French literature, needless to say, is extremely influential and multidimensional. From great social novels (Hugo, Balzac, Zola, etc) to fabulous comics (Tintin, Asterix, Largo Winch, etc.), from Nobel winning masters (Camus, Sartre, Modiano, etc.) to towering crime fiction ( Simenon, Vargas, etc.) French literature has provided the world with an infinite variety of masterpieces. Science fiction- mostly associated with American writers and Japanese manga- is no exception either. In fact, the idea of hard science fiction can very much be called a French invention! Here are the top 5 science fiction books in French that we think are absolutely unmissable.
Written by Bernard Werber, The Ants (Les Fourmis) was published in 1991 and has been translated in over 30 languages and has sold more than 2 million copies across the world. Described by the author as a philosophy-science-fiction, The Ants plunges you into a world seen at once from the eyes of ants and from the eyes of humans. Filled with puzzles, murder mysteries and an exhilarating look into life in an ant colony, Bernard Werber’s book is a joy for anyone who loves science and science fiction. While most science fiction aims for the stars or far distant futures, here’s a refreshing and exciting look at the genre through the smallest possible set of eyes- an ants’.
René Barjavel is an extremely well known and beloved writer in France who is pretty much ignored by most English speakers. His book Ravage is an essential part of school reading and has sold more than a million copies. Written in 1943, Ravage is a vitriolic attack on our modern society. Barjavel imagines a society so dependent on technology that it crumbles to pieces when just one small piece of the puzzle goes missing. An imagination of a dystopia filled with pessimism, all it takes for Barjavel’s society to fall apart is the inability of humanity to produce electricity all of a sudden. The auto-destruction that issues is a pertinent warning for all time and reemphasizes the value of real human connection in a virtual society.
Planet of The Apes
When Pierre Boulle published Planet of the Apes in 1963, it quickly became a world-wide hit. Turned into blockbuster movies by Hollywood, the book and its story are almost common knowledge now. Three men who explore a distant planet similar to Earth discover that apes are the dominant and intelligent species, while humanity is reduced to the state of animals.The monkeys lock the narrator in a laboratory to experiment on him. The narrator proves his intelligence to the apes, and helps the scientists of the ape planet discover the origins of their civilization. A satire on science, war and human arrogance Boulle uses themes from evolutionist and social sciences to construct a truly great literary work. The writer makes the apes behave in ways similar to modern human society, thereby giving us a scathing look at ourselves- the way all great speculative fiction should.
The Warriors of Silence
Inspired by the great works of Sci-fi opera like Star Wars or Dune, Pierre Bordage wrote his trilogy- The Warriors of Silence between the years 1993 and 1995 to immense success in France. The first of the trilogy won several awards and contributed largely to the renaissance of science fiction in French. Borrowing heavily from Indian scripture, fantasy fiction and heroic works of yore The Warriors of Silence evokes an interplanetary landscape where a group of people who posses “indic knowledge” battle the rise of a dictatorial imperial power that has designs over the entire galaxy. To this familiar plot, Bordage adds a host of interesting characters, plots within subplots and so much more that it is impossible to put the books down.
20000 Leagues Under The Sea
The 5th most translated work in the world, what with it being read in over 174 languages as we speak, Jules Verne’s masterpiece is perhaps the first work of hard science fiction.The novel kicks off with a suspiciously large sea creature that seems to be impeding maritime traffic in the 1860s and the fear of long term economic damage makes the government of France precipitate the novel’s hero and his team headlong in to an investigation that has unexpected results. Filled with believable sociopolitical references, a lot of scientific details, detailed description of marine life and a hero like no other in Captain Nemo, 20000 leagues under the sea continues to captivate the imagination of the world long after its publication. An absolute prototype for steam-punk fiction, if not modern science fiction itself, no bookshelf is complete without this classic.