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Rosny aîné, J-H

Principal pseudonym of French-speaking Belgian author Joseph-Henri-HonoréBoëx (1856-1940), in the UK 1875-1884, subsequently in France. He initially signed this name simply J-H Rosny, without an indication of seniority ("aîné" meaning "elder"), and shared this form of the pseudonym with his younger brother Justin; some works published as by J-H Rosny during that period, none of them sf, are collaborative. After 1907, when the brothers separated, the name was divided, Joseph-Henri taking the suffix "aîné" and Justin the suffix "jeune" (see J-H Rosny Jeune). Joseph-Henri Boëx also wrote as Enacryos and as Henri de Noville.

The elder Rosny is second only to Jules Verne in the development of the French Scientific Romance, and is a vital precursor example of the kind of scientifically based speculative sf now generally known as Hard SF. His influence on later Hard Sf authors was, however, relatively inconsequential, as only one of his novels, Le Félin géant (1918-1920 Lectures Pour Tous; 1920; trans The Hon. Lady Whitehead as The Giant Cat 1924; vt Quest of the Dawn Man 1964) was translated into English during his lifetime, and only many years later did his central works begin to appear in English. Damon Knight translated two of his most important novellas: Les Xipéhuz (in L'Immolation ["The Sacrifice"] coll 1887; 1888; trans as "The Shapes" in One Hundred Years of Science Fiction, anth 1968, ed Damon Knight), a Prehistoric SF tale in which an early human society encounters a mysterious and inimical species, either an example of non-convergent Evolution or Aliens, and exterminates them after a savage War; and Un autre monde (1895 Revue Parisienne #5; exp as coll 1898; trans as "Another World" in A Century of Science Fiction, anth 1962, ed Damon Knight) in which a Mutant Superman is enabled, through his extraordinary powers of Perception, to detect a parallel species co-inhabiting our planet (another example of non-convergent evolution). Another central text also appeared later: the fine novella La mort de la terre (29 May-17 July 1910 Annales littéraires et politiques; 1910; trans George Edgar Slusser as The Death of the Earth in The Xipehuz and The Death of the Earth omni 1978; new trans Brian Stableford in The Navigators of Space and Other Alien Encounters omni 2010; further new trans Danièle Chatelain and George Edgar Slusser in Three Science Fiction Novellas: From Prehistory to the End of Time omni 2012). The tale, told in Rosny aîné's tense, telegraphic, blessedly metaphor-shy manner, is set in the Far Future with the final human settlements succumbing to inanition and Disasters both Ecological and catastrophic as the End of the World approaches, leaving only the protagonist to engage in a Last Man hegira, at the close of which he effectively commits suicide, though there is some hint of a Posthuman Transcendence in the final lines.

The most famous of Rosny's many further Prehistoric SF tales, La Guerre du Feu (1909 Je Sais Tout; 1909; cut trans Harold Talbott as The Quest for Fire: A Novel of Prehistoric Times 1967; vt Quest for Fire 1982), was filmed as Quest for Fire (1981). A "translation" of L'étonnant voyage de Hareton Ironcastle ["The Astonishing Journey of Hareton Ironcastle"] (1919) was produced by Philip José Farmer as Ironcastle (1976), but so drastically modified that it cannot be regarded as the same work. Rosny's Prehistoric SF – which includes Vamireh (1892; cut vt Elem d'Asie 1896), Eyrimah (1893) and Helgvor du fleuve bleu ["Helgvor of the Blue River"] (1930) as well as above-mentioned titles – was reissued in France in 1990 by Éditions Robert Laffont in a huge omnibus volume; many of his short sf and fantasy stories, plus his semi-mystical speculative essay on creation and Evolution, La légende sceptique ["The Sceptical Legend"] (1889), and his short novel Les navigateurs de l'infini ["Navigators of Infinity"] (December 1925 Les Œuvres Libres; 1927; exp with "Les Astronautes" as coll 1960) have been assembled in a Marabout collection titled Récits de science-fiction ["Works of Science Fiction"] (coll 1975 Belgium). Rosny's other sf works include La Trésor dans la neige ["The Treasure in the Snow"] (first version August 1920 Lecture Pour Tous as "La grande énigme" ["The Great Enigma"]; 1920) and Les compagnons de l'univers ["Companions of the Universe"] (1934), another lyrical meditation in the vein of La légende sceptique. Le jeune vampire (1920) is an early sf treatment of the Vampire theme.

The elder Rosny is a highly important figure in the development of French speculative fiction, though only one solo work by his brother and collaborator Justin is of any sf interest (see J-H Rosny jeune jeune). In his recent annotated translations of six volumes of Rosny aîné's works, Brian Stableford has opened the door to a broader appreciation of this significant author. This sequence, given here the surtitle of The Science Fiction of J-H Rosny aîné, is registered as a series in the Stableford entry's Checklist; but for convenience, his translations of all the works cited above are given below according to the normal practice of the present encyclopedia, in conjunction with the chronological listing of the original books. [BS/JC]

see also: Anthropology; Benelux; Biology; Cosmology; France; History of SF; Life on Other Worlds; Origin of Man; Religion.

Joseph-Henri-Honoré Boëx

born Brussels, Belgium: 17 February 1856

died Paris: 11 February 1940



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Entry from The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (2011-current) edited by John Clute and David Langford.
Accessed 23:53 pm on 28 June 2022.