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Barjavel, René

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.

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(1911-1985) French author, active in later life as a screenwriter and journalist. His first novel to be translated, Ravage (1943; trans Damon Knight as Ashes, Ashes 1967), describes a France driven inwards into rural quiescence in 2052 by a great Disaster, as the Sun becomes volatile, causing the sudden disappearance of electricity from the world; the corrupting effects of Technology are described scathingly. The next sf work from this important early period is Le voyageur imprudent (1944; with postscript 1958; trans Margaret Sansone Scouten as Future Times Three 1958), a rather pessimistic Time-Travel story with the usual Time Paradoxes, partly set in the same future world as the previous novel. The protagonist's attempt to go back in time to kill the young Napoleon, thus changing history for the better, is frustrated when he kills instead his own ancestor; this may be the first novel to pose the argument that if you go back in time and kill your own ancestor you will not exist and could not therefore have killed your own ancestor, though the paradox had featured earlier in various US Pulp sf guises.

Barjavel's later translated work decreases in intensity and is less interestingly (though almost unvaryingly) gloomy about humanity's prospects. Typical is La nuit des temps (1968; cut trans Charles Lam Markmann as The Ice People 1970), a ramblingly told morality tale in which two long-frozen humans – survivors of an aeons-prior nuclear war – revive into a disaster-bound present age (see Sleeper Awakes). Similarly lacking in hope is Le grand secret (1973; trans Eileen Finletter as The Immortals 1974), in which the virus that confers Immortality sterilizes all Earth flora; those who have become immortal are eventually killed.

Several novels have not been translated. L'homme fort ["The Strong Man"] (1946) is about a self-created Superman whose efforts to bring happiness to humanity are doomed. In Le diable l'emporte ["The Devil Takes All"] (1948), World War Three ends civilization; the epigraph to the novel reads, in translation, "To our grandfathers and grandchildren, the cavemen". Colomb de la Lune ["Columbus of the Moon"] (1962), a very loose sequel, mitigates this outcome. In Le Grand Secret ["The Great Secret"] (1973) the titular secret, fiercely guarded, is the existence of a virus that enables people to live forever (see Immortality). Une rose au paradis ["A Paradise Rose"] (1981) is a Disaster novel in which advanced atomic weapons, "U-Bombs", cause a new Deluge; the survival and repopulation of the planet via two children, actually called Adam and Eve, is narrated by the Noah-like Monsieur Gé. Typically for Barjavel, the complete destruction of Western civilization is seen, by and large, as a good thing. In his later years, Barjavel concentrated successfully on film studies and celebrations of film stars. He continues to be highly regarded in France, where Ravage is widely taught in schools. [JC/PN/AR]

see also: France.

René Gustave Henri Barjavel

born Nyons, France: 24 January 1911

died Paris: 24 November 1985


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