The Handbook of French Fantasy & Supernatural Fiction

While I don’t have that much interest in French fantasy literature, I am interested in French weird fiction and supernatural horror.

Review: The Handbook of French Fantasy & Supernatural Fiction, Jean-Marc & Randy Lofficier, 2022.

Cover by Nathalie Lial

The origins of this book, its organization, and even the deficiencies of its index are similar to The Handbook of French Science Fiction. Both books cover works produced in French by non-French writers, and, in fact, that’s much truer of this book since it concentrates on the rich tradition of Belgium fantasy and horror written in French. In fact, the only writer to get his own section in this volume is Belgium Jean Ray. (Coverage of him was one of the main reasons I bought this book.)

The origins of French fantasy are what you might expect: medieval romances and ballads and poetry and religious dramas. But it received its own unique stamp from several other things: some of the first publications of famous fairy tales, the Tales of the Fey often produced under pseudonym by female aristocrats, and occult and esoteric texts. The latter are so important that the Lofficiers carry coverage of them throughout the whole book, and French works of that sort (like the ones that inspired The Da Vinci Code and Jacques Bergier’s and Louis Pauwels’ The Morning of the Magicians) have become international bestsellers.

The Age of French Proto-Fantasy moves into fantasy literature as we know it today with the nineteenth century, a period which would see several notable authors like Honoré Balzac, Victor Hugo, and Anatole France dabble in the genre. It also was influenced by foreigners, especially the English Gothic which became the roman noir in France. John Polidori’s The Vampyre, translated into French in 1819, kicked off a major enthusiasm for works centering on that supernatural entity.  It was at this time a distinction would arise between two sub-genres — fantastique populaire and fantastique littéraire. Some of the authors here, like Alexandre Dumas and Paul Féval, made their reputation as writers of feutilleton, serialized novels published in newspapers.

Starting in the 1820s, under the influence of E. T. A. Hoffman, a fantastique romantique movement developed. Under the influence of Edgar Allan Poe, a fantastique réaliste emerged. Less tied to metaphysics than Hoffmanesque works and emphasizing math and science, it was more respectable for the literati. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, decadent fantasies, also known as fantastique symboliste, started appearing.

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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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French Tales of Cataclysms

I continue to look at French romans scientifiques featuring apocalypses and disasters.

It’s a big anthology, but it’s a low-res scan because I’ve already reviewed J. -H. Rosny Aîné’s “The Cataclysm” (aka “Tornadres”) before, and three works – Raoul Bigot’s “The Iron That Died”, René Pugol’s “The Black Sun”, and Colonel Royet’s On the Brink of the World’s End – will be getting separate posts in my World War One in Fantastic Fiction series.

Low Res Scan: French Tales of Cataclysms, ed. Jean-Marc & Randy Lofficier, trans. Brian Stableford, 2022.

Cover by Mike Hoffman

The Lofficiers’ “Introduction” recaps the history of French apocalyptic and cataclysmic stories through the end of World War Two. This anthology has ten stories and two novels “published between 1802 and 1928”. This is another example of Black Coat Press’s less than stellar copyediting since the earliest story is actually from 1858. All the stories here are translated and introduced by Brian Stableford with the exception of The Tremendous Event.

Pierre Véron’s “The Paris Deluge” (“Le Déluge en Paris’) was probably written in 1859 and not published until 1862 since there was a tradition of setting these kind of stories a multiple of thousands of years in the future. And what kind of tale is it? The ever popular ruined Paris of the future and archaeologists reaching bogus conclusions about contemporary life from the artifacts they find. Those stories became popular with the demolition and reconstruction of large parts of Paris under Napoleon III and Baron Haussmann.

Here the year is 4859. The story starts with the last ten years of the city. It’s submergence under the advancing sea is ainticipated. For the last ten years, the submergence of Paris has been seen as imminent, and now it’s only six days away. Wealthy people seek out agents to give their fortune to the poor. Critics attack their own works, and novelists are offering refunds to readers.  A vast number of balloons are being built to escape the city, the proceeds to be given to the Association of Ruined Stockbrokers. Then Véron has a silly interlude with various forms of marine life contemplating Parisian life as the ocean innudates the city. 

The story then shifts three thousand years into the future with a discussion between geologists and archaeologists. We then get a rather crytpic description of four items which, in keeping with this sub-genre, are ridiculously interpreted. In a rare end note from Stableford, he tells us that, usually in such stories, indirect clues are provided by authors to let us figure out what those objects really are.  Here, Véron ran out of space and offered the explanation in four footnotes.

Eugène Mouton’s “The End of the World” (“La Fin du Monde”, 1872) illustrates a problem all writers of science fiction faced in the early days of the genre: coming up with an appropriate narrative form for their tales. Mouton’s solution was to adapt an absurdist tone for this story which has no characters.

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The Handbook of French Science Fiction

Since I’ve been spending so much time in Le territoire de la romance scientifique Français and will be staying there awhile longer, I decided I needed to pick up another literary map.

Review: The Handbook of French Science Fiction, Jean-Marc & Randy Lofficier. 2022.

Cover by Vincent Laik

In 2000, McFarland published the Lofficiers’ massive 800-page tome entitled French Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror and Pulp Fiction: A Guide to Cinema, Television, Radio, Animation, Comic Books and Literature from the Middle Ages to the Present. In 2003, Black Coat Press was founded by the Lofficers to publish, for an English-speaking audience, some of the works they talked about.

Recently, they’ve reworked and reorganized that volume into four books that have started to be published by Black Coat Press. Besides this one, I’ll be reviewing The Handbook of French Fantasy & Supernatural Literature.

This book is 315 pages of text and an index – more on that later.

Organized chronologically, the book starts with the 1500s and goes through 2000. While there is a bit about French science fiction after that year, the Lofficers say they made no real attempt to extend their original coverage of their subject.

After a chapter on utopias, most of the following chapters are divided into “Journeys to Other Worlds” (space or alternate dimensions or dream worlds), “Journeys to Other Lands” (earthbound tales of lost races, utopias, and science and technology), and “Journeys to Other Times” (future tales, alternate histories, and time travel) sections. Some chapters add sections on major authors, notable authors, publishers, young adult titles, publishers, and mainstream authors who also produced science fiction. Only Jules Verne gets his own section.

I read this book cover to cover and found must of it interesting. It was only toward the modern periods with their abbreviated lists of authors and descriptions that my eyes started to glaze over.

Many major works get enough of a description to pique your interest, and footnotes give the ISBNs of all the referenced works that have been issued by Black Coat Press. The coverage of an author or theme doesn’t always neatly stay in the chronological borders assigned its chapter.

The broad outlines of French science fiction were known to me up to 1950, the stopping point of Brian Stableford’s The Plurality of Imaginary Worlds, so Lofficers’ coverage of the next 50 years was all new to me. The Silver Age of 1950 to 1970 saw a massive introduction of translated American science fiction into France. While the period was one of ‘rebirth, growth, and consolidation”, French science fiction found its themes and “modes of expression” dominated by American examples of the genre. The 1970s saw the French New Wave in science fiction and the politization of the genre. The number of published works greatly expanded until the mid-1980s.

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