World War One in Fantastic Fiction: The Napus

This was intended to just wind up my look at pre-World War Two French science fiction featuring disasters and apocalypses, but, like many such stories, it also turned out to be another French work bearing the marks of World War One.

Essay: The Napus: The Great Plague of the Year 2227, Léon Daudet, trans. Brian Stableford, 2012. 

Readers in the know will notice that this work isn’t from Stableford’s usual outlet for translated French science fiction, Black Coat Press. He was told

’Léon Daudet was not a nice man’ – a principle which, if universally applied, would slim down the literary tradition considerably.   

However, the Lofficiers, owners of Black Coat Press, do briefly mention this novel and two other works by Daudet in their The Handbook of French Science Fiction.

Why was Daudet a bad man? Well, he was a noted right-wing author in France. Wikipedia refers to him as a Catholic integralist, a man who rejected the idea of church and state being separated. He ran for office in 1927, the year this novel was published. He also spent some time in jail after being convicted of libel when he accused the government of being involved in the shooting death of his son.

Stableford’s “Introduction” says this is the most farcical of all French future war novels. Daudet was very skeptical of the idea that no weapon was so terrible that it wouldn’t be used. He was also unusual in his depiction of a  

future in which scientific knowledge has continued to progress, takes it for granted that much of that science will be intellectually bankrupt, and that the fraction that is not will be largely deleterious to the quality of human life . . . that much contemporary theoretical knowledge is seriously mistaken, and that the theories that replace contemporary ones will be just as arbitrary and liable to supersession. 

He concludes by stating this novel is a “twisted classic of sorts”, “provocatively uncomfortable rather than soothingly soporific”.

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