Illa’s End

My look at apocalpytic French science fiction works from before World War Two continues.

Normally, this, as with anything labelled as a review, would be cross posted to LibraryThing and Amazon. Well, the latter isn’t going to be happen anymore since my last review was rejected for violating community standards.

That was not the first review rejected by them, but I suspected the earlier case was Amazon cracking down on reviews on items which you did not purchase from there.

The second rejected review was a book I bought on Amazon. Why was it rejected? Sexual content? Race? Violence? Don’t really care enough to analyze it. And I’m not going to go to the effort of writing or editing a separate review for Amazon.

There’s a community of one that determines review standards here.

So, for any writers or publishers wondering why future reviews of their work won’t be reviewed on Amazon, that’s why.

I follow a one-strike rule here.

Review: Illa’s End, José Moselli, trans. Brian Stableford, 2011.

Cover by Jean-Felix Lyon

Don’t ever do that again.

That, speculates Brian Stableford in his “Introduction”, is what Moselli’s usual publisher, Maison Offenstadt, told him after reading this “recklessly ultra-violent” story serialized as  La Fin d’Illa in 1925 in Sciences et Voyages. It may, speculates Jean-Marc and Randy Lofficier in The Handbook of French Science Fiction, also be one of the reasons the publisher lost a court case in 1925.

Moselli was a true French pulp writer. Under a variety of names, he wrote a million words a year for adventure stories, police thrillers, technothrillers, and high enough quality science fiction that the Lofficiers regard him as one of the two most important French authors in that genre in the 1920s. And, like many a pulp writer, he would never see any of his work between the covers of a book in his lifetime. That would happen in the Moselli revival starting in the 1970s. Almost all his work was for Maison Offenstadt, and his editor there may not have even read the first installments of the novel when it was published. When he did, an abrupt end might have been ordered hence the novel’s truncated feel.

Nineteen Twenty-Five was a great year for French works of apocalyptic science fiction since it also saw the publishing of Ernest Pérochon’s The Frenetic People and Renee Dunan’s The Ultimate Pleasure. Unlike those stories, though, Moselli’s novel takes place in the distant past in the lost land of Gondawanaland.

The prologue starts in 1875 with the discovery, on a deserted Pacific Island, of a strange manuscript written on metallic sheets and an odd stone ball. The ship’s captain doesn’t end up selling them for the amount he hoped, and they end up being sold for a pittance to an antique dealer. Eventually, they are bought by a medical doctor, Akinson, in San Francisco who, in 1905, mails his translation of that manuscript to a friend in Washington D.C. Shortly afterwards, Akinson’s housemaid throws that stone balls in the fire – and the San Francisco Earthquake of 1905 results.

That manuscript is the account of one Xié, a general of Illa, one of two cities in the distant past on Gondwanaland. It’s the account of a dying, rather psychopathic, boastful man. He’s not much of a sympathetic character, but he’s determined, in the slim hope his writing will be found, that the future know of the ignoble Rair and that he, Xié, was the savior of Illa. Except, almost right from the beginning, we know he was the destroyer of Illa.

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The Ultimate Pleasure and Other Stories

My look at French romans scientifique with an apocalyptical bent continues.

Review: The Ultimate Pleasure and Other Stories, Renée Dunan, ed. and trans. Brian Stableford, 2015.

Cover by Phil Cohen

While Ernest Pérochon’s The Frenetic People was an argument against justice, equality, and the liberty of scientists, Dunan’s The Ultimate Pleasure attacks human character as a whole though having little to say about the danger of scientists pursuing knowledge unsupervised. Published under the title Le Dernière jouissance, it came out in 1925 as did Pérochon’s novel.

Stableford’s “Introduction” gives a brief bio on Dunan. She was a literary critic and wrote in a variety of genres. She was very prolific between 1920 and 1925 in books and various magazines and may have written more than published. While she claimed that all her fiction was based on “the Neo-Platonism of Bergson, the Relativism of Einstein and the Pansexualism of Freud”, Stableford says the only consistent influence was the pansexualism since Dunan was also known as writer of erotica and sometime hack pornography. Dunan’s tales in this book, particularly The Ultimate Pleasure, are action adventure stories with philosophical ponderings. And, yes, there are some semi-erotic scenes in that novel.

Stableford says it

is a very peculiar addition to the tradition of dystopian fiction, not least because of its curious even-handedness, although that might be partly due to a reversal of opinion while the work was in progress. In its depiction of a future absolute tyranny it is remarkably stark. 

This is a post-catastrophe world. Thirty years before the novel’s main story, a massive fault split the earth open from Peru to the “Far North”. Out of the fault, the Bloody Sweats emerges, blood pouring from its victims’ pores. Millions die from it.

A team of scientists discovers the Bloody Sweats is caused by a gas emerging from the fault. Dubbed Necron, the gas isn’t the only danger. The newly exposed surface alters the atmosphere to produce a great deal of “cyanogen, carbon monoxide and free chlorine”. Oxygen in the atmosphere begins to be depleted. 

 The last relics of civilization disappeared. In parallel, the frenzy of pleasure-seeking and the fury of asceticism increased. Their partisans massacred one another. 

Forests, complete with wild beasts, spring up in once inhabited lands. People flee to Siberia.  Germans vanish entirely, and the Baltic nations kill all foreigners. Cannibalism shows up as do roving rural gangs. 

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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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