Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Mare Nostrum

The following text is the English translation of the introduction scene to Rêves de Gloire, my last novel, published by L'Atalante in April 2011. It received four French science fiction awards since then.

I did the first draft of the translation and Norman Spinrad the rewriting, as he is far more skilled in English that I will ever be, even in my dreams.

Curious readers can find Norman's review in the April/May 2012 issue of Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine here.

Down I went to the Pointe Pescade, just like in the song, but I had neither vautrien, nor Moroccan friend with me. Nor was there any hint of a wheel of fire in the sky.
The beach was deserted in this season. The white paint peeled on the planks of the closed refreshment bar. The blue-green sea was undulating lazily under the winter sun. A few overturned crafts lay on the sand; sitting on one of them, an old Arab with a white turban on his head sipped some tea while smoking a cigarette.
I felt like a stranger.
I went to stand in front of the sea. The Mare Nostrum of the ancients, bearing the load of a multimillenial history. The weather was beautiful but rather cool. In the mountains, the snow had piled quite high by in the upper reaches; Kabylia and Aures had declared a state of emergency and asked for international help to open up the isolated villages. Two hundred reservists and five hundred civilians volunteers had left Algiers this very morning to go and lend a hand. Tunisia had sent choppers, and Morocco medical staff.
The Maghreb's solidarity was in play once again, despite the antagonisms dividing its different countries. And the only thing that pleased me this fucking Saturday morning was the swift announcement of the participation of Algérois in the salvage and clearing operations.
After about a dozen minutes, I turned away from the sight of the bay and its rocks. Over there was France, from now on a distant and menacing country, a frightening shadow crouched beyond the horizon. I turned my back to it and walked towards my car.
I was reaching the parking lot when I saw him.
He was looking toward me, standing on the side of the road, dressed in a white suit, leaning on a simple walking-stick besides which a metal bottle was sparkling in the sunlight. A big Mercedes, as white as his clothes, was parked a few meters away from him near my Deux-Chevaux—which a tall man in a black suit was contemplating pensively, smoking a cigarette. He glanced at me, then purposefully turned his attention back to my car.
The very old man took two steps in my direction. I felt a sense of déjà-vu. Or rather, déjà-lu, not seen before in the flesh, but read somehow, somewhere.
It was odd, this man in white and the empty beach, the discreet driver and the nonchalant fisherman.
It was strange, something was missing.
I walked toward the old man. I bowed, one hand over my heart.
'How do you do, monsieur Camus?'

© Éditions l'Atalante

Sunday, July 8, 2012

To begin with

Although I published 50 novels over the last 25 years, I guess you've never heard about me if you don't read French. Never mind. This blog isn't—well, I should say ‘isn't only’—about me, myself and I, but more generally about French science fiction, and especially untranslated French science fiction, by which I mean novels, novellas, short stories, articles, essays, everything concerning sf never published in another language.

When Hugo Gernsback coined the term ‘scientifiction’, then ‘science fiction’, in the late 20's, he payed tribute to the writers who had invented the kind of stories on which he was putting a name. As he wrote in the first issue of Amazing Stories: ‘By ‘scientifiction’ I mean the Jules Verne, H.G. Wells and Edgar Allan Poe type of story’. As Gary Westfahl pointed it in his enlightening essay Hugo Gernsback and the Century of Science Fiction, Gernsback was the first person who tried to write down a history of the genre he was creating.

So, deep in the 19th century,, the roots of science fiction are French, and English, and American. But, while UK and US sf know each other well enough, as they are written in the same language, French science fiction was left apart somewhere on the road. Well, there was clearly a gap in its history, perhaps because of WWII, and it had to rebuild itself after 1945, but we're now in the 21st century, and since the 50's several bunches of talented French science fiction writers did create their own ways of writing sf, some very similar to what you can read in English, other very—and when I say very, I mean very—different of anything ever published in English speaking countries or elsewhere.

Diversity is the key word. Or variety. Or oddness.

The point isn't that these writers are French, or writing in French. The point is that they are science fiction writers. And that science fiction is one of the first global subcultures that appeared in the modern world: it was born in several countries on both sides of the Atlantic, and it has spread all over the Earth, never mind the borders, never mind the language. Science fiction has become an international language, and more than a French writer, I feel I am a science fiction writer, who wishes to write for people who like reading science fiction, never mind the borders, never mind the language.

Who wishes to feed the Megatext.