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Binet, Laurent

Entry updated 5 May 2021. Tagged: Author.

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(1972-    ) French teacher and author whose earlier work tends to employ metafictional devices, interweaving "nonfictional" modes of historical apprehension and surreal narrative techniques (see Absurdist SF; Fabulation). His first work of interest, Forces et faiblesses de nos muqueuses ["Strengths and Weaknesses of Our Mucus Membranes"] (2000), is an estranged and modestly fictionalized disquisition on the experience of being human; HHhH (2010; trans Sam Taylor 2012) approaches in metafictional terms the World War Two assassination of Reinhard Heydrich (1904-1942). La Septième Fonction du langage (2015; trans Sam Taylor as The 7th Function of Language 2017), treats the genuinely accidental death of Roland Barthes (1915-1980) as the launching point for the investigation of the imaginary crime of his murder, expanding disquisitionally from this incipit into a spoofish recounting of the attempts, by a passel of aspirational Secret Masters, to discover the powerful eponymous Meme, which has a coercive effect on intellectual processes when incanted.

Binet is of direct sf interest for Civilizations (2019; trans Sam Taylor as Civilisations 2021), an Alternate History version of European history whose Jonbar Point is the Viking introduction of horses and iron metallurgy (see Technology) to Native American civilizations as far south as Panama, under the guidance of Freydis, a female leader born in Greenland; she and her cohort vigorously interbreed with native, who are infected with European diseases but gradually acquire immunities five centuries before other Europeans arrive.Christopher Columbus is shot dead by an iron-tipped arrow; Spain's violent establishment of empire (see Imperialism) never occurs. Atahualpa – historically the last Incan emperor, executed by the Spanish in 1533 – and his partner the Cuban Higuénamota (see Feminism; Women in SF) mount an Incan Invasion of Europe; various insights in the Satire of reversal mark the course of Civilisations from this point. Though initially perplexed by the "nailed god" that Europeans seem barbarously to worship (see Religion), but taking full advantage of the murderous schisms of Christians and their love of gold, Atahualpa engages on a process of conquest that neatly mirrors the levered conquest of the historical Incan Empire by Francisco Pizarro (1478-1541).

Eventually, guided in part by the works of Niccoló Machiavelli (1469-1927), Atahualpa becomes Holy Roman Emperor; unlike Pizarro, he and Higuénamota institute universal religious tolerance and establish (though from above) a Utopian governance in which resources and labour are fairly distributed. Science and learning flourish; refreshingly, for instance, the Incans, whose God is the universally impartial Sun, welcome the discoveries of Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543) (see Conceptual Breakthrough), with implied positive consequences for the future. But aftershocks of the Black Death linger (see Pandemic), and a savage Aztec invasion darkens for a while the vision of a juster Europe

In an epilogue composed in the fashion of one of the novellas that intersperse the first part of Don Quixote (1605), Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616) and El Greco (1541-1614) survive picaresque adventures in the new Europe, are given sanctuary by Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592), end up in the multi-ethnic paradise of Cuba. Christopher Evans's Aztec Century (1993) is a predecessor tale; Kim Stanley Robinson's The Years of Rice and Salt (2002), whose opening sections are also set in a transformed sixteenth century, shares the utopian drive of the tale. In synopsis, Binet may exhibit a slightly icy frivolity familiar to readers of French satire in general, specifically perhaps the work of authors like Michel Houellebecq or Michel Tournier; but his patent enthusiasm softens this edge. [JC]

Laurent Binet

born Paris, France: 19 July 1972

works (selected)

  • Forces et faiblesses de nos muqueuses ["Strengths and Weaknesses of Our Mucus Membranes"] (Paris, France: Le Manuscrit, 2000) [binding unknown/]
  • HHhH (Paris, France: Bernard Grasset, 2010) [binding unknown/]
    • HHhH (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012) [trans by Sam Taylor of the above: hb/]
  • La Septième Fonction du langage (Paris, France: Bernard Grasset, 2015) [binding unknown/]
  • Civilizations (Paris, France: Éditions Grasset et Fasquelle, 2019) [binding unknown/]
    • Civilisations (London: Harvill Secker, 2021) [trans by Sam Taylor of the above: hb/various sources]


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