, by Stéphane Beauverger, which has won (according to Wikipedia
) the Grand prix de l'Imaginaire 2010
, the Prix européen Utopiales des pays de la Loire 2009
, the Nouveau Grand Prix de la science-fiction française 2009
, the Prix Bob-Morane 2010
, and the Prix Imaginales des Lycéens 2012
Maybe you need you need to be a hard core science fiction read to appreciate how good this book really is. There's a popular sub-genre of science fiction known as "alternative history", and one sub-sub-genre of this asks the question, "What happens if (semi-)modern people are sent back to a particular society in the past?" Some popular examples of this subgenre include:
- Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court.
- Outlander (the novels and TV series), about a World War II nurse sent back to 1743.
- The much sillier Outlander, about a space fighter pilot dropped somewhere in the Viking era. This is notable mostly for this deeply unpleasant but highly efficient language learning technology.
- 1632, a novel about a small West Virginia mining town that gets ripped out of the modern era and dumped into the middle of the 30 years war.
...and so on. For the most part, these books and films are pretty much fluff. They have a tendency to show off how awesome modern technology and knowledge really is.
But sometimes you get some of the very best ideas by talking a clichéd idea, and turning it around in a clever way. And that's what Le Déchronologue
does. Instead of telling the story from the perspective of a modern person sent back in time, it tells the story from the perspective of somebody living in the 1600s whose world is being overrun by people from other times.
The narrator is a French-speaking pirate captain, a protestant and a Huguenot, who participated in a failed rebellion and who finds it much safer to live in the Caribbean. He's drunkard and cynic, but he sees himself as a principled man who happens to have done a few unfortunate things. He's keenly intelligent and observant. And his biggest concern is escaping the Spanish ships that are attempting to capture pirates.
But meanwhile, there are some strange ships on the waters: An armada which appears to belong the Alexander the Great. A US Navy destroyer. Strange dirigibles that float in the sky, disappearing and reappearing. And we see all this through the eyes of somebody from the 1600s, as he tries to understand and adapt to the changes in his world.
I particularly enjoyed the writing: It had all the charms of a classic sailing novel like Master and Commander
, with a wealth of nautical details. The narrator is charming but unreliable. And—as befits a novel about the breakdown of time—the chapters are utterly out of order (including the chapter numbers), resulting in constant flashbacks and flashforwards. And there are many lovely "set pieces", opportunities for the author and the reader to enjoy the premise, including:
- A pirate ship sitting in a harbor, with an MP3 player and a speaker system captured from who knows what ship, playing classical music over the waters.
- A battle with cannons that disrupt time.
- The battle which opens and closes the novel: we know from the first page that the narrator and his ship are doomed beyond all hope.
Anyway, if you're B2+ science fiction fan learning French, I recommend this novel highly. At least as far as I'm concerned, it's better than any alternative history that I've ever read in English, and if it were ever translated, it would stand an excellent shot at winning more prizes.