The Plurality of Imaginary Worlds; or, Adventures in Reviewer Parallax

Review: The Plurality of Imaginary Worlds: The Evolution of French Roman Scientifique, 2nd Edition, Brian Stableford, 2016, 2017.

Cover by Timothee Rouxel

This is Stableford’s companion to his four volume New Atlantis series on British scientific romances.

As usual, Stableford writes in a clear way with some nice turns of phrase though he lets some of his snarkiness and sarcasm show at times and has some nice turns of phrase. 

The book starts out in 1657 with Cyrano de Bergerac’s Histoire comique des États et Empires de la Lune [Other Worlds] and goes through 1939. Because of World War Two, little French work was published in the 1940s. Like the British scientific romance, it was subsumed into the dominant American mode of science fiction after the war.

Stableford mentions, as did James Gunn’s in his Alternate Worlds, some of the genres that fed into sf/roman scientifique: traveler’s tales (le merveilleux), imaginary voyages, utopias, and satires. (He talks about how French censorship of books meant many were published with bogus foreign printing information and under pseudonyms.) However, a unique French element was what Voltaire coined contes philosophiques. The interest in telling “fay stories” in the French court also played a role.

Stableford divides his analysis by historical eras and themes within them. 

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Scientific Romance

Being a fan of Stableford’s work, I immediately requested a review copy when I saw it on Netgallery.

Review: Scientific Romance: An International Anthology of Pioneering Science Fiction, ed. Brian Stableford, 1917.Scientific Romance

Before America colonized science fiction with its conquistador John Carter in 1912 and made it into a genre concerned with space and adventure, it was something different. It was, argues Stableford, a stream of literature interested in “the adoption of the scientific outlook and the attempt to employ the scientific imagination as a springboard for speculative fiction”.

Just as the Vikings colonized the New World before Columbus’s voyage, Francis Bacon and Savinien Cyrano de Bergerac discovered new frontiers for literature when they wrote scientific romances. And, just as the Viking colonization inspired no immediate imitators, no writers imitated Bacon and de Bergerac for a while. Bacon’s New Atlantis was unfinished and published posthumously in 1627. De Bergerac’s L’Autre Monde ou les Etats et Empires de la lune [The Other World] wasn’t published until the 1920s.

It wasn’t until the 19th century that authors in France, America, and England began producing work that was noticeably something different and that stuck in the public mind. These were stories about the drama to be made out of new scientific discoveries, new technologies, and the peculiar psychologies of inventors and scientists. Continue reading

Illusions of Immortality

It wasn’t just me who had never heard of Edmond Haraucourt until I read Brian Stableford’s “Going to Extremes: The Speculative Fiction of Edmond Haraucourt” in the April 2015 issue of The New York Review of Science Fiction. Pierre Versins’ Encyclopédie de l’utopie et de la science-fiction from 1974 doesn’t have an entry for him.

The “Edmond Haraucourt” entry in the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction only seems to date to the publication of this English language collection.

Stableford’s article, like many of his recent ones for The New York Review of Science Fiction, includes material and commentary on the French authors he translates that doesn’t make it into his introductions for those Black Coat editions. Originally, I read the story because Stableford’s article hinted that one of the stories might be suitable for inclusion in my Fantastic Fiction in World War One series.

It turns out it wasn’t, but I’m certainly glad I read this collection.

This review will have spoilers. If you want a shorter, spoiler-free review, you can find it on Amazon.

Review: Illusions of Immortality, Edmond Haraucourt, trans. Brian Stableford, 2012.Illusions of Immortality

 You are going to die.

Your works are going to die.

Your reputation will be forgotten.

The human race will vanish.

Those are the primary themes of Haraucourt.

You’d think that he’d be a downer, a slit-your-wrists-after-reading author. Instead, Haraucourt is a delight to read. Witty, piquant, mordant, he’s the kind of friend who, after you unload your troubles on him, would reply, “What makes you special?” – and you’d still like him.

To quote the wit of Haraucourt is largely to reprint Haraucourt. That wit was not reprinted much in his own land though. Of his futuristic fiction, which is almost as sweeping in speculation and scope as his contemporary H. G. Wells, only “The Gorilloid” was reprinted in his lifetime from its original newspaper appearance. In France, it was only in 2001 some of his shorter works were finally collected. Continue reading