The genres of literature, including science-fiction, fantasy, horror, and crime fiction, have a long tradition in France. They were popularized as early as the 19th century by authors such as Alexandre Dumas, who wrote adventure novels such as “The Three Musketeers”, and Jules Verne, who created tales of anticipation such as “From the Earth to the Moon”. These authors paved the way for other writers, such as H.G. Wells, who wrote science-fiction classics such as “The War of the Worlds”, “The Invisible Man”, and “The Time Machine”, as well as Edgar Allan Poe, who is considered the inventor of the detective novel and who influenced many science-fiction and fantasy authors.
In the 1950s-1970s, genre literature in France experienced a revival thanks to authors such as J.G. Ballard, Michel Jeury, Serge Brussolo, Pierre Bordage, and Maurice G. Dantec. These writers wrote ambitious novels that explored social, political, and metaphysical themes, while also exploiting the codes and conventions of popular genres. Since then, genre literature has continued to evolve in France, with the emergence of new authors such as Victor Dixen, Samantha Bailly, and Aurélie Wellenstein, who have brought new energy and vision to these genres.
Today, genre literature continues to be popular in France, with thousands of readers eagerly awaiting each new publication. French authors of science-fiction, fantasy, horror, and crime fiction are recognized internationally for their creativity, originality, and talent, and contribute to enriching the world’s literary heritage.
Pulps, those popular magazines that enjoyed great success in America in the 1890s, also had a big influence in France in the 1920s and 1930s. Magazines such as “Le Journal de Mickey,” “Je sais tout,” “Le Petit Écho de la mode,” and “Le Miroir des sports” offered cheap serialized novels, comics, and entertaining articles that were highly popular with the public.
Pulps had a big impact on popular culture, especially in the areas of science fiction, horror, and crime fiction. Famous writers such as H.P. Lovecraft, Isaac Asimov, and Ray Bradbury began their careers writing short stories for the pulps. Pulps also inspired movies, television shows, and video games, and helped shape the collective imagination of modern society.
The term “pulp” indeed refers to cheap literature, the kind of dime novel that allowed readers to travel to distant planets, the jungle, or to solve thrilling crime investigations. Pulps were often printed on low-quality paper such as “woodpulp,” which was cheaper than higher-quality paper. This cost-saving measure allowed for low prices and made pulps accessible to a broad audience.
Today, pulps still have passionate fans who collect magazines and books, perpetuating the legacy of these cheap yet fascinating publications. Pulps remain a fascinating testament to the cultural history of modern society and how popular leisure has evolved over time.
A man by the name of Edgar Rice Burroughs understood that cheapness did not exclude quality. He started by writing “The Conquerors of Mars”, with a hero named John Carter, before moving on to write “Tarzan”, a work that became hugely successful. Similarly to today’s reciprocal influence between movies, video games and the world of books, genre literature feeds off of different media and allows for the emergence of great writers through magazines such as Weird Tales, Astounding Science-Fiction, and Black Mask. H.P. Lovecraft and his Cthulhu myth, Robert E. “Conan the Barbarian” Howard, Edmond “Captain Future” Hamilton, Robert “Starship Troopers” Heinlein, and the crime fiction author Raymond Chandler all started their careers in these magazines. At the age of fifteen, Robert Bloch maintained regular correspondence with Lovecraft, who encouraged him. Bloch would later become the author of the novel Psycho, brilliantly adapted into a feature film by Alfred Hitchcock, and the screenwriter of several Star Trek episodes for television.
Starting in the 1980s, this porosity between media would intensify with a visionary author: Philip K. Dick. His books would influence several generations of artists in film and television, and would be adapted, such as Minority Report (Steven Spielberg), Blade Runner (Ridley Scott), Total Recall (Paul Verhoeven), Truman Show (Peter Weir), and A Scanner Darkly (Richard Linklater). Genre literature has never been more relevant than in 2022 with the success of Dune, inspired by the science-fiction novel by Frank Herbert, but also on the small screen with the series Foundation by Isaac Asimov. Given the success of great French authors such as Pierre Bordage (The Warriors of Silence), Jean-Philippe Jaworski (Winning the War), and Alain Damasio (The Windwalkers’ Horde), it is clear that this phenomenon is far from over…