French SF/Fantasy Novels (in the original)
May 7, 2013 9:50 AM   Subscribe

I recently discovered an awesome local bookstore in France, hence I'd like to pick up a French-language SF/F novel that isn't a translation and would be difficult to find in the US. Suggestions? (Subgenre preferences below the jump)

My favorite English-language authors are Guy Gavriel Kay and Ellen Kushner. I like complex political fantasy, philosopical-epic rather than swords-and-sorcery-epic, fantasy of manners, stories that explore class and ethnicity and gender. I am less well-read in science fiction, but generally tend towards character-driven "soft" SF or well-written space opera (going back to the philosophical epic idea) or SF romance à la Catherine Asaro.

Ideally--because I have limited luggage space and only want to buy one more book--this would be a standalone, contemporary novel that isn't too long (let's say <500 pages) because I read French much, much slower than English. I've already acquired several of my favorite books in French translation, but would like to try someone new. I prefer contemporary authors to the older classics, generally. Bonus points if it hasn't yet been translated into English!
posted by serelliya to Media & Arts (8 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I'd try to find some J.-H. Rosny aîné:
Rosny Aîné was very much like H. G. Wells or Olaf Stapledon in his concepts and his way of dealing with them in his novels. He was, without a doubt, the second most important figure after Jules Verne in the history of modern French science fiction.

Rosny’s first science fiction tale was the short story "Les Xipehuz" (1887), in which primitive humans (the story took place a thousand years before Babylonian times) encounter inorganic aliens, with whom all forms of communication prove impossible. Men eventually drive away the invaders, but the hero mourns the loss of another life. This was the first time that science fiction had abandoned its usual anthropomorphic approach in the description of alien life.

The story "Un Autre Monde" ["Another World"] (1895) establishes that humans share the Earth with the land-bound Moedigen (Dutch for 'brave ones') and the air-borne Vuren ('fires'), two infinitely flat and invisible species who cohabit with us. Only a mutant whose vision is superior to that of ordinary men can see them. In Le Cataclysme [The Cataclysm] (1896), an entire region of France sees the physical laws of nature change, as a result of the arrival of a mysterious electro-magnetic entity from outer space.

Rosny’s short novel, La Mort de la Terre [The Death of the Earth] (1910), takes place in the far future, when Earth had all but dried out. In it, the last descendants of mankind become aware of the emergence of a new species, the metal-based "Ferromagnetals", fated to replace us. La Mort de la Terre is one of the most moving tales ever written about the extinction of Man. ...
posted by jamjam at 10:08 AM on May 7, 2013

Francis Carsac was like a trashier French Isaac Asimov. Daring pioneers, resourceful space castaways, that sort of thing. He had a sequence of novels about a craggy, no-nonsense space explorer and his semi-telepathic mutant lion. He's not available in English, as far as I know.
posted by Nomyte at 1:13 PM on May 7, 2013

French SF in novel form is largely underdeveloped (unlike French SF comic books) so the list of authors born after 1945 is rather short, as shown on the French Wikipedia page. Just browse the SF shelf of your library and see if books by those authors are available. Bernard Werber is probably the only one with some international fame (I'm not saying he's the most interesting, but his books are easy to read). By far and large, the most famous and enduring post-war French SF novel remains Pierre Boulle's La Planète des singes / Planet of the Apes (Boulle, a former WW2 spy and total badass, also wrote The Bridge on the River Kwai). René Barjavel's Ravage and La nuit des temps are considered as the first contemporary French SF classics, though they are somewhat forgotten today.
posted by elgilito at 1:57 PM on May 7, 2013

Michel Houellebecq's novels (particularly The Elementary Particles and The Possibility of an Island) incorporate elements of science fiction (genetic engineering and cloning) but those elements do not really predominate. That said, he's one of a few "literary" novelists willing to cross genres like that IMO.
posted by seemoreglass at 3:08 PM on May 7, 2013

I don't know if she's hard to find in English translation, but Elisabeth Vonarburg wrote the sort of feminist SF it sounds like you'd like.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 12:48 AM on May 8, 2013

Pierre Boulle - la planète des singes

Barjavel - Ravages

Sternberg - histoires a dormir sans vous (and other short stories)

Pierre Bordage - Wang

Alain Damasio - la horde du contrevent (closer to 500pages into memory)

Jean Christophe Rufin - Globalia
posted by motdiem2 at 5:42 AM on May 8, 2013

Also this, as well as other anthologies directed by Gerard Klein are good starting points
posted by motdiem2 at 5:47 AM on May 8, 2013

I would also recommend Elisabeth Vonarburg. Her most popular novels have been translated (very well), but she's a francophone who plays with language a lot in her writing so it would be totally worth it to find her works in the original French.
posted by jb at 6:23 AM on May 8, 2013

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