The Plague, by Nathalie Henneberg

French science-fiction writer Nathalie Henneberg was well versed in the art of “world creation”, as evinced in her monumental space opera “la plaie” (“the plague”).

Earth is swept by a plague which turns people into zombies serving the designs of a malevolent cosmic entity. The surviving humans flee an insane solar system by the millions and scatter across the galaxy.

The novel takes us back and forth over several decades between the fates of different mutants becoming gradually aware of unforeseeable possibilities.

This new species seems to have been grown as a reaction against the plague by Earth itself. The planet is seen as a living, self-regulating creature, a tortured macro-organism consciously manipulating its environment to ensure its survival.

Among other mutants we follow the paths of Villys, a teenage girl able to project her mind in time and space to escape bullying.

Villys flees as a stowaway in a huge and rusty cargo ship manned by sadistic sailors and malfunctioning robots . This cyberpunk spaceship is under the command of a monstrous female captain,  who discards the passengers one by one and sends them floating in weightlessness around her ship in a state of semi unconscious corpses.

Villys eventually escapes together with Quick, an android and Hell, a disturbed sailor acting as a gigolo to this mad matron. They manage to land on the old planet Hera in the Sagitarius system, inhabited by two races : the native Herans dominated by the sleepwalking Sohis. Hell is killed while partaking in a ritualistic fight typical of that strange codified world.
Terran refugees have arrived in great numbers on Arcturus. The arcturians are a decadent alien race who teached civilisation to the different human races who successively lived on earth and were plagued and destroyed one after the other by the same cosmic evil. This old arcturian race has gone through a succession of mutations and has developped its mental abilities to such an extent that it has become unfit to live other than in virtual reality.

Now that Earth seems to be lost, they have given the aquatic planet Sigma to human mercs who have established there a colony. The humans are accumulating massive wealth that the arcturians no longer need in gigantic floating warehouses and have recreated a sort of Venice,  a huge labyrinth of canals upon the only island of the planet. They are also building a huge fleet of spaceships with a view to recapture Earth one day.

But the plague cannot be fought by violent means, since it feeds on violence itself and in turn amplifies it. Only the mutants, who have developped powers to move through the interplan of space and time, gets wise to the fact that the plague is extracting time sequences and replacing them by others which it has infected.

“The Plague” is a book of great descriptive power and beauty : carniverous nebulae, living seas of huge waves consisting of innumerable howling corpses, graveyard of dead astronauts orbiting in weightlessness in hieratic rows, Armageddons repeated endlessly in infinities of different worlds.

Nathalie henneberg is a bit too decadent for my taste but I must admit she managed to capture epic visions of cosmic battles, mountains of hands and tongues of conquered ennemies piled up before assyrians winged-bull kings , refined royal suicides staged like pyrotechnical wonders, tentacular town-libraries expanding into huge human sprawls, alien princesses subjected to unspeakable transplantations.

She explores an eerie world of strange rites and cosmic demonology, a gigantic theatre of alien races and impossible loves : angels of flames,she-males, giant squids, living planets, the synthetic race of the Arcturian, resulting from a series of  mutations operated inside a monumental cathedral of transplantations.

Time seen as a dimension is also a cleverly used plot device : her heroin Villys eventually reaches a planet haunted by mirages where different time planes are layered on the same plot of land; she thus comes across victims of recent atrocities, ghosts of long dead invaders, forgotten primordial denizens from the dark ages in a hallucinating juxtaposition of different time sequences.

It is not possible to give an approaching complete summary of this intricate book whose climax takes place on the hybrid planet Antigone, the two faces of which are on the limit of two worlds : reality and anti reality, the latter gradually aspiring our own universe.
At the moment where a maelstrom of absolute evil is going to engulf our world, a mutant sees the way to save it.

Illustration by Caza