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Jean-Francois Mopin is a callow Frenchman who has written a science fiction novel in English. Jean-Francois succeeds insofar that he reveals a writer with a great deal of potential. However, that potential is not actualized in his latest novel, herein reviewed.
The problem is a philosophical one. You see Jean-Francois (and yes, I do like that name, it sort of rolls off the lips) is immersed in the Sartrean "moi," that existentialist derailment so popular with the rebellious youth of the 60's and 70's, and mercilessly spends 326 pages writing the new liturgy of individual self-justification through sexual relief with anything warm, available, and inclined, the obligatory sacrifice to the gods of environmentalism, women's rights, and political correctness, and the usual iteration of the classical Gnostic structure reflecting Hegel's magical speculation.
The other aspect of this novel, the structure of the story, while having potential never quite achieves the nexus between the psyche of the author and the heart of the reader that signals literary success. There are just no epiphanies!
The story itself fails on two levels, form and plot. In the latter, the problem is that's the construction is just too complicated. The author works assiduously to cram in as many science fiction concepts, all of which are quite brilliant and even original, as he can and the first casualty in his relentlessness is the failure to meaningfully develop his characters, and if you're going to write a novel that incorporates human beings, even though they're human beings 35,000 years from now, that's something you really, really want to do.
For example Jean-Francois fails to develop a nuanced comprehension of his lead character, the future Lioness of the Empire (and, yes, you read that correctly), the lovely Sowena Meishan. She likes sex, she's beautiful, smart, yada, yada but we are told this in a the manner of instruction, the description of her highness sliding across the page like a dry, doctrinal litany expeditiously achieved so that the author can re-enter the complexities of the plot as quickly as possible. It is, then, the author's failure to examine these characters in detail, to probe their psyche and to convey to the reader the existential "who" in terms of their being that so distorts the work. If I can't accept the reality of the characters, I'm not really interested in the plot.
The young Frenchman would do well to turn his back on Postmodernity and examine the classics, even classical science fiction. He should read Cormac McCarthy, Asimov, and Bradbury all of whom would be most helpful to him because the complexities of his future world bog down the reader and don't help to explicate the constitutive factors of a future society conceived in the mater familias.
Oh yes! Big Mamma's top dog! Not of a mere planet, mind you, but an inter-galactic empire run rather efficiently, thank you very much, by the distaff side. And here, dear reader, we are introduced to the inevitable Gnostic reconstruction, so favored by the Left, that restores the proper order of the world-empire that the Demuirge, represented by the Veroms, assist in their alien wisdom while man inevitably screws up. It displays the immature psyche of the epigonic Marxist: the failure to see the moral life as existential, and the immanetization of the transcendent.
The author's complicated construct and his grasp of science are all rather impressive. The Covery, Recovery, the Plunge, Peter the First represent the personality and conceptualizations that are incorporated into the novel. They are much too abstract and complicated and I did not care, in any way, for this book! So affected was I by reading this novel, I contracted a singular case of "writers block!" Yet, I harbor no grievance toward Jean-Francois. Indeed, it's "my own damn fault" as Jimmy Buffet once famously sang.
However, in all fairness, the author does have a certain talent and I may be the author's worst fears come to fruition; a gentleman of "a certain age" a factor which may have played a significant role in my dislike for this novel. I am something of a Luddite and quite proud of it. I miss the rotary dial phone, I don't "twitter," I don't even know what that is.
Perhaps, just perhaps, if a Star Trek devotee, a Philip Dick fan, or a computer game-playing geek read this novel they'd like it! I think that's very possible.
It may be that this struggling French author, who is bright enough to write in English, is merely a victim of the capricious literary gods having their jape. What if the reviewer had been someone his own age, someone who shares the nihilism and ennui of the twenty- and thirty-somethings that roam the dissolute ruins of the West? Perhaps, this review would have signaled the rise of a brilliant new star.
When Jean-Francois understands that the potential of God is, each time, perfectly actualized, making all necessity "absorbed into a moral necessity," he will pen the great novel. The problem is this rather brilliant young man doesn't believe in the magic.
© 2009 Robert C. Cheeks
Robert Cheeks is a freelance writer living in Ohio. His recent work has appeared in Philosophy Now, The University Bookman, Crisis, Touchstone, and The South Carolina Review.
Author Jean-Francois Mopin submitted the following reply to the review by Robert Cheeks, published June 16, 2009.
Robert Cheeks' review of my book puzzles me on many counts. He does pinpoint some of the real weaknesses in my book, but most of what he dislikes is precisely what made me write...
First, I was surprised to see a review published on a site like this one. Not that I hold anything against it, but it did not occur to me that science fiction was of interest to people like Mr. Cheeks. I do not know how he came in possession of the novel. As he very clearly says, he is not my prime target audience... For my first novel, In Memoriam, I would have understood.
As for science fiction itself, I am not a great reader of contemporary novels. I like Babylon 5, but the most recent book I have read is Dan Simmons' Hyperion (1990). Another reviewer found my universe was close to Asimov's... which I am here blamed for not knowing. This is all a matter of perception.
I may be immersed in the Sartrean "moi". Or not. I do not know what that means. As for Gnosticism... I believe Gnostics are Christians. I am an Atheist, and here lies the main problem, the great irreconcilable gap between Mr. Cheeks and I. He mentions god several times in this one-page review about a book that in no way deals with God. He is appalled by "the new liturgy of individual self-justification through sexual relief with anything warm, available, and inclined, the obligatory sacrifice to the gods of environmentalism". I suppose he would contend that sex is an activity that is immoral and should be practiced only within the bounds of marriage. Well, as much as I understand that self-gratification can have disputable side-effects, I am absolutely positive that self-mortification is far worse. Check your history of the world. More damage was caused by frustrated people than by hedonists. More teenage unwanted pregnancies occur among the "silver ring" people than among the other teenagers.
Another division between his vision and mine is about "women's right". Yes, I based my invention on the idea of the "mater familias", as he writes. I very willingly grant that believing the world would be better if women were in power just because they are women is naïve. But then, you have to exaggerate some points in a novel if you want to convey a message. However, a sentence struck me as very disturbing in Mr. Cheeks' very literate and academic review. It is this one: "Oh yes! Big Mamma's top dog!" It seems to epitomize a whole conception of the role of women in society. The very idea that they may rule is so preposterous that it is discarded in a rather male-chauvinist way.
Now for the points about which Mr. Cheeks is right... There is too much political correctness in the novel. The characters are not developed enough. Both faults (I acknowledged them as that) are the result of editorial requirements. If you check the article on my website (http://www.jean-francois-mopin.com/pardon-my-french.php), you will see I had to concede ground on the language. As for the depth of the characters, I was faced with two problems: dealing with their psychology too much would lead away from the real "message" (the very message which appalls Mr. Cheeks so much), and the book would be too long for publication in one volume. Besides, I have already published two novels (in France), in which my main concern was the insight into characters. I tried to take some distance with this approach. I may have strayed too far. Oh, and one of my books is a work of erotica.
Finally one thing summarizes our divergence. Mr. Cheeks considers Sowena as the lead character. To me, she is on a par with Berena, Dozibella or Volana. I was under the impression that the lead character was Peter Lobrieve.