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Le roman de l'avenir, here translated as The Novel of the Future, was first published in 1834. Although the book attracted little attention at the time, it was solidly established within the canon of landmark works in the prehistory of science fiction by a glowing report in Pierre Versins' Encyclopédie de l'utopie et de la science fiction (1972). It subsequently became the climactic work considered in Paul Alkon's study of The Origins of Futuristic Fiction (1987).
As an image of life in the second half of 20th century--the era in which its action is set--Le roman de l'avenir scores higher in its anticipations of moral progress than technological progress. Writing in 1834, Bodin is easily able to anticipate the increasing importance of steam power in shipping, railways and all kinds of manufacturing processes. His anticipations of the future of aerial travel are, inevitably, solely based on his experience of balloons; he is able to imagine dirigible aerostats propelled by artificial wing-power. He is on safer ground in anticipating the further decline of monarchical power, a corresponding increase in democracy, the increasing importance of joint-stock companies and the eventual globalization of world politics. His conviction that it will not be easy to put an end to war, even after the last major global-political issue has been apparently settled for good and all, also proved sadly justified, although he would surely have been horrified by the extent to which warfare remained a familiar and ever-present method of settling disputes throughout the 20th century...
Brian M. Stableford has been a professional writer since 1965. He has published more than 60 science fiction and fantasy novels, as well as several authoritative non-fiction books. He is also translating the works of Paul Féval and other French writers of the fantastique for Black Coat Press which also published his most two recent fantasy novels: The New Faust at the Tragicomique, The Wayward Muse and The Stones of Camelot.
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Stableford has done sf scholarship an immense service by providing Bodin’s landmark work in a form that will not vanish when you go to read it. Great thanks are also due Black Coat Press, which according to its web site (given at the head of this review) “is primarily devoted to publishing English-language translations of classics of French popular literature, as well as comics and stage plays.” Included in this project is a large agenda of translations of early sf and neighboring genres, with an awesome number of these also done by Stableford. Rivière Blanche, a sister division of Black Coat, “publishes French sf novels in French, for the French market.” Brush up your French and check them out too via a link at Black Coat’s web site. Certainly everyone interested in the history of sf should have Stableford’s translation of Le Roman de l’avenir. To read it is to understand better what futuristic fiction is or at least ought to be. To read Stableford’s comments on Bodin’s relevance, whether in agreement or disagreement, is to see what is at stake in how sf presents its marvels.—Paul K. Alkon, University of Southern Califonia. SF STUDIES #108.
- The Novel of the Future (Le Roman de l'Avenir, 1834);
Introduction and Notes by Brian Stableford.