Les Hommes marqués (1976) by Julia Verlanger (Gilles Thomas)

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This post will primarily be a detailed summary of the novel. If you can read French and are planning to read this novel in the future, then consider this a spoiler warning.

Les Hommes marqués (The Marked Men) is the second book published in 1976 by Julia Verlanger under her other pseudonym, Gilles Thomas. Just as Les Portes sans Retour, this novel is set in the distant future, where humanity has colonized many different worlds.Garral Saltienne, the protagonist of our novel, is a citizen of Terra, and one of the people who fought for Terra’s autonomy from the Associated Worlds. The war for Terra’s independence is hopeless; a lost yet worthy cause. Garral, as well as many other people, are captured and forced into slavery. An intricate network of a substance called vadium is grafted to their nervous system to ensure obedience. The vadium, which is remotely connected to a box, controls the Garral and his compatriots by inflicting incredible amounts of pain when activated by their masters.

To add insult to injury, a massive A is tattooed to their foreheads, indicating to everyone they meet that they are androids. There are two types of androids in the galaxy: one is a robot that is designed to appear and act human, the other are humans that have been forced into slavery through the use of vadium. Garral’s android classification: ATOF, à tout faire, a jack-of-all-trades.

At the beginning of the story Garral is being taken from Terra to one of the Associated Worlds, Talsie, where he is sold to a man who considers Garral and a few other androids an investment whose values will increase as the slave market dries up. The man bought men only, and fit, able-bodied men, as they bring in the most value. Garral, a few weeks after arriving on Talsie, is sold to a rich, middle aged woman, Marri Saurgal, who treats him more as a pet than as human – or as a servant. She parades him around in front of her peers and sleeps with him whenever she wants.

Life isn’t particularly hard with Marri, until, during a party, Garral is tortured, through the use of the vadium-controlling box, while Marri is too intoxicated to intervene, in front of all of her guests. After this incident Garral vows to escape at the first opportunity that presents itself. One does so when Garral brings Marri to the spaceport to see her off when she is invited to a planet he isn’t welcome on and he encounters one of the other men, Carmal, who lived with him briefly before being sold to Marri. Together they plot to escape Talsie; Carmal murders his owner and they steal one of his space crafts.

They fly to a planet called Last Chance, a lifeless rock whose interior has been terraformed to suit human life and which is the only safe harbor for criminals and escaped slaves. Upon arriving they apply for citizenship, which they can only attain after passing three dangerous tests, individually. Garral’s first two tests, climbing up a long, extremely hot shaft, and fighting a robotic android to death, are passed with some challenge.

It is the third test that affects Garral the most. Since Last Chance is essentially a dead planet with a complex underground habitat scientists experimented with the DNA of food-producing plants to increase their wields. A vast underground cavern was converted into a kind of biodome for this experiment, and animal life, such as pollinators, were released into the artificial biome. In true science-fiction form, though, the plant and animal life mutated beyond control and instead of destroying it all, the area was sealed off for future study. For the third test Garral is deposited at one end of the now overgrown jungle and told to hike, for 10 days, to the other side, and if he survives, he’ll gain his citizenship. As he camps one night he is stung by a nocturnal butterfly and becomes deathly ill, but survives, and manages to make it to his destination.

Days later he notices changes to his body; big changes. His cells have mutated, increasing the power of his immune system which removes the A from his forehead and the vadium in his nervous system. He develops other abilities as well. With his newfound abilities he vows to right the wrongs that led him to this point.

 

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I was going to write some commentary with a few excerpts here and there but I’ve decided to leave that for another post. Les Hommes marqués is the second of four novels and one short story in volume 2. I think I will write an all-encompassing critique once I’ve finished this volume.

The next novel in the collection is La Jungle de Pierre (The Stone Jungle), published in 1979 under the pseudonym Gilles Thomas. Look for the summary here in about 2 weeks time.

Les Portes Sans Retour (1976) by Julia Verlanger

cvt_les-portes-sans-retour_1962Years ago when I began investigating French science-fiction one name that always popped up was Julia Verlanger. Author of over 20 novels, Verlanger was one of the most prolific and influential writers of French SFF, often publishing her work under the pseudonym Gilles Thomas — Julia Verlanger is also a pseudonym, her real name being Éliane Taïeb, née Grimaître. In 1985 she passed away at the age of 55 and the following, in ode to her work and legacy in the genre, her husband, Jean-Pierre, founded the Julia-Verlanger Foundation, and the Prix Julia-Verlanger, which is awarded by jury to an author for a science-fiction or fantasy novel of high quality. Notable winners are Yoss for Planet for Rent, in 2011, and Neil Gaiman for Neverwhere in 1999.

The French-language publisher Bragelonne released the entire works published by Verlanger/Thomas in a five-volume set, curated by French SF author Laurent Genefort (more about him in the future).

Recently I took out one of these massive volumes from my city’s main library: Volume 2: Récits de la Grande Explosion (Tales of the Grand Explosion). The first volume, which the library unfortunately has misplaced, contains the novels Verlanger wrote in her “Savage Highway” setting, a sort of Mad Max setting published three years before the first Mad Max film. Most of the rest of the novels that she wrote are set in the same universe, where humanity is no longer confined to Earth and has colonized innumerable planets throughout the galaxie.

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For someone who was as prolific a writer as Verlanger, and who has had such influence over the French speculative genre, there exists no English translations of any of her novels and only one instance — that I could scrunge up — of a short story in a French science-fiction anthology published in 1976.

Due to the success that Verlanger has had I think that she deserves the same exposure as her English-speaking contemporaries. I intend to read as many of her novels as I can and write a summary and review when I can.

Les Portes sans Retour (The Gates of No Return) follows Gyall Darra, a transporter of goods and owner of a starship. During a stopover on the planet Allègre and while he’s enjoying an old-fashioned, honest-to-God, homemade dinner at his favorite diner he notices a strikingly beautiful, young woman at a neighboring table. When a brawl breaks out after the woman rebukes a bunch of brutes who were hitting on her Gyall stands up for her. After the fight ends and they flee the scene together Gyall discovers the woman’s identity: Missie Oléone, daughter of one of the richest and most powerful men in the galaxy. She’s in search of her trouble-making, attention and adventure-seeking twin brother, Axin. She claims to be able to feel him, through some unknown sense, and knows that he has passed one of the Gates of No Return, and she’s looking for help to find him and bring him back. She insists that Gyall is the one who’ll help her. When he refuses she uses her wealth and father’s influence to have Gyall arrested and put in jail and tells him that he’ll remain there until he agrees to help her. Her influence, not to mention her beauty, proves to be too much for him and he concedes. Together they find the Gate and pass through it.

The gates are called the Gates of No Return because, obviously, anyone who’s ever entered them has ever returned. Once one the other side they are confronted with a series of long-lasting, frustrating and always dangerous trials. During one such trial they are sent back in time, to Paris in the 2050s, where the fashion style and general populace’s social behaviors are absurd. The danger for them during this time is the fact that many of the world’s nations are fascist and that in three years most of the world’s population will perish in biological warfare.

They come to believe, through their series of trials, that they are being manipulated by a higher being which they come to call “Le Salaud” (the Bastard). Gyall and Missie, after weeks upon weeks of suffering the mental and physical trauma of the Bastard’s trials, swear that they will kill him, if they ever find him.

The book definitely felt like a sci-fi novel of the 1970’s. Fantastical alien creatures, strange settings, and typical sci-fi gender roles. I often pictured one of those pulpy sci-fi covers while reading this book. Gyall fighting a giant spider with a knife with Missie’s arms wrapped around his bulging, naked chest.

Regardless, this was Verlanger’s first published novel, and I’m looking forward to reading more.

Corvus by Harold Johnson (2015)

26840855._UY2550_SS2550_Where would you escape to after global warming has evaporated most of the world’s water, and after two intra-American wars for resources have devastated the societies of America? Northward, of course. Specifically La Ronge, Central Saskatchewan.

     Escape. That’s one of the traits shared by most of the people in Harold Johnson’s Corvus. Take George Taylor, a prosecutor in the Department of Justice, who dreams of moving to Bel Arial, the city floating in the clouds above La Ronge. He, however, hasn’t quite attained the societal status or weight requirements to do so. As an alternative he invests in an ORV, Organic Recreational Vehicle, based on the design and genetics of a raven. The vehicle becomes his form of escape from the prosecutions against the poorer people of La Ronge that he increasingly finds unfair.

     Justice and the treatment of people is a major part of the philosophy of the novel. Johnson, as prosecutor himself in La Ronge, Saskatchewan, and a member of the Cree nation intricately weaves together his knowledge and experience of the legal profession with the legends and philosophies of the Cree. This novel is definitely a good read but should not be read if one is looking for action and suspense as it focuses more on the relationships and philosophies of the characters.

Janua Vera (2008) by Jean-Philippe Jaworski

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Background

The Old Kingdom has collapsed after the death of the God-King Leodegar the Radiant. After his death the kingdom collapses into many warring fiefdoms and duchies. Born out of this chaos are noble heroes, remorseless assassins, and bloodthirsty barbarians.

 

Story

This novel is made up of a series of novellas of various lengths. Essentially the purpose of the book is worldbuilding for later novels.

One of the stories follows assassin Benvenuto Gesufal, who lives in the Republic of Ciudalia, as he tries to carry out a contract. Things, of course, don’t go according to plan and he is forced to flee for some time before he decides to confront his mark. The story is intriguing and well written, but its purpose, much like the rest of the stories, is to provide exposition.

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About the Author

(Translated from jacket)

Jean-Philippe Jaworski, born in 1969, is the creator of two role playing games: Tiers Age and Te Deum pour un massacre. He combines a Peter S. Beagle-like cheekiness and love of fairy tales with an Alexandre Dumas-like cleverness and sense of adventure. His first collection of short stories, Janua Vera, was awarded the Prix du Cafard Cosmique in 2008. His first novel, Gagner la guerre (To Win the War), was released in 2009.

 

Commentary

 

When I began reading this book I found it quite enjoyable, but despite Jaworski’s writing skill, which is quite good indeed, I found my mind beginning to wander at some parts and it really was a struggle to finish the book. If I were to recommend this book to anyone it would be people interested in a Dark Ages, feudalistic fantasy setting, but casual fantasy readers would find this a bore, in my opinion.

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The Maerlande Chronicles by Élisabeth Vonarburg

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Originally published as La Chronique du Pays des Mères (1992)

 

 

Background

Nuclear war has ravaged the planet and its population, large areas of Europe have been irradiated and rendered inhospitable, sea levels have risen, and a genetic imbalance has afflicted Humanity; women outnumber men 70 to 1.

The future of humanity lies in the strict supervision of the bloodlines in the Mother’s Land, or Maerlande. After the Decline, men restructured their society, enslaving women and sequestering them into brutal and violent Harems. The oppression and forced servitude of women gave rise to revolts against the Chiefs of these Harems and out of the turmoil came a voice, the voice of Garde, who argued in favour of non-violent emancipation and who preached the Word of Elli, out of whose womb came the Earth and all who live upon it, and who would forever weave her Tapestry.

But a thirst for revenge against the Harem Chiefs, and an impatience for action, drove a group of women to act before Garde’s non-violent means came to fruition. Garde herself was executed, and resurrected, and executed again. The male-organized Harems were then displaced, and mimicked, by the female-organized Hives, which were just as violent as the Harems before them.

Eventually the Hives evolved into the utopic-like Mother’s Land, or Maerlande, and split into self-governing provinces. Lisbeï, our protagonist, is born in one of these provinces, almost 500 years later.

 

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Story

Lisbeï begins her life in the Garderie, where all children born of the Bethely bloodline, in the province of Litale, are raised. There she meets Tula, her best friend, love of her life, and half-sister. Together they learn about Elli and the Tapestry that she is forever weaving. Lisbeï’s part in that Tapestry is to succeed her own mother, Selva, who Lisbeï doesn’t meet until leaving the Garderie, as the Capta, or Mother with a capital M, of Bethely.

The Malady that has affected humanity is forever evolving, however, and Lisbeï contracts it later than anticipated, rendering her sterile. Lisbeï, who has become somewhat bitter in regards to the role that is slipping away from her, and in an act of teenage rebellion, explores the ancient underground of Bethely, against the wishes of her mother, and discovers an old notebook which brings the past of Maerlande and its beliefs into question.

After Lisbeï is declared sterile, and replaced by Tula as Capta of Bethely, she is sent away, to the biggest city in Maerlande, where she learns more about herself, about the position and the plight of men, and her society in general.

 

About the Author

Élisabeth Vonarburg was born in Paris, France in 1947 and moved to Chicoutimi, Quebec, Canada in 1973. She has written more than fifteen novels in the science fiction and fantasy category and translated into French more than twenty, including Guy Gavriel Kay’s Fionavar Tapestry trilogy. She was also the literary director of the French-Canadian science fiction and fantasy magazine Solaris for eleven years, from 1979 to 1990.

Publication History and Awards

The original French version of the novel was published in 1992 by Québec/Amérique and won the Aurora Award the following year. The first edition of the English translation, entitled In the Mother’s Land, was published the same year by Bantam Spectra Books and was nominated for the Triptree Award in 1992 and won the special citation of the Philip K Dick Award the following year. A second English edition was published in 1993 under the title The Maerlande Chronicles by Edge/Tesseract Books.

 

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Commentary

I started reading the French version first. What struck me the most while reading it was Vonarburg’s use of language: French, like all romance languages, assigns genders to everything, and Vonarburg plays with this in the novel. Since the world is populated predominantly by females, the words for objects, living beings and time have evolved to reflect this influence. For example the months of the year, mars, avril, décembre (March, April, December) are changed to marsie, avrilie, and décème, whereas the seasons, printemps, hiver (spring, winter) are called printane and hiverne. Children in French are called ‘enfants,’ but since most of the children and the authorities of this world are women, every child is called an ‘enfante.’

English has evolved over time to drop the genders of words and so I was curious to see what the translator of the novel, Jane Brierley, had done to keep that aspect of the book and I was surprised to see her results: March becomes Marsa, and winter becomes wintra; ‘children’ is hard to feminize in a genderless language, but she gets around it by writing ‘childreen.’ Furthermore, when a group of women are riding horses they become ‘cavalieras’ and when they are visitors they are called ‘visitas.’

In sum I think that Vonarburg’s book is a very good example of French science fiction and that Jane Brierley’s translation is more than just faithful to the original, it is very creative in regards to language in its own right.

Unfortunately the English version of the novel, published by Tesseract Books, is no longer in print, nor is it available in ebook format. Used copies are of course available from Amazon or from AbeBooks.

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Currently I am reading Les Pierres Couchés by Jacques Vandroux on my iPad. The book is self-published through Smashwords and is no afternoon read, almost 900 pages. But it has sucked me right in; I’m about 75% through it. The story follows Phillipe Dubreuil, an architect whose children have been kidnapped during a visit to the Louvre in Paris, and his ensuing investigation, which sets him on a path to confront a cult attempting to resurrect a demon. His investigations take him throughout France, including one of the oversea departments in the Caribbean, making the acquaintances of many allies and enemies.

I will post my thoughts when I’ve finished reading.

Les Pierres Couchées