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     Maurice Renard was born on February 28, 1875 in à Châlons-en-Champagne and died November 18 1939. An admirer since his teens of Edgar Allen Poe, he apparently hoped for a literary career from an early age but studied law and began a legal career at his parents' urging. He later launched the career he truly wanted and became a highly successful and respected author. His stories in most instances were a fusion of science fiction, horror, and mystery story. As a pioneering writer of science fiction novels he was regarded in his lifetime as a peer of H. G. Wells and Jules Verne, and was one of the few science fiction writers of his day to be well regarded in non-genre literary circles. Nevertheless, he is little remembered today outside his native land.  

     Renard wrote about what he termed "le merveilleux scientifique" (the scientific marvelous) and was perhaps the first to suggest that it had become a "new literary genre" which he argued had begun with Edgar Allen Poe and with H. G. Wells "began to flourish in all its full amplitude". He proposed that this new genre should be called "le roman merveilleux-scientifique" (the scientific-marvelous novel). During the same era the British term for this type of writing was "scientific romance". It was decades later that American editor Hugo Gernsbach introduced the term "scientifiction", which soon gained popularity as "science fiction".

      His 1909 article, "Du Roman merveilleux-scientifique et de son action sur l’intelligence du progrès" (On the Scientific-Marvelous Novel and Its Influence on the Understanding of Progress), has only recently become available in English. (See The Fantastic Science Fiction of Maurice Renard.) In the 1909 article, he wrote that this new genre "is the contemporary literary genre which is most akin to philosophy—it is philosophy put into fiction, it is logic dramatized. Born of science and reasoning, it attempts to foreground one with the aid of the other"

     Continuing, he discusses the impact of such fiction on the reader's concept of progress. "Being forcefully convincing by its very rationality, it brutally unveils for us all that the unknown and the uncertain perhaps hold in store for us.... It opens up for us an immeasurable space outside of our immediate sense of well-being.... It fragments our habitual lifestyle and transports us to other points of view outside of ourselves."

     In a 1914 article, "Le Merveilleux scientifique et La Force mystérieuse de J.-H. Rosny aîné" (The Scientific Marvelous and The Mysterious Force by J.-H. Rosny the Elder), he asserts that "the scientific-marvelous novel exerts a very valuable influence on our thought processes. In imagining what might or can happen, we better conceive what is happening; in visualizing what can be...we see more clearly what is.... When we close a scientific-marvelous novel after reading it, when our eyes turn away from this magnifying lens of conjecture (the only one we can apply to the immense unknown), we do not see things in the same way."

     His first science fiction novel, Le Docteur Lerne -- Sous-Dieu (Dr. Lerne -- Undergod), was published in 1908. It was translated into English by Brian Stableford and published in the U.S. as Doctor Lerne in 2010. The story is obviously derivative from H. G. Wells' The Island of Doctor Moreau, which Renard frankly acknowledges, dedicating the novel to Wells. It is a mad scientist novel in which a Dr. Moreau-like surgeon, after years of experimentation in grafting animal parts to plants and vice-versa, develops brain transplant techniques that allow him to interchange brains between animals, between humans, and between animals and humans. As a result of these experiments, he eventually learns how to project his own mind and spirit into other people, animals, trees, and even an automobile. His novel may have shocked some by questioning further than Wells had our cherished belief that there is a fundamental difference between men and beasts. Far more shocking to readers of the day was the amount of erotic content in the novel. It would be about half a century before American and British science fiction writers began to show such eroticism in their works.

      The peril revealed in his 1912 novel, Le Péril Bleu (The Blue Peril), are invisible ethereal aliens who have been exploring the upper atmosphere of our planet, which they regard as one great ocean. When their explorations turn up specimens of humanity they cage them, study them, dissect them, classify them, preserve them, and exhibit them. Eventually, when they come to the realization that men are intelligent beings, the aliens cease "fishing" for these odd two-legged mammals in the thick atmospheric seas of the planet Earth and release their captives. This novel is considered by many to be Renard's masterpiece and differs from most alien menace novels of its day by taking a humanistic and tolerant perspective rather than fearful and xenophobic view of other novels such as Wells' War of the Worlds. It also basically originated the subgenre of stories in which aliens are already here on Earth but are hiding from or invisible to human view. The Blue Peril was also published in a translation by Brian Stableford in 2010.

     The most famous of Renard's novels is Les Mains d'Orlac (The Hands of Orlac). This science fiction/horror story appears to be the first to speculate about the nonsensical concept of body memory (memory or personality that is contained in some part of the body other than the brain) in a transplanted organ asserting control of the transplant recipient. In this story a virtuoso pianist whose hands are injured receives the transplanted hands of an executed murderer and subsequently becomes a murderer himself. It was first published in English in 1929 and has been repeatedly reprinted since. The novel has been adapted four times as movies -- Orlacs Hände (1924) with Conrad Veidt, Mad Love (1935) with Colin Clive and Peter Lorre, and The Hands of Orlac (1960) with Mel Ferrer and Christopher Lee, and Hands of a Stranger (1962) with James Stapleton and Paul Lukather. Director Karl Freund's brilliant 1935 version was Peter Lorre's first American film and was rewritten to place the emphasis on his character as the mad surgeon instead of on the unfortunate patient.

    He published two noteworthy novels in 1923 that I have never found in English translation and so have never read. L'Homme Truqué (The Altered Man) deals with a man blinded during World War I who has "electrostatic" eyes grafted into his head. L'Homme Qui Voulait Être Invisible (The Man Who Wanted To Be Invisible) exposes a scientific fallacy in H. G. Wells’ more famous novel of invisibility, namely that any truly invisible man would also necessarily be blind.

     In this comic tale, which reminds one of "The Emperor's New Clothes", an eccentric scientist achieves only the blindness and not invisibility but believing himself now to be invisible he engages in some very unacceptable behavior like walking around nude in his in-laws’ house while his friends accommodate his eccentric behavior not revealing that they can see him.

     His most controversial novel was the 1925 novel, Le Singe (The Monkey), which was coauthored by Albert Jean. Its plot centers on the police investigation of identical corpses found scattered around the city of Paris. After numerous plot twists it turns out that a scientist has discovered an electrolysis technique that he calls “radiogenesis”, which allows him to duplicate, but not animate, animal (including human) tissue. Using this technique, he has fabricated lifeless clones of himself and scattered them around Paris. All this has been done as a publicity stunt to attract investment capital to continue his scientific research. In a further twist, the scientist subsequently dies but his spirit manages to survive and inhabit the cloned body of his own brother, whose wife he lusts for.

     Le Singe was ferociously attacked by the Roman Catholic Church and the conservative press, who accused the authors of sacrilege. As a result it was blacklisted by many public libraries. As is so often the case with these "banned in Boston" situations, the attacks probably just made it sell more copies. Le Singe was translated into English as Blind Circle in 1928.

     Renard's 1928 novel (apparently actually written in 1908), Un Homme chez les Microbes: Scherzo (A Man Amongst The Microbes: Scherzo), was one of the first science fiction stories about human miniaturization. He may have been the first to propose a micro-world where atoms are microscopic solar systems with electrons as planets -- Ray Cummings’ short story "The Girl in the Golden Atom" was published in 1919 before Renard's novel was published but after it was written. In Renard’s version (in contrast to Richard Matheson’s classic, The Shrinking Man, published 28 years later) his protagonist is a willing participant in the shrinking process but that process runs out of control and, as in Matheson’s novel, he is stalked by the family cat, attacked by various insects, etc.. Interspersed among his adventures are various scientific observations on the passage of time in microscopic versus macroscopic worlds and on the functions of the thyroid and pineal glands. Instead of offering the rather mystical conclusion of the later novel, Renard has his hero shrink to the point that he eventually arrives on an electron-size planet whose scientifically-advanced denizens are able to reverse the shrinking process and send him back home. But even this is not quite the end of the story, that comes in surreal fashion in a final sentence that is a masterstroke of metafiction. This was another Renard novel translated by Brian Stableford and published as A Man Among the Microbes in 2010.

     His final novel, Le Maître de la Lumière (The Light Master), published in1933, introduced the interesting concept of luminite, a glass-like substance that condenses time, permitting you to view the past through it. This substance permits the protagonist to solve a murder mystery. This is another of his novels that has been translated into English by Brian Stableford but I have never seen a copy.