Wednesday 30 June 2010

Doctor Lerne, Subgod, by Maurice Renard

This volume, the first of five collecting the complete scientific marvel fiction of Maurice Renard, "the French H.G. Wells", includes a story, "Monsieur Dupont's Vacation", a novel which shares the book's title, and an essay, "Scientific Marvel Fiction and its Effect on the Consciousness of Progress".

Monsieur Dupont, a maker of sewing machines and bicycles, receives an invitation from his friend Professor Gambertin to holiday in Les Ormes for a season. Gambertin is an amateur palaeontologist, and caught up in his enthusiasm Dupont spends his holiday digging for dinosaur bones. But what's been nibbling at the bushes? Could one of the dinosaurs have somehow survived?

Doctor Lerne is a Moreauvian figure working to graft parts both physical and spiritual from one species to another, from animals to plants, from humans to animals. When a nephew comes to visit it interferes with plans both scientific and romantic, and the outcome can only be tragic. Well, tragic – and rather funny, and quite raunchy. I note without disclosing spoilers that this novel's narrative approach had interesting parallels in the next book I read, Twisthorn Bellow, by Francophile Rhys Hughes.

Renard writes extremely well, and there's a sly wit in evidence throughout. There's Flaubertian mockery of the scientific mindset, and Moliere's delight in flim-flam and doubletalk. Though an intellectual writer, he is entertainingly cruel to his characters. As with Brian Stableford's other translations for Black Coat Press there's an exceptionally useful amount of apparatus, making this a very attractive package. For more information on the series see the interview with Stableford in Dark Horizons #56.

Doctor Lerne, Subgod, by Maurice Renard, tr. Brian Stableford, Black Coat Press, pb, 328pp. Amazon US. Amazon UK.

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