The Evolution of Science Fiction discussion

Non-English SF > French Science Fiction

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message 1: by Ed (new)

Ed Erwin | 1867 comments Mod
This is a topic for discussing French Science Fiction and related genres. This can include stories, films, music, etc. published in France or by French-speaking people elsewhere.

Feel free to discuss differences between French and English SF stories, themes, trends, fads, ..., or your favorite books, films, graphic novels, ....

Also fee free to start separate discussion topics for other languages or countries that you may want to discuss.

message 2: by Ed (new)

Ed Erwin | 1867 comments Mod
Around 2000 I decided to try reading more books in French to improve my understanding of the language. At first I read some "classics", but then I realized I might as well read some popular fiction in styles that I like, which is mostly SF and other Speculative Fiction.

Initially it was hard for me to figure out where to start. But after a few random encounters I found some authors or stories I really like. Nowadays, I prefer to read those authors in English translations when I can find them (because it is faster and easier for me), but will read in French when that is all that is available.

I'm definitely not an expert, and you don't need to be either. Just post any recommendations or observations you have.

message 3: by Ed (new)

Ed Erwin | 1867 comments Mod
One place to start on Goodreads is with this list
French Science Fiction.

There are not many voters on that list yet. You can help by contributing your votes.

Also very helpful at the top of that page is links to "listopia" lists for various literary prizes for French SF. Some lists are strictly Science Fiction, others include other flavors of "L'Imaginaire". Again, the lists are created and edited by GoodReads "librarians" and so are not complete.

I will add links to some of those prize lists here as well.

message 4: by Rosemarie (last edited Apr 13, 2019 09:44AM) (new)

Rosemarie | 444 comments I haven't read any French science fiction, other than Jules Verne, but would like to read more. The Toronto Public Library has a decent selection of books in French, so I plan on reading some. I just have to figure out when. 🤔 But sooner rather than later.

I just looked at the list and did read Malevil by Robert Merle, but in English. I read it over 30 years ago and parts of it are still in my mind--it was a good read.

message 5: by Ed (new)

Ed Erwin | 1867 comments Mod
Rosemarie wrote: "I haven't read any French science fiction, other than Jules Verne..."

I haven't yet read any major work of Verne because I, rightly or wrongly, suspect them of being mostly adventure stories. But I plan to fix that, probably starting with The Mysterious Island. Which ones do you recommend?

I would hazard a guess that you've read The Little Prince at some point and have either read or seen some version of Planet of the Apes.

If you aren't too strict about a definition of SF, I would recommend you start with this short story collection: Le passe-muraille.

message 6: by Jo (new)

Jo | 1089 comments How about Aliette de Bodard? I think she just about qualifies here, French/American with mother tongue of French but writes in English. The House of Shattered Wings won the British Science Fiction award of Best Novel in 2015 although it could more easily be classified as fantasy. It's really well written and the portrayal of a destroyed Paris is impressive. I also enjoyed her novella The Tea Master and the Detective.

message 7: by Ed (new)

Ed Erwin | 1867 comments Mod
Jo wrote: "How about Aliette de Bodard? ..."

She chose to write in English and publish in the English-speaking world. I don't blame her. It is a much bigger market. You can talk about her, but I was intending a different discussion.

But there is a separate tradition of SF in French language that grew up semi-independent from the market in English. I find it interesting to consider the ways in which it differs from the English language tradition. (In current times, the majority of SF seen in France is stuff translated from English. But there really was a separate tradition going on there on a smaller scale.)

Some of the differences, from my personal view, and off the top of my head:

France was never a superpower in 20th century. So in the USA our stories are "We are going to space and building weapons! Yay!", theirs are "They are going to space and building weapons! What about us?"

France had colonies. Works with commentary on the effect of colonization is not uncommon.

Huge wars were fought on French soil.

Before WWI, Poe, who had been translated by Charles Baudelaire, was a big influence. His work influenced everything from SF to mystery novels to 'contes cruels'.

WWI led to the rise of Surrealism and Existentialism, which both still influence French SF.

WWII disrupted everything during what was the "Golden Age" in USA SF. There was an occupation area and a collaboration area during WWII. They don't have to imagine "The man in the high castle." They lived it.

One of the first SF novels to become popular was a version of Slan translated by Boris Vian. The fact that Vian was inspired by Surrealism in his own work such as Froth on the Daydream may be relevant to the fact that Surrealism continues in French SF.

Philip K. Dick became popular there, and taken seriously by philosophers and critics, perhaps more and earlier than in USA. (Interesting perspective here: )

There is much less anti-intellectualism there than in USA.

Graphic novels and comics were taken more seriously as art there much earlier than here. SF was a big part of French comics, separate from the imported US superhero stuff.

There is greater popularity for socialist and communist views.

The government subsidies some arts, meaning popularity among the public is not the sole measure of whether something gets produced.

Sex is not as taboo.

I'm sure I'll think of other things. And I repeat that I'm an amateur, not an expert on this. Other views are welcome.

message 8: by Jo (new)

Jo | 1089 comments Ed wrote: "She chose to write in English and publish in the English-speaking world. I don't blame her. It is a much bigger market.You can talk about her, but I was intending a different discussion..."

That's fine although I have to add, does have a distinctly French flair to her writing :-)

Other than Jules Verne who I don't really enjoy, the only other book I've read in the last few years is Underground Man by Gabriel Tarde from 1905 which is an utopian novel. The final utopia is much different from what you would find in an English novel of the same period.

message 9: by Ed (new)

Ed Erwin | 1867 comments Mod
Jo wrote: "{de Bodard} does have a distinctly French flair to her writing :-)...."

Yeah, I got that impression from what others have told me. I fear she may have the sort of French flair that leaves me cold. But it is a real part of French SF tradition as well.

Thanks for Underground Man! I might nominate that for a group read when we get back around to doing 1920's.

"The final utopia is much different from what you would find in an English novel of the same period." Cool! In what way?

message 10: by Fixxxe (new)

Fixxxe | 6 comments Hello,

i have been reading a lot of french SF books with some of them beeing very good.
my interrest in SF came from my first SF books by René Barjavel. i read them again last year and i have to admit they have aged not so well, especially the book Ravage. But he has written some other that are still, in my opinion ok, even if you can feel that they were written in the 40s.

other than that, i really liked the Francois Baranger Books Dominium Mundi.

message 11: by Ed (last edited Apr 15, 2019 11:18AM) (new)

Ed Erwin | 1867 comments Mod
I have only read one René Barjavel book: The Ice People (La Nuit des temps). I didn't much care for it, but probably would have enjoyed it back at the time it was written.

Dominium Mundi - Livre I looks interesting, but long. Is it a quick read? One thing in it's favor, for me, is that the author François Baranger was concept artist for the video game "Heavy Rain", which was a very thoughtful game. (It is about a father trying to rescue his kidnapped son. Depending on how you play, it can end badly for several characters.)

message 12: by Jo (new)

Jo | 1089 comments Ed wrote: ""The final utopia is much different from what you would find in an English novel of the same period." Cool! In what way? "

It's a utopia defined by art and beauty, so more of an intellectual outlook. Most of the other books I have read are related to political or economic utopias.

message 13: by Susan (new)

Susan Budd (susanbudd) | 128 comments Anyone remember Fantastic Planet? It’s a French animated sci fi film from 1973. It’s trippy and psychedelic and wonderfully weird. I once looked for the novel that it’s based on, Oms en série by Stefan Wul, but the English translation is out-of-print.

message 14: by Rosemarie (new)

Rosemarie | 444 comments I certainly do. The French version was a lot better than the dubbed English version, even though it was the same animation.

message 15: by Susan (new)

Susan Budd (susanbudd) | 128 comments Hi Rosemarie.

I have read reviews of Wul’s novel and most people say it’s a poor translation. That always left me wondering whether the original French is better. If the French film is better than the English, perhaps the French novel is also better than the English.

But I don’t know a word of French, so I’ll never know. Maybe someday someone else will translate it.

message 16: by Rosemarie (last edited Apr 16, 2019 03:20PM) (new)

Rosemarie | 444 comments Since Canada is officially bilingual, a lot of people speak French. But a lot more don't, because they think it is too hard, even though it is required for four years in school.
I have read very little French science fiction, so far. But there is an author called Marcel Aymé, whose works I enjoy and who has written some really weird books.

message 17: by Susan (new)

Susan Budd (susanbudd) | 128 comments I think I might like The Man Who Walked Through Walls. It sounds funny.

message 18: by Ed (new)

Ed Erwin | 1867 comments Mod
Susan wrote: "I think I might like The Man Who Walked Through Walls. It sounds funny."

Actually, I did recommend that book up in comment #5 using the French title!

Marcel Aymé is good and relatively easy to read. The short story "The Man Who Walked Through Walls" is his most famous. There are even several film versions. It was written during the German occupation, when walking through walls would have been useful, but the story doesn't mention anything like that.

Different translations call it "The Walker-through Walls" and other such things. Other stories in that collection are quite good, too. They are more like fantasy or magical realism than SciFi, but that doesn't bother me!

I read that book along with a group of French students, and they didn't have too much trouble with the language. (Though reading in English is perfectly fine, too.) I purchased another of his story collections and hope to get to it someday: Derrière Chez Martin.

message 19: by Ed (new)

Ed Erwin | 1867 comments Mod
Susan wrote: "Anyone remember Fantastic Planet? It’s a French animated sci fi film from 1973. It’s trippy and psychedelic and wonderfully weird...."

Yeah, I love that film. The same animator did an animated version of L'orphelin de Perdide which in English was called "Time Masters". Not nearly as good as Fantastic Planet, but still fun.

Wul's novel The temple of the past was available in English, though hard to find.

French press Ankama is doing graphic novels of most or all of Wul's work. At least one is available in English, and called Niourk.

My review said Starts out as a tale of a small band of people living in a hunter-gatherer tribe in post-apocalyptic Earth. Eventually the main character, a young boy, makes friends with a bear, eats brains of a giant radioactive squid, gets captured by humans who've come from Mars, clones himself, evolves into a superhero and moves the Earth out near Saturn! Pretty insane as a story, with too many ideas in too short a time, but the graphics are good.

message 20: by Ed (new)

Ed Erwin | 1867 comments Mod
Rosemarie wrote: "Since Canada is officially bilingual, a lot of people speak French..."

Quebec French is a pretty different sort of French. Tough for me, at least in spoken form.

message 21: by Rosemarie (new)

Rosemarie | 444 comments It's tough for me too, but you do get used to it.

message 22: by Cheryl (new)

Cheryl (cherylllr) (Just want to say I'm lurking here and appreciating the ideas & information being shared.)

message 23: by Ronald (last edited Apr 18, 2019 04:19PM) (new)

Ronald (rpdwyer) | 155 comments I'd like to read Reves de Gloire by Roland C. Wagner. It's an alternate history novel, which hits one of my reading interests.

The Goodreads shelf for Reves de Gloire here:

I found out about the book from a review by science fiction writer Norman Spinrad. He reviews the book in the second half of this review:

Around a year after the award winning Reves de Gloire was published, Roland C. Wagner was killed in a car accident. Sad.

message 24: by Ed (new)

Ed Erwin | 1867 comments Mod
Ronald wrote: "I'd like to read Reves de Gloire by Roland C. Wagner..."

So would I. It is sitting on my shelf, but it is really thick! Doesn't it have something to do with Albert Camus? (If so, sad that they both died in a car accident.)

I've read, and recommend, other works by Roland C. Wagner, especially the series that starts with La Balle du néant. It is light, somewhat humorous, Sci-Fi or Fantasy where the main character is a detective who is almost invisible. Rather than truly invisible, he has a sort of super power that makes him easily ignored and quickly forgotten.

My first French SF/F book was actually also his fantasy book La Saison de la sorcière. It was written around the time of a USA war, and is not exactly friendly toward the USA. I remember a witch being captured by the USA who want to force her to fight terrorism, and they torture her to encourage it. Despite stuff like that, it is mostly also pretty light and humorous.

I met his wife Sylvie Denis briefly after she gave a talk on translation. She was happy to meet someone in USA who reads her late husband's work.

message 25: by Ed (last edited Jul 10, 2019 12:04PM) (new)

Ed Erwin | 1867 comments Mod
The site Babelio has posted a list (in French) of 24 works of Science Fiction for people who think they don't like Science Fiction.

Unsurprisingly, only a few were from French-speaking authors. That includes 2 by Serge Brussolo, 1 overrated book by René Barjavel, 1 by Fred Guichen, and the short-story collection Virus edited by Magali Duez.

I'm glad they include some French authors. But I wouldn't trust them very far about these being "best" of anything. They didn't even list the correct author for "Virus". (They list Alexandre Dainche as the author, though he is an illustrator and is not associated with this book in any way that I can tell.) I'd like to get that collection, but it is hard to get now. It was published by Griffes d'Encre which is no longer in business.

Sad. I wish the site Babelio were as interesting and useful as this one, but it isn't.

message 26: by Ed (new)

Ed Erwin | 1867 comments Mod
This looks like an interesting study of SF in Quebec:
Petit Guide de la science-fiction au Québec by Jean-Louis Trudel.

Reviews say it is a little dated, but should be good for 20th century history.

message 27: by Ed (new)

Ed Erwin | 1867 comments Mod
Retrofictions by Joseph Altairac looks to be a good survey of early SF and related genres, taking in everything from books to plays to postcards to games, etc.

However, it is 2458 pages and weighs more than 10 pounds (4.5 kg), so I don't think I could manage to read it in one lifetime, or even lift it.

message 28: by Marc-André (new)

Marc-André | 298 comments Latium : Tome I by Romain Lucazeau has captured my attention.

AI spaceships with roman culture in a universe where humans are extinct.

message 29: by Ed (new)

Ed Erwin | 1867 comments Mod
This month, our book of the month was by Jules Verne, one of the 2 fathers of French SF. The other father is J.-H. Rosny. I've been slowly reading through some of his short stories.

While it may be true that he is a father of SF, these stories are not SF. (Similar to E.A. Poe being the father of detective fiction but not actually writing much of it.)

The stories were a little disappointing. Anyway, my review is here.

message 30: by Marc-André (new)

Marc-André | 298 comments I started Latium : Tome I. It is a a unichronia and a post-human space opera. I'm 25% in the novel and I'm very satisfied. It is so ambitious and so far it lives up to the expectations.

message 31: by Marc-André (new)

Marc-André | 298 comments I finished Latium : Tome I by Romain Lucazeau.

A very ambitious uchronic post-human space-opera. Well that was a mouth full, and so is the text. I have to say that I was sold on this novel because of the ideas (humanity is extinct, AIs are left behind and rule the place in a Roman-like setting because Roman went to space, they can't stop the invasion of alien life-forms that are coming because Asimov's Three Law protect the aliens).

Once I read it, I'm still sold on these ideas, but the execusion leaves to desire. The characters a bit bland, the text is pompous and the plot secondary.

Still, I just bought the second tome, as I want to know how the universe is weaved and how the plot is resolved.

message 32: by Ed (new)

Ed Erwin | 1867 comments Mod
Marc-André wrote: "I finished Latium : Tome I by Romain Lucazeau...."

The concept of that one doesn't grab me. And since you said the execution wasn't great, I'll skip it.

Earlier I started, but then set aside, the collection La Frontière éclatée. I've picked it up again because I'd like to finish it before the end of the year.

Today I read and enjoyed the 1981 story "Un bonheur sans nuages" by "Bernard Mathon". In this, a man who works on programming a weather-predicting machine uses some of the spare time of that machine to try to predict and control the weather between himself and his wife. It improves their life at first, until she finds out about it.

According to ISFDB he only wrote 10 SF stories, and this was his final one.

message 33: by Ed (new)

Ed Erwin | 1867 comments Mod
By the way, the collection I mentioned is part of a series selecting good stories from different time periods of French SF. I haven't read enough French SF to know whether they are making good choices or not, but it seems a good place to start.

1953-1973 Les Mondes Francs
1972-1978 L'Hexagone halluciné
1979-1984 La Frontière éclatée
1957-1981 Les Mosaïques du temps
1985-1996 Les Horizons divergents
1996-2000 Les Passeurs de millénaires

There is a detailed description of each on French Wikipedia.

message 34: by Ed (new)

Ed Erwin | 1867 comments Mod
It's time once again for the Grand Prix de l’Imaginaire.

Sadly, I've read none of the nominees. I think Damasio is likely to get the most buzz, but I'll skip his new one. Anyway, some authors for you to explore!

message 35: by Ronald (new)

Ronald (rpdwyer) | 155 comments Wired magazine article on French Steampunk:

message 36: by Ed (new)

Ed Erwin | 1867 comments Mod
Thanks for that. I would have missed it.

I wonder if the main source for the article was this list on GoodReads:

The article implies that English writers set their steampunk in London and French writers use Paris. I know of many counter-examples where English writers choose Paris and French writers choose London.

They mention Fabrice Colin a lot. I've read quite a few of his works. He writes in various styles, but in recent years has concentrated on SF/F for children, and crime/thrillers for adults. Also some hard-to-classify fiction related to Shakespeare, Kafka, Marilyn Monroe, and Katherine Anne Porter.

The only things that I can find translated in English are the comic book The Chimera Brigade: Vol I (where he was the co-author) and one short story in Michael Moorcock's Legends of the Multiverse.

The only French steampunk fiction I know in English is the title story in The Night Orchid: Conan Doyle in Toulouse. The other stories in the book are not steampunk, but most are good.

message 37: by Ed (new)

Ed Erwin | 1867 comments Mod
Ed wrote: "It's time once again for the Grand Prix de l’Imaginaire. ..."

My instinct was right: Damasio won the prize. I'm not going to read it, though. It's too long.

I did read the winning novella: Helstrid by Christian Léourier. It is a quite good story about a man and an AI trying to pilot a machine across a hellish frozen planet. The AI will not allow the man to make risky decisions, and that ironically makes things even more dangerous.

message 38: by Ronald (new)

Ronald (rpdwyer) | 155 comments This group is reading a work by Lovecraft, The Shadow Out of Time .

Roland C. Wagner wrote a fictional biography of Lovecraft, where Lovecraft lived to 1991.

I put the two goodreads reviews, written in French, into Google translate. Interesting.

Controversial French writer Micheal Houellebecq wrote a study of Lovecraft's fiction, which was later translated into English. My review of H.P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life here:

message 39: by Ed (new)

Ed Erwin | 1867 comments Mod
Here is the direct link to your review:

I like Roland C. Wagner, and have met his wife. I'm sorry he died too soon. His book about HPL takes the premise that he didn't die when he did, but lived on until the 1990s. I've not read it, but like I said, I like Wagner and it could be fun.

Houellebecq, I don't like. I've read his book about HPL, but don't really remember anything from it.

message 40: by Ed (new)

Ed Erwin | 1867 comments Mod
Ronald wrote: "Roland C. Wagner wrote a fictional biography of Lovecraft, where Lovecraft lived to 1991."

Apparently that short story, H.P.L. 1890-1991 is available in a dual-language (French/English) version from the publisher here. As far as I know, nothing else by Wagner is available in English.

It won the Prix Rosny-Aine, so maybe it is worthwhile.

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