Maurice Renard

Maurice RenardMaurice Renard (1875-1939) is generally reckoned to be the most important French writer of science fiction between the time of Jules Verne and J.H. Rosny aîné and the writers of the Second World War and after.

He was born in Châlons-sur-Marne, but was brought up in Reims, where his father was a magistrate. He spent his summers at Hermonville, where his grandparents owned the castle of Saint-Rémy (which was destroyed in 1918); his own parents lived in a house in the park.  He became a boarder at l’École Monge in Paris in 1887, and then went to school in Reims from 1892 to 1894. He did three years military service in Reims from 1896 to 1899, which is when he discovered the science fiction of H.G. Wells. In 1899 he started to study law in Paris, but gave it up to write.

He published his first collection of short stories (Fantômes et fantoches) in 1905: the inspiration of Wells can be clearly seen. His first novel, Le docteur Lerne—Sous-Dieu appeared in 1908; it was dedicated to Wells (and obviously inspired by The Island of Dr MoreauLe Péril bleu came in 1912, which imagined powerful invisible created who live in the upper atmosphere (possibly inspiredly by a reading of Arthur Conan Doyle’s short story “The Horror of the Heights“).

After his war service he published Les Mains d’Orlac (1922), which was adapted three times for the cinema, most recently in 1962, starring Mel Ferrer and Christopher Lee. It is about a classical pianist who receives the transplanted hands of a murderer, and who turns into a murderer himself.  L’Homme Truqué (1923) is about grafting electronic eyes of onto a man blinded during the First World War. L’Homme Qui Voulait Être Invisible (1923) exposes one scientific fallacy inherent in Wells’ The Invisible Man (an invisible man would have no retina, and would therefore be blind). Le Singe (1925), co-written wit Albert Jean, imagined a kind of cloning process for living beings: it was attacked by the Church as sacrilegious, and banned from some public libraries. Un Homme chez les Microbes: Scherzo (1928) was about a man who submits himself to a runaway shrinking process (cf. Richard Matheson’s The Incredible Shrinking Man, 1956). Le Maître de la Lumière (1933) introduced the idea of a glass that slowed down time (cf. the slow glass of Bob Shaw’s  “Light of Other Days”, 1966).

Renard received a good deal of recognition for his novels in his lifetime; he became vice-president of the Société des gens de lettres. He died in Rochefort (Charente-Maritime) in 1939 following a surgical operation, and was buried on the nearby island of Oléron, where he had a small house.

Brian Stableford has translated the following works by Maurice Renard: A Man Among the Microbes and Other Stories (2010); Doctor Lerne, Subgod (2010); The Blue Peril (2010); The Doctored Man and Other Stories (2010); and The Master of Light (2010).

My information mostly comes from Wikipédia.

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