The Great Cataclysm

This was another book I sought out since it was listed as a possible inspiration for Théo Varlet’s The Xenobiotic Invasion.

Review: The Great Cataclysm, Henri Allorge, trans. Brian Stableford, 2011.

Cover by Grillon

Brian Stableford says in his “Introduction” that not much is known about Allorge. He published poetry which included poems on mathematical and scientific subjects. He may have been a teacher. He wrote mostly for juveniles after World War One. That includes some possibly juvenile science fiction. Published in 1922 as Le Grand Cataclysm, roman du centième siècle, this work won the prestigious Prix Sobrier-Arnould very probably, says Stableford, because of its pacificist message, but its more notable today for its ideas concerning resource depletion.

Like J. -H. Rosny Âiné’s The Mysterious Force and Théo Varlet’s The Xenobiotic Invasion, this is a story of what happens when the power goes out in an electrified civilization.

But the lights don’t go out here in a contemporary society but in a far future utopia, the city of Kentropol in the year 9978.

Allorge’s novel wasn’t at all what I expected. It’s funny at times, not at all a humorless and stern screed against militarism and industrial civilization.

The furnishings of Kentrepol are mostly what you would expect from a utopia of the time.  

Electricity powers a number of labor-saving devices including electrostatic removal of dust and provides beamed power for aviation. Confirming national stereotypes, French romans scientifiques are often concerned with synthetic foods. Here custom-made pastes and liquors provide all the nutrition an individual needs. Here you don’t take a coffee or tea break but “have a bottle of perfume”. The government is a mixture of elected assemblies and academics. Weather can be precisely predicted. People have odd names. Here they are all derived from geometric shapes. Births are regulated to maintain an optimum male-female ratio. All surnames are derived from geometric shapes.

There are some not so standard elements. All that electricity comes from generating plants using solar or tidal energy. Money is radioactive to increase its velocity and to discourage its accumulation. A large part of medicine is the removal of organs and washing them or replacing them with animal ones. Here you can get a literal brainwash. A minor motif in French science fiction are intelligent simians, here chimps and orangutangs. They are slaves and smart enough to even pilot aircraft. There are also sentient Martians, and the residents of Earth and Mars are attempting to work out an interplanetary alphabet.

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The Xenobiotic Invasion

And so I return to the work of Théo Varlet, this time for his second roman scientifique.

Review: The Xenobiotic Invasion, Théo Varlet, trans. Brian Stableford, 2011. 

Cover by Grillon

Published in 1930 as La Grande Panne, this is a charming science fiction novel that succeeds as a romance and a treatment of alien invasion and social upheaval. It also has some surprisingly modern resonances.

Our narrator is Gaston-Adolphe Delvart, a fairly successful painter. The book opens with him visiting his friends, Géo de Ricourts and his sister Luce. The subject turns to a rather rare topic in French romans scientifique – rocket powered space travel. Varlet was one of the few authors of French speculative fiction to use the idea before 1950.

It seems that it’s a potentially a big day for the advancement of aeronautics and rocketry. The American Moon Gold Company is launching, from Columbia, Missouri, a rocket ship to the moon. It’s part of a well-publicized attempt to bring back gold from Luna. The ship was developed by Professor Lescure and to be piloted by his famous daughter Aurora.

Alburtin, a medical doctor also visiting the de Ricourts, says he’s seen Aurora in the newsreels and found her “very pretty”. Delvart admits he does too. But what he tells us is that he is really fascinated with her. His disdain for famous film actresses is inverse to their popularity, but Aurora . . .  And why he wouldn’t he be attracted to Aurora? She’s beautiful, has several doctorates in math and science, and is a skilled pilot and, now, a rocket test pilot.

Luce asks why anyone would find a bespectacled American scientist attractive. Luce herself is quite attractive and knows it and flirts with Delvart. But, despite her beauty, Delvart knows there’s an “undeniable moral incompatibility” between the two of them. Besides, Luce has made no secret of her plans (to the horror of her mother) to marry a rich American when she can find one.

Wanting a break from the de Ricourts, Delvart accepts a ride back to Cassis with Dr. Alburtin. And, along the way, the woman of Delvart’s dreams falls from the sky.

The men pull the unconscious Aurora from her rocketship after a controlled landing, and they also grab a bag of meteorites collected in Earth orbit.

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