French science fiction landing on planet Portland

Updated: Sep 11, 2019

Sylvie Denis flied to Portland for a bit more than one day: there, she met with students from Portland State University who had studied her works for a science fiction class, and exchanged with Molly Gloss at Mother Foucault's bookshop. A journey in Portland that will leave some traces...

Mother Foucault's bookshop - Portland

On May 15th, 2018, Sylvie Denis lands on planet Portland – PDX, hipster-city, the land of the weird... or rather, the land of the familiar for the famous science fiction writer from France, who writes about boxed inmates connected to security systems (ô, the irony – so French!), human bodies merged with vessels, space detectives and interspecies encounters. Keep Portland weird, you say? I say keep Portland/the world strange, innovative, forward-thinking, open-minded, like the short stories and space operas that Sylvie Denis writes.

Sylvie is a bit frustrated today, like a Kiris T. Kiris* whose clone is disobeying and thwarting her centuries-old plans: she feels pain. And it is not fun to be invited for a discussion with Molly Gloss, discover Portland, try local beer, meet with students, and sustain intelligent conversation when you feel pain. But she does. From restaurant to hotel to east-side strolls and a public conversation in the evening, Sylvie makes the most of this monkey (-Season) business: students are thrilled to meet with an author they studied in class; she is so happy to meet students who studied one of her stories (she can’t wait to read them); I learn much more about French science fiction; she gets to visit her favorite store (Sock Dreams), and we all rejoice in the graceful demeanor of Molly Gloss who is as enchanting as her prose. In the evening, at Mother Foucault’s bookshop, the two exchange views on climate change (not too optimistic), technology (an interesting mix of great interest and intimidating “boys club“ feeling), children characters (“They are the future” Molly reminds us), and more. A treat for the audience cozily surrounded by busy old-style bookshelves. One thing I remember Sylvie said about “les grands modifiés”, the extraordinary characters of human/spaceships in La Saison des singes and L’Empire du sommeil: “they are not post-human or trans-human, they are human.” There surfaces a theme often present in her works: social justice and inclusion. Definitely something to think about these days…

There are questions out there that no literature but science fiction raises. It is a fact. Good science fiction is not always entertaining and it rarely gives an answer, but Sylvie and Molly’s stories sure make you think long after you (sadly) read the last page, and I strongly believe they will inspire the generations after tomorrow.

Annabelle Dolidon,

Associate Professor of French at Portland State University

*Read the dyptic La Saison des singes (L’Atalante, 2007) and L’Empire du sommeil (L’Atalante, 2012).

Sylvie Denis meeting with the students from Portland State University

Annabelle Dolidon, Sylvie Denis and Molly Gloss at Mother Foucault's bookshop

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