

Essay: On the Brink of the World’s End, Colonel Royet, trans. Brian Stableford, 1928.

Cover by Mike Hoffman

You say you don’t want to read any French tales about the ruins of Paris or philosophical musings on how the post-apocalyptic should be organized? You just want something pulpy and fun. Maybe a mad scientist tale . . . ?

Well, this one is close to what you want. There is a mad scientist. As to the apocalypse, well, you won’t get that. As the title suggests, we’re only going to the brink of the world ending.

That’s not a spoiler. Our narrator, philosophy professor Paul Lefort, tells us right at the beginning that the recently deceased French President, before he died, asked Lefort to, at last, reveal how the world almost ended twenty years ago at the hands of a “single man, simultaneously a genius and a madman”.

That man is Lefort’s best friend, Roger Livry. He’s a brilliant chemist and wealthy from an inheritance from an uncle.

It’s August 5, 192* when Lefort visits his friend whom he finds packing for a trip to Camp de Châlons. It’s here the story’s World War One content enters.

As Stableford’s note explains

During the Great War it had close links with the nearby Camp de Suippes, close to the front, also used as a training ground and to store stocks of chemical weapons.

Stableford, Brian note 55 on Doyet, Colonel. “On the Brink of the World’s End.” French Tales of Cataclysms, edited by Jean-Marc & Randy Lofficier, Hollywood Comics, S.l., 2022, p. 315.

A bit later we get this about Livry’s wartime service:

Finally, during the hostilities, his conduct had been admirable. He had involved himself in the gas war, pursuing research at the front, under shell fire, into toxic substances employed by our pitiless enemies, inventing replies as he went along to their odious malevolence.

Doyet, Colonel. “On the Brink of the World’s End.” French Tales of Cataclysms, edited by Jean-Marc & Randy Lofficier, Hollywood Comics, S.l., 2022, p. 316-317.

All very plausible and consistent with history.

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