Jean-Marc Ligny in translation!
Parisian by birth and a long-haired rocker at heart, his first employment with the SNCF and many many jobs after that, Jean-Marc Ligny has been writing science fiction and fantasy novels since the 1970s. Some calls some of his novels as part of the new genre of cli-fi. Living and working in northern Brittany until 2001 (on the Isle of Bréhat and in Plouha), he has since hidden himself away in the Forez mountains in France. From now on, “ as long as he still has all his fingers and a mind that functions, he won’t do anything else but write”...
French 'cli-fi' and sci fi novelist extraordinaire Monsieur Jean-Marc Ligny’s cli-fi novels include the still untranslated Aqua™ (publihed in French in 2006), Exodes (published in French in 2012), and Semences (coming soon in French in 2015) andyes, none of them have been translated into English.
However, several players in the literary scene in the USA are working hard to find both a translator and a publisher for his works in English. It will happen soon.
His publisher in Paris, Editions L’Atalante, has generously offered up to Internet readers some English-language summaries, draft translations of the first several chapters of the first two novels, and a translation of a 2012 interview with French SF blogger “Gromovar” that focuses on Exodes and climate change.
These may be accessed from the links listed below. JUST CLICK ON LINKS!
- About Aqua™
- About Exodes
- About Semences
- Aqua™ in English (prologue + chapter 1, parts 1–3)
- Exodes in English (part 1, chapters. 1–3)
- “Jean-Marc Ligny, Herald of the Apocalypse” (the 2012 interview)
Jean-Marc Ligny, Herald of the 'Climapocalypse'
After reading the brilliant and terrifying ''Exodus'' in the French edition, since it is not translated yet into English, a blogger in France named GOMOVAR really wanted to “continue the conversation” with its author, the genius French novelist Mr. Jean-Marc Ligny (JML), to discuss some environmental worries. Gomovar got the chance to do that, to meet for a long and fascinating talk with one of the rare authors whose environmental pessimism is equal to approaching catastrophes. Here is Gomovar's interview in English, the original French interview link is here below:
GOMOVAR: Can you start by introducing yourself briefly, for anyone overseas who may not yet have heard of you?
JML: I am 56 years old, and the author of science fiction, as well as fantasies and detective stories, for adults and young adults, a good 40-some books under my belt, and since recently − the last two years − I have been a translator, too.
QUESTION: Most of your books have something to do with environmental issues in general and global warming in particular. Recently, you even acted as member of the jury for the prize “2050 – The first climate changes have taken place…” for short stories, later published in Issue 18 of Galaxies SF magazine. Can you tell us how you fell into the environmentalist camp?
JML: No, it’s not “most of” my books that have a connection to the environment, only 3 novels: Aqua™, Green War and Exodus, and three or four short stories. As for “environmentalist camp,” that sounds a bit pejorative, no? Especially knowing that it’s nothing less than the future of humanity at play…* In fact, I didn’t fall into it, I’d say more that it fell on me at the turn of the 20th Century and the beginning of the 21st Century, when people started to speak about it more seriously and sound the alarm that if nothing was done, conditions of life on Earth would be drastically disturbed, and humanity eventually risked severe suffering from it and even being exterminated!
A science fiction writer cannot be unmoved by this kind of warning because the future is, after all, one of our major preoccupations. So I started seriously researching the subject, and from that was born the idea of writing Aqua™ in the beginning of the 2000s. At that time, there weren’t very many science fiction novels about the subject, which rapidly appeared an essential one to me.
QUESTION: Let’s talk more about your last novel, ''Exodus.'' The future that you describe is black, without the least spark of hope. Is this the way you see the future of the planet, and by extension, of humanity?
JML: Absolutely. It’s too late now, the point de no-return has been reached. Whatever we do, even if we stopped every single greenhouse-gas emission tomorrow, the climate is still going to warm up. The most pessimistic – or realistic – scientists predict a “runaway” climate change, which seems to me completely conceivable. This upset will necessarily lead to a sixth mass extinction of living species – which, by the way, has already begun. The Earth will get over it, of course. It won’t be the first time its climate has shifted, and for the planet, humanity is just an incident, as the dinosaurs were. That said, Homo sapiens is a tenacious species, equal to the cockroach, scorpion and ant, which have been here far longer than we have. It’s possible then that humanity won’t disappear completely, but in any case the “civilised” world as we know it, is not for much longer, in my opinion. It’s this end of civilization that I raise in ''Exodus''.
QUESTION: In ''Exodus,'' in varying degrees, “man is a wolf to man”. Does that mean that the varnish of civilization, which seems to us definitely acquired, is only superficial and fragile?
JLM: Like you said, it’s only a varnish that easily cracks as soon as there’s a major catastrophe or severe conflict. But it’s not obligatory that men be wolves to other men – plus, real wolves within a pack help each other out. In a catastrophe situation, there will always be those who try to get something out of it, of course, or who are ready to crush their neighbours to save their own skins, but we also sometimes observe wonderful examples of solidarity, union, mutual aid. This is the case of certain characters in '' Exodus'', like Melanie, who saves her animals, or Mercedes, who struggles to relieve the sufferings of those even more miserable than she, or Paula, who is ready to do anything to save her children. The real “wolf” in the story is Fernando…
QUESTION: The survival instinct seems to be the motivating force in Exodus, illustrated by the striking parable of the termites. Would it be this instinct that makes all the protagonists of the story progressively lose their moral sense?
JML: The novel’s protagonists do not all lose their moral sense: take Melanie, or Olaf and Risten, who prefer to flee precisely because they don’t want to lose their moral sense. Or take Pradeesh, who in the end tries to protect his family, or Paula and her motherly love, or Mercedes, overwhelmed by the death of her husband… Even Fernando, thanks to the careful nursing (and moral lessons) of Melanie, starts to regain a certain respect for the lives of others – which unfortunately, does not last. No, I wouldn’t say my protagonists lose their moral sense. On the contrary, they strive to hold onto it, even if the hellish survival conditions lead them to transgress it at times. But they remain human, at least most of them.
QUESTION: The characters in Exodus are fascinating due to their great complexity, their incredible force, never Manichean. How did you choose types to describe and how did you create them?
JLM: When I began to set up the foundations of Exodus, I asked a psychologist who specializes in behaviour to describe for me the different types of behaviours that we can observe in humans during a major disaster. She listed a dozen behaviour types, pointing out of course, that no one is all black or all white, and that the behaviours could change according to the evolution of the catastrophe and the living conditions of the survivors. I used her thoughtful commentaries as a base to define the psychology of my characters, who, you must understand, evolved over the course of the story according to their own dynamics.
QUESTION: For the community to turn in on itself seems an obligatory passage in that world, where extreme division of work had become impossible. Doesn’t this premonitory view, shared by all authors of post-apocalyptic novels, render intellectually null the decidedly occidental ideal of universal, brotherly love?
JML: Humanity has never been universal or brotherly since Tribe X of sapiens started to beat up on Tribe Y of neanderthalensis or the other way around, and it’s very utopian to believe that it will be one day. As for communities turning inwards, this tendency is reinforced and exacerbated as soon as property or a certain level of comfort or security are threatened. In a catastrophe, you can also witness kind kindly gestures of mutual help and support, because it’s usually a temporary state. When a crisis situation drags on and on, though, and a fortiori if it appears no end is in sight, people turn in to themselves, their family, their village, their community, in order to try to preserve the little that remains from those who no longer have anything at all. It’s practically instinctive, and I think most animals do the same.
QUSETION: Religious fanatics, gangs, political fanatics, plutocrats dominate a good part of the rare human survivors in Exodus. We have the global warming, now what should we do to protect ourselves from these new dictatorships?
JML: Revolution! ;-) No, seriously, I don’t really see what we can do, aside from developing as best we can societies based on helping, sharing, justice, etc. In short, develop utopias. Unfortunately, history shows us that it’s often the worst “bad guys” who end up in power, because power is such an intrinsic part of their personalities that they’ll do anything to get it. Faced with such psychopaths (real or potential), there are hardly more than two possible alternatives: utopia or armed struggle.
QUESTION: The Pyros in your book form a destructive and/or millenarist horde. Do you see groups in the contemporary world with that kind of millenarist nihilism as objective?
MORE EDITING ON THIS BLOG IN TAIWAN UNDER CONSTRUCTION
JML: Yes, among certain Christian and Muslim extremist sects, who extol individual or collective suicide causing the most possible damage around themselves. Perhaps also with certain serial killers who justify their acts by assuming some form or other of political commitment. The Jihadists of September 11 or the Norwegian fascist killer who massacred 70 youths − it all flows from the same genocidal body of thought. They know deep down they’re fighting for a lost cause, all the same, they try to eradicate as many “enemies” as possible as they go down. Adding a millenarist dimension, where they’re convinced the end of the world is imminent, only adds oil to the fire: it’s a lost cause, certainly, but humanity is too, and since humanity never embraced them, this “proves” that they were in the right. This behaviour is as old as the first civilizations. I believe that, if given the opportunity, the majority of people would behave as do the inhabitants of the Domes, accepting, without malice, to leave the rest of the world to its own fate, as long as their way of life is preserved (this is de Tocqueville’s definition of individualism by the way). Don’t you think that this sentiment, widely shared unfortunately, is at the root of our current environmental disorders? How can we combat this? Absolutely, or at least in part. The principal responsible party is of course, the type of society based on consumption and competition that we’ve developed without a thought to preserving resources or the environment – a type of society that advocates individualism as a sign of success and of development. It’s implicit. To hope that, in the framework of capitalist society and western imperialism, we can curb global arming is utopian. The question that arises among the “deciders” is ‘how can we make profit from this?’ or ‘How can we sell greener and more expensive?’ A true struggle against global warming can only be made on a planetary scale, implying solidarity among all the nations of the world, committed toward a common – and vital – goal. In the real world, that’s totally utopian. This type of project, which would engage all of humanity, can only be feasible if there is a drastic change in society – a change that will come about, certainly, but only with constraint, in pain and privation. And even then, if it’s not the “me first” attitude that predominates, yet again… Why did you add a few genetic catastrophes (invasive weeds, acid jellyfish) in such a world, which really had no need of it? Because in any case, there will be such. There already are: microbes, insects, certain plants. Disseminating GMOs into nature – acting as if we were capable of controlling their proliferation – reveals pure delirium. It’s true that with the corrosive jellyfish and moisine (already present in Aqua™), I maybe push things a bit too far. But you have to have a little fun, right? ;-) l’atalante SCOP ARL à capital variable - SIRET 382 358 711 00010 – APE 5811 Z In the same vein, you seem to link global warming with the incidence of skin cancer. Scientific conclusions on that question are, I believe, uncertain. Do you feel sure of the connection or is it a hypothesis you found particularly rich for your narrative? I’ve heard that the rate of skin cancer is increasing. Which hardly surprises me, with the diminution of the ozone layer. Because this famous “hole” in the ozone has not disappeared, even if people don’t talk about it anymore. We banished CFCs and now say the problem is taken care of. That should tell us what’s going to happen with greenhouse gases: we’ll forbid them here, regulate them there, and consider the problem solved. That said, in Exodus there’s only Paula who has skin cancer… Nevertheless, it did seem an inevitable disease in that kind of world, where there are no more sunscreen creams and lotions. On a more global note, what did you think about the grotesque results of the Rio+20 conference? That they were grotesque. Or rather, there was a pitiful lack of results. I don’t want to seem pessimistic, but come on… When your house is burning, you don’t waste your time figuring out what direction the wind is coming from. If we consider the case of CO2 or deforestation, the “claims” of developing countries presents a major stumbling block. With increasing population, and environmental protection being objectively a luxury of the rich, what should be done to balance the legitimate aspirations for development with the protection of nature? Everyone is conscious of the fact that we must protect nature and struggle against global warming, even developing countries. But as long as there are stronger or more profitable economic interests, those will have priority. When all the virgin forests in Indonesia are cut down, the Indonesians will cry that they have no more tourism and that, after having killed everything else, the oil palms are all dead, attacked by a virus, for example. Plus, the West will no longer want palm oil because it won’t be “ecologically correct” in the big supermarkets. Maybe the Chinese will still use it or the Indians, maybe not. But for now, it brings in money, and the Indonesians couldn’t care less about their virgin forests. At least those who are taking in the money, those who have the power. Does the idea of monetizing natural resources (as for the virgin forests for example) seem to you a viable pathway to protection? We’re trying to capitalise on global warming, to transform it into exchangeable stocks in the stock market, just like we capitalise on economic crises of the most indebted countries. Given the nature of our societies – that the economy rules the world – the original idea may have been good: attempt to make the struggle against global warming economically profitable. But it quickly became a virtual product on which you can speculate, just like you speculate on petroleum, wheat, rice, corn… Does that prevent people from dying of hunger? Quite the contrary. Speculating on the economy of CO2 will certainly produce nice results… on paper, and in certain bank accounts. But out in the real world? What about nuclear, a dangerous energy, in a world threatened in the short term by increasing levels of CO2 in the atmosphere? Get rid of it, as quickly as possible! Like you say, it’s a dangerous energy on one hand, and not inexhaustible on the other hand. Uranium is not an unlimited resource and its enrichment into plutonium l’atalante SCOP ARL à capital variable - SIRET 382 358 711 00010 – APE 5811 Z is even more dangerous, and the problem of the waste still has no long-term solution… Nuclear energy is the real cancer of this planet. Some countries, not especially under-developed ones either, do quite well without it, Denmark for example. Finally, nuclear is the classic example of centralized energy; distributed via a network at a price imposed by the distributor. Exactly the reverse of renewable energies such as solar or wind, which can be autonomous and self-produced. That obviously does not improve affairs, particularly profits, with EDF [national electricity co.] or other providers. Do you adhere to the notion of sustainable development, and if so, where do you stand on it? And if not, does salvation lie only in negative growth? Big question! Economists have filled books on the subject… Negative growth is of course a tempting notion, which naturally goes against the grain of all existing economic practices. But I think we’ll be forced to go there, seeing as how global warming and its associated catastrophes are going to cost the economy more and more dearly… We can already observe zero growth in certain European countries. Negative growth implies consuming less, and creating goods that last longer. That’s obviously antieconomic, in the framework of unbridled consumption and disposable products or products with a short lifespan, which are the motors of today’s economy. The notion of sustainable development is a compromise that implies greater respect for the environment and better resource management, without even bringing into question current growth and economic models… It’s a stop-gap measure, but it’s better than nothing. Should an eco-tax be egalitarian, and heavy, to be efficient? If yes, how should it be regulated so that the poorest people won’t be too severely affected? I don’t believe in eco-taxes. Of course, it could work at the household level, as people would make an effort to save and invest if they see their energy bill climbing, and because they’ll have fewer possibilities to cheat on taxes. But it would just be one more tax that won’t really improve anything, seeing as how the major polluters are heavy industry, transportation and agribusiness – and these, at least the biggest ones, will always find a way to get out of paying it. A truly responsible government would impose drastic standards for maximum admissible emissions, heavily fine those who exceed them − perhaps by introducing a judicial notion of “crime against the environment” equivalent to that of “crime against humanity” − and give financial enticements to businesses to equip themselves to reduce emissions… But a decision like that would have to be made, ratified and respected by all the countries of the world – and once again, we’re very far from that day! Do you think a true emission-rights market, upheld by a strict international agreement, could contribute to dealing with the CO2 question? Or does the solution appear more of a regulatory question to you? Like I said earlier, I don’t believe in the “emission-rights market”, which is just another way to make money out of air – or rather gas – and to make the financial bubble swell. I think that the solution must be both judicial – truly punish the true polluters, wasters, destroyers of the environment, etc. – and economical –monetary investment in ways to efficiently solve the problems. If we had given to renewable energy even 10% of what we’ve sunken into nuclear energy, I think most energy in France would already be coming from renewable sources. Looking at the level of the individual, what should be done, in your opinion, to force humans to get past their spontaneous behaviour, the NIMBY or “free rider” attitude? Do you think it’s even possible? l’atalante SCOP ARL à capital variable - SIRET 382 358 711 00010 – APE 5811 Z It will be difficult. Human mentality evolves, certainly, but slowly, very slowly, and often only under constraint. In any case, it changes more slowly than the climate is changing in our present era. I think that when we’ve reached a threshold of intolerable catastrophes that start to seriously impact society in terms of comfort, security, basic functioning, etc., that then, yes, mentalities will change, but it will be too late. We will have to adapt to difficult living conditions, in an increasingly hostile milieu. In short, I fear that we’re heading toward what I describe in Exodus, unfortunately. The date of this interview being what it is (September 14, 2012), can you share your feelings about what took place at the environmental conference in France this weekend? I hope that the appetizers were organic, at least! Did anything come of it at all, apart from that sort of labyrinthine machine aimed at taxing the most wasteful households? Households. Not factories, not transportation… I’ll leave off here, even though I’m itching to ask more questions. Thanks so much for your time. Thank you, too! I’m afraid my responses were a bit pessimistic, but sadly I don’t think much of humanity’s future**. As for the future of the Earth, yes – it has known worse, and will always spring back. Even if 95% of species disappear, the remaining 5% will eventually give birth to a new cycle of life. Perhaps a few humans will remain, transformed by the horrors their antecedents have lived, and who will also begin a new cycle of civilisation, where this time – perhaps – they will have retained the lessons of history. *
[Interviewer’s Note - No offense was intended; I simply expressed myself poorly.] ** [Interviewer’s Note - I don’t either.] ©