World War One in Fantastic Fiction: “The Black Sun”

Essay: “The Black Sun”, René Pujol, trans. Brian Stableford, 1921.

Cover by Mike Hoffman

Stableford’s calls this a “corrosively downbeat” story and one of the finest works of French cataclysmic fiction because of its deft psychological touches, and I agree. 

He also suggests that the publisher wanted something like J. -H. Rosny’s The Mysterious Force, and there are some similarities. In both, a cosmic force disrupts life on Earth. Both, center on a small group in the country during changing conditions, particularly in the second half of Rosny’s tale. However, Pujol’s entire tale is set in rural France in village near a canal and limestone quarries. And, whereas Rosny’s tale has an alien force creating strong empathetic and telepathic ties within a group – while setting other groups against each other, Pujol shows the psychological strains on his characters. Its one flaw is that, as Stableford notes, its ending seems very rushed as if, in its third installment, his editor wanted Pujol to wrap his serial up.

The story centers around Dantenot, his fiancé Jane, and her parents Jérôme (an optician) and Amélie Sternballe. They are visiting Dantenot, a schoolteacher. 

It’s December, and the weather is unusually hot. The situation worsens with windstorms. People go mad from the heat or just drop over dead. On December 26th, a great storm devastates many things. While the story centers on this French village since Dantenot is the narrator, he does throw in asides about how similar events affected other parts of Europe and the United States.  Rail lines and aqueducts are damaged as are telegraph lines. Before they are cut off from the outside world, news stories appear about the unusual heat wave affecting the whole world. A local curre tells Dantenot that logic and science has no answers for it. Whether it grows hotter or cooler, some theory will be proposed as an explanation.

Eventually, things become so unbearable that the four seek shelter in the local quarries. There is a scene where Dantenot goes back to their home because the party forgot to bring food. He is somewhat resentful that they seem to think nothing of demanding he go back in the hot night to do this though they barely survived reaching the quarries. 

On a second trip, to get cutlery and supplies from a grocery store whose owner is dead, Dantenot encounters Cynécarmieux, an astronomer who has stumbled into the village. He wants food though he is convinced they are ultimately doomed. His theory is that the sun has met with a dead sun, a “black sun”, and its heat has increased. 

Continue reading