The main pitfall of uchronia is that of formulating the basic premise and then going through all the possible combinations in an (often) successful list. The exercise remains a clever one. But Roland C. Wagner doesn’t play a simple game like this. You have to get past the basic stage of a uchronic exercise, then delve into the novel just as you would a classical work and let yourself be carried along until you are quite naturally immersed. And then everything falls into place and the music becomes a symphony.  Roland, with his immense musical knowledge, delights in images that are realistic to the point of veracity. We evolve socially and historically with these characters in this new world. We feel as if we have passed on from the role of reader to actor. At last a writer who doesn’t treat his readers like ignorant simpletons (he shares this quality with J.Héliot) and rises to the challenge of making them do the ground work themselves. Yes, Rêves de gloire is not easy reading but the reward justifies the effort. There is genius in Rêves de gloire, five decades of stories, history and family tradition that Roland deals out frankly, violently yet also in a tender fashion. Thank you, Mr Wagner.

Jean-Hugues Villacampa, Tête en l'ère 





An ambitious novel, absolutely fascinating from the beginning to the end of its 700 tightly written pages, Rêves de gloire is a pleasure to read. We haven’t always taken this author seriously (because his pastiches of Lovecraft and Asimov are so excellent). We were wrong.
M.P. Baudry, Chronic'art – the book of the month




In order to tell his story, Roland C. Wagner has – brilliantly – constructed an ensemble novel, where the narrator and the many plotlines are always changing. […]

One cannot but be enthusiastic about Rêves de Gloire. Throughout the major part of the novel you turn the pages without a moment’s loss of interest, carried along as you are by the user-friendly narrative skill of Roland C. Wagner. The burning question of Algeria (there again, family experience; I had my fill of it…) is dealt with judiciously, with profound empathy and, you can feel, a lot of personal investment. As for the alternative story of rock, it is quite simply (yet again the word “simply” is hardly suitable) jubilatory. So yes, unreservedly yes, Rêves de Gloire is a (bloody) good book and definitely worth a detour. It is, from what I have already read, by far Roland C. Wagner’s best work, and it deserves to become part of an ideal French science fiction library straight away. A great, very great novel.

Welcome to Nebalia
Watch out, this is a masterpiece! […]
Who would have dared to write a uchronia based on the war in Algeria! Born in Bab El Oued, Roland Wagner has taken 20 years to finish this polyphonic novel which also relates an alternative story of rock, transposing Woodstock to Biarritz! The SF, musical and half a century of news references are enduring, shrewd, and succulent. Because he takes the multiple plot lines from a single point of departure (which is not necessarily the most dramatic), Roland Wagner commits himself to an analysis of events that is all the more revealing about our society since it shows that an alternative to current political market logic is possible. There is no nostalgia, no determination to seek revenge, but rather a terrific breath of fresh air bringing peace and liberty to the place where Camus’ spirit rests. The result is so hyper realistic that there must be a before and after to this uchronia.

Claude Ecken, L'écran Fantastique 



From the sixties to the present day, Wagner’s uchronic Algeria is a mosaic of colours, music and fragrances.

The complicity we read between the lines and the vision he shares with the reader are both sufficient to maintain a lively rhythm throughout the novel. We never feel bored or distracted.

Guillaume, Traqueur stellaire




Here is an ambitious and totally successful novel, a gigantesque narrative puzzle, where history is gradually rewritten with the help of mini stories that ultimately combine to make one great entity. A novel that needs to be read over and over so that it can be appreciated in all its dimensions and subtlety.
Stegg, Psychovision 
Now you are about to meet a real little gem! […]
Rêves de Gloire is one of Roland Wagner’s novels that delights you from the first page to the last (and there are a fair few in between). Musical – yes, this book is certainly. Magnificent? Absolutely. You may ask if there is a downside. In reply I would say: not at all, only that we get so few chances to appreciate this author…
Deuskin, Mythologica 
This is the great novel of a generation that has seen the birth (and death by suffocation) of counter-culture. It is the colossal energy of that “Story” which became possible and could be summed up in so few words (sex, drugs and rock and roll). It is the lucidity of a writer who succeeds in showing us the parallel between two utopias: that of free Algeria and that of a world without hate, war and violence. It is the book that we know that we will read again as soon as we have finished. Rêves de Gloire could have been written by one of those very great Anglo-Saxon authors on counter-utopia (Orwell, Burgess, the Philip Roth of The Plot against America or Spinrad of course) and Wagner has no fear of including references as homage to his mentors (Dick, Spinrad and rock music). Rêves de Gloire is the kind of novel that appears only once in a generation and Roland Wagner’s tour de force puts all French “experimental” science fiction written over the last twenty years in the dark.  At the same time he is head and shoulders above all the egocentric, autofictional and inane so-called writing offered up to us by French editorial production teams of contemporary literature. Rêves de Gloire comes from personal experience – Wagner is of Algerian descent, Wagner is of that generation that saw the beginning and then the end of this counter-culture – but has succeeded where others have failed. He is in touch with the universal yet talks to the individual. Please note: a masterpiece!

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The book in its entirety is a colourful polyphony. The ensemble is created with splashes of colour, discreet flavours, muffled resonances and a trail of events which seem incredibly to come directly from our immediate history. The political climate and its consequences, migration of populations, changes in the way we think, reactive culture and psychotropic drugs take part in this inventive festival. For the duration (700 pages!!!) there is no loss of interest, thanks to the method of sequencing adopted: outward journeys out explain return  journeys, accents change, sounds get more strident, language develops. A work of art.




Anonymous voices progressively lead us into this alternate history. […]
Then all these combine to make one single, grandiose and derisory voice, all woven together by the threads of the mini stories and of the great Story. As well as the plot and the author’s autobiographical inspiration, the uchronic process defuses past hatred and reinstates the human dimension of an enduring tragedy that is still taboo. An ambitious novel that goes beyond the SF framework in order to be in contact with the universal. 

Victor Montag, Le Républicain Lorrain


RCW’s tour de force is to draw benefit from this uchronia in order to create a kind of alternative version, which is remarkably detailed and true (you understand what I mean), of the history of … alternative communities in the 1960s and 1970s, based very, very loosely on non-violence, rock, love of LPs and LSD… and making the Kasbah of a uchronic Algiers one of the centres of these imaginary communities! Or rather, his tour de force is to make all that seem perfectly plausible! I wonder if anyone other than RCW could have managed to do such a thing! […]

The trick is that he manages to weave the framework of a novel from a multitude of threads of so many personal stories taking place at different times, over about forty years or so. It can be a bit confusing at first, but RCW really knows how to bring his characters to life, and this initial impression of confusion doesn’t last. On the contrary, we quickly get into the habit of expecting the return of such and such a “person” (and “part”) who will reveal some such clarifying detail (or not, RCW knows all about suspense…). And we warm to these characters…
Oncle Joe, ActuSF  





This monumental novel is remarkable for several reasons: for its polyphonic aspect, where we move continually from one character to another, from one time to another, from one story line to another; for its meticulous construction, which isn’t apparent at first sight, but superb when we notice it or when we read the novel again; for the characters; for the musical culture it reveals and finally by the depth of knowledge of international history, which the author plays about with, not gratuitously (even if  I’m sure that he has had a lot of fun with certain unexpected elements!), but to make us think, as he himself says. […]


Roland Wagner has a special style, whose principal characteristic is, I think, an almost transparent lightness of touch, especially in comparison with certain of his fellow writers who give me the impression that they want to show their readers just how well they can write. There is none of that with Wagner, never any grandiloquence, nor any useless convoluted vocabulary, but an ever present delicate irony, which has a tendency to mask the excellence of the French, appropriate vocabulary and turns of phrase adapted to the situation and the character speaking at the time. Altogether outstanding writing, which may be totally overlooked except by the attentive reader.

Mureliane, Les chroniques de l'Imaginaire  


If we add that he has had no hesitation in providing not one, but several points of uchronic variation, and to stuff his plot with musical and historical references, this work is certainly impressive… But the most stunning tour de force is that he manages never to lose his reader in the meanderings of his story.
Jérôme Vincent, ActuSF

Far from being unrealistic, since the novel is very sombre, Roland C. Wagner expertly unravels his uchronia. Many points of view are encompassed: from the fascist to the indolent hippie (a Vautrien) through the National Liberation Army (ALN) soldier and the fellagha from the Aurès Mountains, there is a rich mosaic of characters. If the protagonist (not far removed from the author?) gets us hooked on a story of rock with thriller overtones, the other implicit threads are just as fascinating, all things being linked: from the Vautrien movement and the madness of the first moments to disillusion, from the revolutionary movement to the effects of fashion; world geopolitics with a alternative cold war; homage to Camus…  In short a solid, dense, absorbing, captivating and fluid novel. A masterpiece that you can read and reread in the sun with a drink of anisette in your hand.

Les lectures d'Efelle   



An interview with Roland C. Wagner:


  - Science fiction is popular literature, often undervalued and misunderstood. Rather than defining it, can you tell me what popular literature is for you?
- I think that science fiction is not only ‘popular’ literature, but covers the whole field of literature. It is a domain of infinite possibilities that the author can choose to treat as he likes, in the form he has chosen. I am tempted to use the literary term ‘genre’. To my mind, popular literature is associated with… let’s say a certain method of book production. The economic dimension is a fundamental aspect of the thing. It encourages the production of certain kinds of work and, from this fact, encourages the emergence of genres: thriller, spy, romantic, science fiction, etc. But the genres themselves manage in part to escape the commercial model that created them.
 - Your latest novel, Rêves de Gloire, imagines what might have happened in Algeria if De Gaulle had been assassinated in 1960. You were born in 1960 at Bab El Oued. Has this anything to do with the choice of your subject?
- Well, I already had quite a lot of material to hand. And I also know the country a little, especially Algiers. It was tempting: there were hundreds of uchronias on the Second World War or the Battle of Waterloo, but none on the Algerian War. So, well, I started to think it over. That happened about twenty years ago, I don’t remember the precise details very well. The idea of the score came much later, anyway. It was more interesting from the dramatic point of view. You come across Huntington’s theory concerning the clash of civilisations quite a lot at the moment, which means to say that science fiction authors are interested in it. Do you think that this theory holds water? I always thought that it was rubbish and in my opinion the facts seem more and more to confirm it. 
 - What does an author like Norman Spinrad mean for you since you know him, translate his work, and have been reading his books even before we could read or write, I imagine?
- Without a doubt he is one of the writers who has influenced me the most, along with John Brunner and Michel Jeury, to name but two. Very intelligent, amazing energy, impressive literary power and an unusual flair for difficult subjects. For me he is an example of what the USA does best. 

Ouest France



                                                   Rèves de Gloire by Roland Wagner - why this novel is essential for non-French readers:


The uchronia (or "divergent worlds") genre is very fashionable in France. We are used to Heliot, Bordage and Mauméjean (to name but three!), but suddenly we come across an author we weren't expecting, principally known for his short stories and hilariously excellent series, The Future Mysteries of Paris. In truth Roland Wagner has already committed uchronia, H.P.L. (1890 - 1991), where Lovecraft lives to the age of a hundred and one, which allows him to have turbulent exchanges with P.K. Dick and R. Heinlein. With Rêves de Gloire, Wagner rather explores French mythology, if one can say such a thing: at the beginning of the sixties, the moment when France really ceased to be a colonial empire, when it left Algeria.

General de Gaulle is assassinated in 1960. France moves towards growing political instability which drives it towards an authoritarian regime, practically a dictatorship, upheld by the military.  The Algerian war comes to an end when it is given independence, but three enclaves are retained by France. The first (Bougie) is returned six months later. The second (Oran) is also returned, which serves as a firewall, because it is hoped to keep the Algérois region, consisting essentially of the town of Algiers. The initial divergence leading to this parallel world is however more international: the Americans and the Russians were neck and neck in the space race; the Russian capsule crashed on the dark side of the moon, and it was thought that the Americans had got there first; the Russians then set out to conquer Mars, using not a little of their funds destined for the leftist freedom movements (among which were the Algerian FLN, which naturally enough changes the balance of power in Algeria) and in the narrator's beginning of our present 21st century, the USSR still exists.

It is against this solid backdrop that Rêves de Gloire takes place. But if the title temptingly suggests that imperialist nostalgia is still alive and kicking in France, that's not what it's about. Roland Wagner not only rewrites History but also "lesser" history (as, if not more, important) - cultural history.

In fact a whole generation of rebellious youth that knows it's destined for the Algerian war through compulsory military service not only deserts, but finds itself driven, even deported by the government to the "colonies", i.e. in the French enclaves and, when these have been ceded to Algeria, to the Algérois region. This young generation named "vautriens" (indolent hippies...) have experienced their Woodstock in Biarritz, and Tim(othy) Leary has supplied them with "Glory", the drug he brought with him from America. And they like, listen to and play music, a lot of music. Their high concentration in the Algérois region produces an explosion of "sex, drugs & rock'n'roll" so familiar to us, but brilliantly transposed to places and more especially to a culture which isn't - certainly on this side of the Atlantic.

Having perfectly learnt the lesson taught to him by Dick in The Man in the High Castle, Wagner shows us his divergent world through the wrong end of the binoculars, through the eyes of ordinary individuals: "vautriens", pragmatic and communitarian idealists (the major revelation of Glory is that God doesn't exist),  practically destitute cannon-fodder, Algerian freedom fighters, hard-nosed French soldiers, ex-patriot pieds-noirs, Harki, Muslim, Christian, Jew, all that colourful fauna crammed into Algiers, especially since it has become the last French enclave to receive all the people who couldn't or wouldn't make it back to France. There is the occasional first name or surname but all the characters are anonymous narrators of their own little piece of history and, which is admirable, in general we don't get lost in this intermingling of voices, each having its own particular characteristics.

We don't get lost - anyway not a great deal lost - in the time framework. This is a long backward movement structured, on the one hand, by a flexible toing and froing between the different moments that illustrate the march towards Algerian independence, and on the other, by the start of the secession of the Algérois region, which will become a free Commune - as the Vautriens move in.  In fact the whole book beats to a rhythm of psychodelic music presented in musicographical notes in which figure names, both well-known and unknown (Johnny Halliday died young in a terrorist attack in Algeria, his lead guitarist is a West Indian Jimi Hendrix type, Dieudonné Laviolette, the musicians of the Silver Beetles have become session musicians...), thus assuring movement between the different realities which is both the special delight yet also the challenge of the uchronia genre.

In fact Reves de Gloire is the title of an extremely rare LP by the Glorious Fellaghas, a legendary band playing psychodelic music, and the main narrator obsessively collects and sells records. This character is built up through clues left by several of the anonymous narrators, but what is important is that someone is looking for this record and killing the owners of it. This fake thriller framework - very loose - is a plotline for the novel.

There are so many more details I would like to reveal from this rich and complex novel - for example, the IT revolution and P2P systems exist, and Wagner has invented "alternative" terms ("use the vole to click on..." for example, which gives our "mouse" a touch of the bizarrely comic, or "mini-file systems"). We could also mention the autobiographical aspect, both real - Wagner is well-known in the French Sci-Fi milieu as a musician and a heavy smoker, and imaginary: he was born in Bab El Oued, in Algeria, therefore, but in 1960; the references to the 1968 revolutions are not his personal experience even if he describes the libertarian and communitarian winds of change of those years very well. And finally the mise en abyme of the novel, since in the two brief scenes that frame the novel, at the beginning and at the end, we meet none less than Albert Camus who didn't have an argument with a plane tree on a road in the Yonne in 1960, and plans to write... a uchronia on the history of Algeria.

You will have understood that this is a great novel, certainly the best that Roland Wagner has ever written. We may however wonder what readers in Quebec might get out of it, were they rock and pop fans and knowing about the European history of the second half of the last century. But because of this perhaps, there is a supplementary interest for us here: a picture of social and political dynamics nourished by a fresh vision of the world, liberal ideas maturing over a generation to culminate in independence through collective enthusiasm, and peacefully. Each reader can nurture their own nostalgic uchronia.

Élisabeth Vonarburg, Solaris, autumn 2011

Published at September 19, 2011