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Three Faces of Adam

Three Faces of Adam, Giselle Menard, translated by Nathan Childers, Varinoma Press, San Luis Obispo, 1999, 435 pp, pbk.


It is a pleasure to see that this famous work, long a rumoured curiosity, has finally been made available to the literary public. In his introduction Childers relates the history of the work. After the strange disappearance of her father, Giselle Menard determined to create a work in memorium. It was not to be a tribute; rather it was to be a quintessential event in the literature of existential inauthenticity, the mode for which her father was so justly famous.

As Childers notes, there is no evidence that she ever read any science fiction other than these three novels. They were chosen for her to her specifications by one of her lovers, an American science fiction fan (Giselle Menard was famed for her assortment of grotesque lovers.) Two of the source novels are known, Darker Than You Think by Jack Williamson and City by Clifford Simak. The provenance of the third is unknown; attempting to determine what it might have been will afford literary scholars their usual pleasant exercise.

The conventional story appears to be true. She did in fact write her novel in French. Having written it, she translated it into Rumanian and then burned the French manuscript. The work was privately printed on parchment paper; there were only a dozen or so copies. Of these, seven were seized by the Rumanian government, one vanished into the archives of the Vatican, one was a gift to her American lover, and the remainder were acquired by Parisian restaurants for use in the preparation of fine pastries. Childers does not say where he got his manuscript; there is a rumor that he acquired it from the American in a high stakes poker game.

The "novel" consists of three novellas, respectively, The Shattered Stone, The Prince of Darkness, and The Good Friends. The latter two being paraphrases of Darker Than You Think and City. The middle section follows the base novel fairly closely. The plot of the Williamson story runs much as follows:

Long before civilization there was a race of humans with esp powers which they used to dominate the rest of humanity. Eventually early humans discovered ways to bring their feral masters under control and destroy them. In modern times there is a group of people with traces of the old genes who are trying to breed back the masters. There is also a group who is aware of the danger and is trying to rediscover the means by which the masters were brought under control. The point of view character is result of the eugenic program. He is courted by both groups; in the end he chooses to become the Prince of Darkness and humanity falls under the yoke.

Giselle Menard retained the elements of the plot. She moved the action from America to France. The Williamson novel has the innocent asexual non-sensuality characteristic of American pulp science fiction. Her version is a decadent comedy of brie-soaked sensuality.

The initial novella, The Shattered Stone turns on the efforts of one Doctor Fenaro to recover the fragments of the Shattered Stone and restore it. The Stone is an artifact of great power which, when whole, gives its possessor god like powers. It had, long ago, been shattered. Its nature was such, however, that the fragments could never truly be lost. Fenaro discovers that the stone had existed and that it could be reconstituted. His efforts to find and recover the fragments of the stone trigger the disasters of the twentieth century. In the end he recovers all of the fragments; his attempt to restore the stone, however, destroys him.

The final novella, The Good Friends, is only very loosely based on City. The Stone, we learn, was the focus of power of the ancient masters. By a strange sequence of events it ends up in the laboratories of an American genetic engineering firm, InGen. One of their experiments is the production of a six foot tall green parrot. Quite by chance the Stone is used by the parrot as a gizzard stone. In consequence the parrot acquires god like powers.

It is the presence of the Stone made whole that triggers the success of the Ancient Ones in restoring their power. The Parrot cannot prevent this; however it does induce the geneticists of InGen to create a race of intelligent dogs who are immune to the powers of the Ancient Ones. The dogs, The Good Friends, defeat the Ancient Ones after a millenia of struggle; however humanity is utterly reduced to unrestorable impotence. The Good Friends, on the advice of their living God, the Great Parrot, eliminate the debased remnants of humanity in an act of mercy killing.

The surface plot is, of course, nonsense of the most florid and debased kind. This is characteristic of the literature of existential inauthenticity in which tropes drawn from the lower depths of popular culture serve as transparent masks. Immediately below the surface are the very conventional literary formulas - Freudian symbolism, appeals to the myths of birth, life, and death, raw experience unencumbered by interpretation, and the struggle for authenticity. These in turn are also masks; below them lie still more masks, endlessly repeated and mirrored, the whole forming a baroque structure of literary inauthenticity.


This page was last updated August 3, 1999.

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