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.
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.Continue reading