The Camp of the Saints

Essay: The Camp of the Saints, Jean Raspail, trans. Norman Shapiro, 1973, 2018.

Would you kill to preserve civilization? Specifically, would you kill defenseless children, women, and men to preserve civilization?

That is the question posed by Raspail’s novel, surely the most significant science fiction novel written in 1973 and certainly still the most talked about.

The novel’s theme is encapsulated by a remark of the French president in a radio address as Easter Sunday becomes Easter Monday:

cowardice towards the weak is cowardice at its most subtle, and, indeed, its most deadly.

We’ll return to that radio address later.

Reading this book, to say nothing of liking it and agreeing with its message, is enough to get you denounced and used as a weapon against you if you are a politician. In the month since I read this, that indeed happened to one American politician. You can do the experiment yourself. Do a Google search using “The Camp of the Saints” and “Raspail” and look at the first 12 pages. Three quarters of the entries will use words like “hateful”, “lurid”, “despicable”, and, of course, “racist” to describe the book.

Originally, I was going to do a three-part series on this book: the story, reactions to it, and the validity of its projections. Frankly, I didn’t think most people would want to read that nor would I change any minds in the related moral and political arguments.

So, I’ll mostly describe the book and conclude with some brief thoughts on its relevancy and place in science fiction.

You’ll get a better sense of the book here that any other place online I think.

Continue reading “The Camp of the Saints”

The Road to Science Fiction, Volume 5

I strongly recommend James Gunn’s six volume The Road to Science Fiction anthology series as a good look at the history of Anglophone science fiction. In the sixth volume, foreign language science fiction is covered.

However, I only reviewed this volume.

A retro review from September 2, 2003.

Review: The Road to Science Fiction, Volume 5: The British Way, ed. James Gunn, 1998.Road to Science Fiction

Several novels are excerpted here. And one prominent one isn’t: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein which Gunn argues is a transition from the gothic but not yet fully in the camp of self-aware science fiction. Lt. Col. Sir George Tomkyns Chesney’s The Battle of Dorking is the first of those future war novels written by politicians and military men determined to influence public policy. Edwin A. Abbott’s Flatland, still in print, is a charming tale of life and culture in a two-dimensional world. That incomparable giant of science fiction, Olaf Stapledon, is represented by a selection from Star Maker, narrated by a “cosmical mind” who views the life of the universe. (Though oddly, in this volume, Gunn barely mentions his importance to the genre. For that, you must consult volume two.) The title for the section on Richard Jeffries After London; Or, Wild England is “The Craving for Catastrophe”. It is a pastoral tale of a simpler life after an unexplained disaster has befallen the country.

That craving shows up in several more tales. Killer smog hits the city in Robert Barr’s 1892 story “The Doom of London.” “The Great Fog” of H. F. Heard wipes out worldwide civilization. Life gets extinguished on an alien planet in Arthur C. Clarke’s much anthologized “The Star”. The Nature of the Catastrophe” in Michael Moorcock’s story of that name is never really explained. An amalgam of newspaper excerpts and fiction, this story unfortunately shares the oblique prose and loose setting of his Jerry Cornelius novels. Not readable in its own right, it still gives you some idea of Moorcock’s influence on the New Wave. Tanith Lee’s “Written in Water” is a last woman on Earth tale. The world that may be destroyed by an artist in J. D. Beresford “A Negligible Experiment” is our own. The disaster of John Wyndham’s “The Emptiness of Space” is a personal one. Its hero has survived a spell in cryonic suspension and fears his soul has left his body.

As you would expect, the anthology is full of several famous names. Continue reading “The Road to Science Fiction, Volume 5”