Maurice Dantec

I just finished Maurice G. Dantec’s first novel, published in 1993, La sirene rouge (The Red Siren): a superior thriller, but nothing more. (Though I’d like to see the film, if only because it stars Asia Argento). But Dantec is also the author of the mind-boggling SF novel Babylon Babies (1999), unfortunately not (yet) translated into English…

Babylon Babies is an apocalyptic, transhumanist SF novel; it’s got a little bit of everything: clones, spies, bizarre religious sects, Russian hoodlums,Quebecois motorcycle gangs, hijacked satellites, Deleuzian schizoanalysis, anarchist hackers, avant-garde shamans, artificial intelligences, psychedelic drugs, and the Cosmic Serpent of DNA.

What’s amazing is that all this holds together so coherently (if ultimately a bit too New Age-ily for my taste). Babylon Babies is an exciting, compulsive read on the level of mere plot, but also a challenging novel of ideas.

Indeed, whenever you think Dantec can’t get any weirder, or push things any further–he does. What starts out as a (mildly) futuristic international thriller mutates into an over-the-top, Nietzsche-meets-Timothy Leary-meets-cyberpunk . Yet an engaging and seductive one, so vivid and hallucinatorily detailed that it somehow comes off seeming lucid and even unpretentious. Never has something this apocalyptic seemed at the same time, well, so mundane and grounded.

Babylon Babies is so brilliant, and has such finality, that I can’t imagine where Dantec could go next, or what he could do for an encore. (In a certain sense, the book ends on a note of absolute uncertainty: all we can do is wait for the unknowable future. But this uncertainty is also because the world as we know it now, everything that we take for granted, has pretty much been trashed, or consumed, and is about to renew itself, like a phoenix, in a totally unfamiliar form. The book is about mutation, and bifurcations, and non-teleological processes, after all. But in the absence of any familiar landmarks or guidelines, it definitely feels like something has ended–if only to clear the ground for something new to begin).

Since Babylon Babies, Dantec has published two thick volumes of metaphyiscal rants; the comments on suggest that he may have gone off the deep end into pompous and tiresome overblown pseudo-Nietzschean theatrics. Supposedly he has a new novel coming out later this year, called Magna Mater Noster: it could turn out to be really great, but the title rather suggests some sort of horrible quasi-fascist New Age crap.

Still, Babylon Babies is amazing. Even if nothing else Dantec wrote before, or writes after, turns out to be even one tenth as good.

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