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FAREWELL TO A FRIEND

If you’re French and have enjoyed Dan’s books in this language, then you owe thanks to Monique Lebailly, a colleague of mine who passed away on June 28, 2004. In a long and varied career, she got to translate his novels CHILDREN OF THE NIGHT, THE HOLLOW MAN, FIRES OF EDEN and THE RISE OF ENDYMION, as well as the collection LOVEDEATH.

I used to see Monique once or twice a year when I lived in or near Paris, and we often had long phone conversations which always left me elated. For she was young at heart, always mirthful, with a mischievous twinkle in her eyes, and a voice full of enthusiasm. According to a French SF website, she was born in 1929, thus aged 75 when she died, but I can’t believe it.

As far as I know, she started to translate science fiction in the late 70s, and a list of her published works reads like a pantheon of genre writers; she could bounce from the hard SF of Greg Bear (BLOOD MUSIC) to the wistful fantasies of Jack Finney (MARION’S WALL), she could tackle classic science fiction (Jack Vance, A. E. van Vogt), alternate history (Paul Di Filippo’s THE STEAMPUNK TRILOGY and LOST PAGES), contemporary fantasy (Lisa Goldstein)… the list goes on and on.

Two of her favorite writers should get special mention: John Crowley, from whom, she told me, she got fascinating letters – she translated his novels THE DEEP, ÆGYPT and LOVE AND SLEEP, as well as the wonderful collection GREAT WORK OF TIME – and the elusive Thomas Harris, for Monique was the French translator of THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS.

And there is our own Dan Simmons, of course. Monique and I became friends because we both translated Dan’s books, albeit for different publishers, and we used to compare notes. I still have fond memories of that day in 1996, when Dan came to Paris and the three of us went down to the Catacombs for an eerie trip in that subterranean boneyard. This visit inspired a scene in THE RISE OF ENDYMION, which Monique got to translate the following year.

Monique taught me that a translator must sometime fight for his or her work – or rather, for the author’s: when she worked on FIRES OF EDEN, she took pains to respect Dan’s portrayal of Byron Trumbo, and she violently protested her editor’s decision to tone down some of the expletives she put in his mouth – in this, she was faithful to the text. I think she won that battle, but she unfortunately lost the one over THE HOLLOW MAN, whose French title (“L’Homme nu”, literally “The Naked Man”) is not hers.

Monique, you see, was a devotee of literature. Besides her work as a translator, she wrote or edited several books, including memoirs or historical studies about well-known figures of 19th century Paris: actor Frédéric Lemaître and murderer Pierre-François Lacenaire (for all of you movie buffs, both feature among the characters of CHILDREN OF PARADISE), plus a study of the Sanson family – a dynasty of executioners, including the one who beheaded Louis XVI.

And she edited a wonderful anthology entitled LA SCIENCE-FICTION AVANT LA SF (“Science Fiction Before SF”), a collection of works by French writers as diverse as Victor Hugo, Guy de Maupassant and Stéphane Mallarmé, whose contributions, she thought, helped broaden the limits of the genre. This 1989 book was reviewed in 1991 by Arthur Bruce Evans in SCIENCE FICTION STUDIES, and this a quotation he made from Monique’s introduction: “Did Homer need… cybernetics in order to imagine, in Book 18 of the ILIAD, that Hephaestos has in his service golden androids who could think?” Great minds think alike. (The complete text of Mr. Evans’ review is here: http://www.depauw.edu/sfs/birs/bir53.htm)

These last years, Monique often worked in collaboration with her son Hugues Lebailly, an academic and translator, who wrote several studies about Lewis Carroll and translated novels by P. G. Wodehouse. It seems he will finish alone their joint translation of T. H. White’s THE ONCE AND FUTURE KING, a masterpiece which French readers can at last appreciate.

So long, Monique, and thank you.



 

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