With Frère Elthor Pierre Bordage has brought to a close the superb saga that he started with Frère Ewen, Soeur Ynolde, Frère Kalkin and Soeur Onden (all five volumes published by Atalante), under the collective title of La Fraternité du Panca. He has taken us with him across the Galaxy in a magnificent journey -both a quest of humankind and a quest of faith and the way they can transcend adversity. To sum up the general theme briefly: in a future time humanity has multiplied throughout the Milky Way and has split up into an infinity of cultures, often profoundly different in their core values. The planets have joined forces to protect one another in a kind of federation whose universal parliament is based on NeoTierra, but a terrible threat is approaching in the form of a huge black cloud behind which the very stars have been snuffed out. Only one legendary organisation, the Panca Brotherhood - does it even still exist? - detects the threat and decides to oppose it by creating a pancatvique (5-link) chain (five individuals who, one after the other, have to find each other in order to transfer their force and their memory with the help of an âmna, a kind of crystal embedded in their necks), which alone can oppose the destroying cloud.
Each volume describes the destiny of the individual, alternately man or woman, chosen for reasons that for the moment are unknown to us, to form one of the links: the accomplishment of this destiny is not without its difficulties. The individuals themselves are in doubt about the necessity of making certain sacrifices or whether the choice to be made is the correct one, and there are even attacks directed against the links by diverse organisations, of which the most powerful is the Sât religion which actually extols the destruction of the universe, as predicted in its sacred books.
Pierre Bordage has created a highly developed technological universe, but where religions and superstitions not only resist but develop in parallel to science. All the favourite themes of the author can be found in these novels: man counts more than machines, human willpower is the decisive factor in any action, faith can actually move mountains - or, in this instance, literally burn the opponent thanks to the cakra, an enigmatic object that each link receives - but it can also be a powerful vector of evil - with the sâtnagas, the naked nihilistic priests, that violently reject any form of social organisation and preach the advent of nothing. Science considers itself omnipotent and omniscient but is too often arrogantly wrong - the extracts from the encyclopaedias of Odom Dercher, a kind of galactic Pico della Mirandola, set at the head of each chapter are deliberately hilarious in their pretentiousness and ignorance.
Leading us through planets and cultures, letting us discover the teeming life of the galaxy, the author gives us the opportunity of discovering the wealth of multicultural diversity of this Milky Way where societies, that have at times only the humanity of their inhabitants as common ground, exist side by side. Non-human and non-animal species can also be found that are so far removed from us that contact should be impossible: this is, then, another strong message from Pierre Bordage, that the spirit can transcend all barriers... He extols a balanced society: an alliance of technology and mysticism - it is this happy fusion that allows frère Elthor to fulfil his mission - and also an alliance of the sexes - after alternating man-woman in the formation of the chain, a couple is required for the culmination. All the while the sâtnagas despise women: this message is manifestly what the author intends to put across to our society, a resolutely optimistic message since it requires a society where journalists and politicians are able to put the common good before their own interests...
In any case Pierre Bordage has delivered a splendid adventure, a beautiful (dare I say it) shamanic space opera which takes us to the far reaches of the galaxy and the spirit.
Jean-Luc Rivera, ActuSf
When we close the book, we have the feeling that we are irrevocably joined to these characters that we have come across briefly or for longer periods of time, whose lives resonate within us just as all humankind resonates in the links of the five-link chain.
So, a new Bordage to devour, as always.
Pierre Bordage returns to his old loves with a stunning space opera: La Fraternité du Panca.
Interview with Pierre Bordage on the publication of Frère Ewen, the first book in the cycle.
ActuSF: How did La Fraternité du Panca come into existence? What did you want to do with this series?
Pierre Bordage: First of all to go back into space after my last novel, Porteur d'Âmes, which takes place on Earth in the very near future. And then to illustrate once more (there's nothing new...) the effect of a human framework across space and time, a concept that I've tried to work on in other forms and books. The lure of travel and the sense of wonder that the space opera allows. The motivating force, as I realise now, was to make a real travel log with engaging characters. Rather as we would follow emigrants at the end of the 19th century in their journey to America. I would have liked to have done it in the form of a diary, with writing, sketches and drawings, but technically I'm not capable of producing the quality of illustration required. I have added themes dear to me to the main storyline (symbolised here by the five-link chain): different ways of interpreting the world, different aspects - social, religious, political, sexual...
ActuSF: In the first volume, essentially we follow the progress of two heroes, Ewen and Olmeo. They are a million miles away from each other. How would you describe them to readers yet to read the book?
Pierre Bordage: One of them, Ewen, is a Panca brother, someone who has enlisted in the service of an organisation and who has lost sight of his commitment. He is married and has a daughter, is expecting a second child and, obviously, it is at this moment that his elders come on the scene, compelling him to leave his family home and his quiet happiness and leave without any hope of returning (this is the recurring theme of Griots Célestes). Ewen is the first link of a five-link chain, an unusual procedure that doesn't kick into action unless the universe is in grave danger. So he leaves in search of the 4th brother, who lives on a distant planet. Of course throughout the voyage, he will be in doubt about what he has sacrificed, his elders and his importance. It is the never ending struggle with these doubts and regrets which occupies the greater part of his time. Olmeo is a boy from an angelic community in the Pays Noir, whose family has been forced to go into exile because his mother has committed adultery. Unlike his family, who are against technology, Olmeo has always dreamt of travelling in space aboard great space ships. The disgrace of his mother gives him a unique occasion to realise his dream. So we will be reading his travel logs, about what surprises him, the good things and bad that occur on his journey and above all about now he meets Sayi, a remarkable girl.
ActuSF: And what about your world? There are some highly technological sectors with immense spaceships to traverse the stars, yet at the same time almost completely closed communities, very close to the earth and without many technological tools. How do you visualize this universe where communitarianism exists side by side with the multitude?
Pierre Bordage: I see it as a perfect illustration of our own world. Technology exists side to side with closed communities on planet Earth too. There can't be, in my view, a purely technological world or a purely communitarian one. Nowadays also, religious leaders are suspicious of technology, nowadays also, there are peoples who remain anchored to their beliefs (I'm not making any judgements, moreover, they are often rich in learning; I've got no preference, I think that both technology and belief can be the best of things but also the worst). I wanted to create a distance between Olmeo's world and the technological world, to accompany his sense of wonderment. I was interested in taking an unworldly character as a starting point, who retains this ability to be amazed.
ActuSF: The Atalante site mentions an "ode to woman and the mystery of life". Why did you wish to explore these two themes?
Pierre Bordage: I was slated on that very same site about my "systematic rape on every page" side and that my women are either bird-brains or whores (in fact, that's not what I think at all, but certain readers - oh, women, let's not beat about the bush - have interpreted my female characters in that way). I had no intention of trying to redeem myself, to write an anthem to womanhood or the mystery of life, but at the end of the novel, when Mireille and I talked about it, we realised that, even if the two male characters were dominant in the narrative, the people that remained memorable were the women: Olmeo's mother, Olmeo's daughter... and others that I'd prefer not to mention here so as not to reveal the plot. This first volume is essentially feminine, the spaceships are wombs sheltering life, the two heroes, Ewen and Olmeo are haunted (Ezalde) or initiated (Sayi) by a woman. After all I know that I am an awful feminist.J Womanhood is the symbol of the mystery of birth and life (oh my dreadful macho side is rearing its ugly head again...). Moreover in the book there are twists in the plot that illustrate in their own way the eternal mystery of time (I'll say no more, not even under torture, but anyway if you could possibly remove these shin crushers, that would be great).
ActuSF: This first volume recounts the two heroes' voyage on foreign planets in great space ships. We can say that they have been forced out of their comfort zones. Did that enable you to emphasize the effect of adventures and the new experiences that are awaiting them rather than presenting a super action hero used to using force to get his own way? And what did you want to do: have them tackle many obstacles so that they both mature rapidly? A kind of inner transformation?
Pierre Bordage: Yes, of course, inner transformation, like any novel of initiation. And road novels, because their heroes have to continually adapt to changing conditions, fall into the novel of initiation category. Apart from Rohel, and perhaps in some ways Tcholko, the Tunguz nomad from the Siberian steppes in Atlantis, I have never created a hero in the super hero style. I prefer to start with rather straightforward characters, who have to face trials which force them to grow up (even Wang, with his Tao of survival, is an ordinary hero). Journeys, as I have noticed, multiply events, quite simply because we can't always understand the language, the customs or the climatic conditions. So, there has to be accelerated development, and transformation to continue. I really like the fact of confronting an ordinary individual with the exceptional. But, and I am profoundly convinced of this, "ordinary" human beings don't really exist...
ActuSF: It has been said all sorts of adventures happen to them. We have the impression that you had a lot of fun multiplying up the strange countries and amazing journeys, even to the extent of sometimes not explaining them too much so that you could concentrate on the action. Am I right? Did you enjoy that? Do you still have a sense of wonder for Space and the Space opera?
Pierre Bordage: Yes, I really enjoyed it. Again, when you travel, the landscape, the situations and the travelling companions are constantly changing yet the action remains permanent. And there isn't always the time to have an explanation for everything either; we take everything in without always understanding the worlds we have passed through. I have always been attracted by the space opera which for me remains privileged territory for the modern fantasy genre. It's as if I were going back to when I was twenty-two watching the first episode of Star Wars (ok, that doesn't make us any younger and I've just admitted how very old I am): absolutely brilliant! I'm a real kid at heart, and I think that you've got to hang on to that essence of childhood to be able to write and read space opera.
ActuSF: You have already decided on five books. Why so long? Doesn't such a vast project make you just a little bit scared? Or on the contrary is it exciting to say to yourself that you've still got four volumes where you can develop the plot and the universe?
Pierre Bordage: Well I was trapped by the title! Panca means five in Sanskrit. A Pancatvique chain or quint, a pentale (an animal with five wings), everything is based on five. Could you create a trilogy with that? I'm not even scared in the sense that, in the way I have set up the cycle, there won't be any effect of repetition or of it being too long. We'll still be seeing a few countries! Yes, it's quite exciting, because if the universe and the framework remain constant, the adventures are very different from each other; at least, I hope so.
ActuSF: What can you say already about volume 2? What's the story?
Pierre Bordage: Nothing, I can't say anything. Please don't put those crushers on again. I can't say anything because that would give away the end of the first book, which wouldn't be very fair to the readers.
ActuSF: And apart from the next four books in La Fraternité du Panca, what are you working on? Are any other books coming out at the same time? And if not, what would you like to be doing?
Pierre Bordage: Yes I'm working on other books at the same time: a young adult novel with Flammarion, a uchronia under the auspices of Alain Grousset; a ClubVan Helsing; a novel with Diable Vauvert, a contemporary future fiction novel, an element I'm exploring at Diable; and at the moment I'm working on an audio serial project, yes, yes, and on the graphic book adaptation of the Humpur fables... Let's stop there, that's enough.
Jérome Vincent, ActuSF
We quickly become attached to these characters that are spared nothing, human beings tossed in the waves of their emotions. Commitment to the detriment of oneself and courage in the face of adversity are the underlying themes of this pentalogy. The setting of the chapters alternating between the points of view of the different characters is really dynamic. The book is not just about battles and interplanetary travel, it is a novel about what makes us tick. Bordage finds the right words to talk about the place of God, strength of faith and the meaning of sacrifice. An exercise rendered possible by his profound knowledge of religious history and skill in writing about a large range of emotions all the while retaining a simplicity of words. A disturbing narrative blending high-tech and mysticism.
Hayat Slimani, Youboox
Science fiction is considered a part of literature called, condescendingly, a genre. However, it offers authors enormous scope of expression through the movement of the action in space and time or being disguised in an unbridled plot. Pierre Bordage forms part of this handful of authors who, in this way, attack profound problems and the challenges of our society head on, and defend humanist values. An attentive observer of our civilisation, through his story he presents his viewpoint on our behavioural malfunctions, analyses our attitudes, and makes remarks and judgments about situations. He demonstrates the different facets, showing both excess and limitation.
With La Fraternité du Panca, Pierre Bordage has breathed new life into the Space Opera, bestowing on it a sociological and ethnological dimension, in the way he works like an anthropologist. He gives the cycle life, romantic power and an unusual narrative force, accelerating his story from volume to volume, until the ending, totally in coherence with the spirit of this saga. La Fraternité du Panca is a pure jewel in the literary world.
Serge Perraud, lelitteraire.com
Poetry, magic, love, passion, cruelty, fanaticism, Pierre Bordage presents every kind of impulse animating the human psyche from the most beautiful to the most sordid. Contrasting and subtle, this work is suffused with genius and incomparable talent, worthy of the greatest novelists. All the ingredients for an excellent Space Opera are to be found here: voyages in space, mysteries, unknown places, exoticism, adventure, initiation, combats, supernatural powers, and also intense human relationships, heartrending in their intensity. I think that this book has one of the best endings ever with a very long scene of remarkable action, enlivened by a touch of the epic which will reveal all the secrets of the Panca Brotherhood, the Pentales and the Cloud which intends to destroy the universe. Moreover, Pierre Bordage reveals the secrets of the Satnagas in a very original, troubling and even upsetting way. I have rarely found as much intensity in a science fiction work. Let yourself be carried along by his fluid style and perfectly mastered poetic elegance, the very essence of aesthetic efficiency. I can only recommend this final volume of the Panca Saga.