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
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
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
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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