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 Mysterious Force and Other Anomalous Phenomena

Long time readers of this blog won’t be surprised that, after hearing Brian Stableford cite Rosny’s The Mysterious Force as an influence on Théo Varlet’s The Xenobiotic Invasion, I decided to read it.

Low Res Scan: The Mysterious Force and Other Anomalous Phenomena, J. -H. Rosny Aîné, trans. Brian Stableford, 2010. 

Cover by Vincent Laik

Depending on which source I’m reading (Brian Stableford or the Brothers Lofficier), Rosny vies with Albert Robida for the title of second most significant writer of French science fiction after Jules Verne. These days he’s mostly remembered for the prehistoric fantasy Quest for Fire which was made into a movie. But there was much more to Rosny than prehistoric fantasies.

Since this is the third of eight Rosny books put out by Black Coat Press, Stableford’s “Introduction” doesn’t include a lot of detail on Rosny’s life and works.

The Catacylsm” is certainly worth reading, but I’ve already reviewed it elsewhere under its alternate title “Tornadres”.

The remarkable The Mysterious Force was published as La Force mystérieuse in 1913 and it’s pretty clear this was an inspiration for Théo Varlet’s The Xenobiotic Invasion. Here it’s not an alien fungus that alters civilization but an alien life form that may come from space and, possibly, an alternate dimension.

Both alien invasions greatly degrade technologies relying on electromagnetism. But Rosny’s novel is much more complex in its plot and concepts. 

Things get off to a rapid start with Georges Meyral, a scientist, noticing something has altered light. Double refraction lines can be detected and the spectrum seems to be disappearing starting with its ulltraviolet end. Meyral summons his friend Antonin Langre over to his home. Langre is a somewhat embittered scientist. A younger colleague stole his work which went on to great acclaim. A signficant part of the novel is the two scientists’ investigations into this new phenomena and it ends with their somewhat tenuous speculations. Rosny gives us detailed descriptions of that work.

Langre’s work is is interrupted by a call from his daughter Sabine. She has finally left her loutish husband Vérranes. He is sometimes abusive and always self-pitying. Meyral loves Sabine, but he never proposed to her. He didn’t think it right to do so given that he regards the older Langre as a mentor. He doesn’t even say anything when an exasperated Langre says he wishes Meyral would have married his daughter.

But the trip to get Sabine reveals a “fevered humanity” on the streets of Paris. Tempers are flaring and murderous mobs roam about. But Meyarl manages to find Sabine and her two children in a train station and get them back to Langre.

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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