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- Published on Amazon.com
The symbolist movement is based on the ineffable, the unknown, the sacred and/or profane, the irrational, on truth that is obscured behind veils of metaphor, individual consciousness, the occult, and the aesthetic. Symbolist works resist analysis to some degree--many can only be done justice by the original text. Some even are too opaque for good descriptions. In contrast, science fiction, while fictional, is based on existing scientific principles, likely but unproven theory (or unproveable theory, such as Einstein's theory of relativity), observed but currently unexplained phenomena, current or projected technology, in short, on some sort of fact. Science fiction is rational, logical to the extreme (like the Vulcans of Star Trek), even in its fantasy. These two genres thus seem diametrically opposed: truth versus fact, the science of the occult versus the science of the material. Yet the symbolists produced science fiction: Villiers de l'Isle Adam wrote the android novel Tomorrow's Eve.
Comte Jean Marie Mathias Philippe August Villiers de l'Isle Adam is often seen as the father of symbolism; his Axël has been called "the epitome of Symbolist drama"; around the same time as he was beginning to work on Axël, Villiers was writing Tomorrow's Eve, a science fiction novel revolving around a man's love for an android--created by Thomas Edison in New Jersey---who was still alive and known as "the Sorcerer of Menlo Park" at the time Villiers was writing.
Villiers' story follows a standard science-fiction narrative---the creation of an artificial humanoid, which has been designed for a relationship with a human partner. This plot outline hearkens back to the Romantic science-fiction/horror story of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, as well as forward to the novels of Asimov, films such as Blade Runner, and television series such as Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Villiers was also influenced by contemporary science fiction authors such as Jules Verne and H. G. Wells. However, Villiers uses this structure to completely different ends than do more standard science fiction versions of the android trope. Villiers' goal is not to make a social comment on nature or soul of man, or man's ability to create things of which he will necessarily lose control. Nor, conversely, does Villiers' novel attempt to display a world in which humans and the artificial must learn to live together. Instead, Villiers' novel follows the symbolist agenda of establishing a world of "inner existence," the "private worlds of thought and cryptic styles of communication," made material through Edison's creation.
While Villiers is entirely successful along the symbolist lines of writing, science fiction enthusiasts might find the writing and structure of Villiers' novel somewhat opaque or difficult. Robert Martin Adams's translation from the French is as clear as it can be, but this is not an easy novel, or one for beginners in the science-fiction genre--or the symbolist genre. This is a novel, anticipating the steampunk genre, that will challenge most and please few, but for those it does please, it will be a great gem.