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Houellebecq, Michel

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.

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(1958-    ) French author, born Michel Thomas, though he took his grandmother's surname for his writing, and is known only under that name. His first work of genre interest is the intensely argued H.P. Lovecraft: Contre le monde, contre la vie (1991; trans Dorna Khazeni as H.P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life 2005), which includes two H P Lovecraft stories to demonstrate that both authors share a horror of the world describable in terms of Vastation (see Horror in SF); the translation includes a long introduction by Stephen King.

After a deeply depressive first novel, Extension du domaine de la lutte (1994; trans Paul Hammond as Whatever 1998), which contains no overt fantastic element, he published Les particules élémentaires (1998; trans Frank Wynne as Atomized 2000; vt The Elementary Particles 2000), an sf novel which ends about fifty years into the twenty-first century, when Cloning has become routine, though the inevitable decay and depersonalization of human beings as they age – a disgusted apprehension of Entropy is a constant in Houellebecq's work – savagely flattens the portrayal of the middle Near Future presented in the tale. His next novel, Plateforme (2001; trans Frank Wynne as Platform 2002), edges towards the very Near Future in its description of the establishment of Sex clubs in Thailand, in its ruthless mockery of the Moslem faith, and in the terrorist bombing that terminates the active plot. La possibilité d'une île (2005; trans Gavin Bowd as The Possibility of an Island 2006) intensifies Houellebecq's bleak default message to the species: that the totalitarian sovereignty of the gene ensures two things: we will sacrifice anything in order, ultimately, to have Sex; and as we age, and sex disappears, there is nothing left of the human condition but froth and torment. This message is conveyed here through a nested sequence of narratives by the twenty-first century protagonist and by his Clones, centuries on, after the First Decrease and the Second Decrease have reduced the world's population to a tiny fraction of its twenty-first-century maximum. Houellebecq's work as a whole may be seen to climax in the remorseless focus of this novel on the uselessness in human terms of the genetic killing fields of sex, as we dwindle from clone to clone upon a planet we have made into a desert which mirrors us, and then snuff out. Soumission ["Submission"] (2015) projects a Near Future France that has elected a Moslem government, which imposes strictures on society along conservative lines, which include the relegation of women (see Women in SF) to subsidiary roles. [JC]

Michel Houellebecq

born Réunion: 26 February 1958




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