Spotlight (Number 1, November 4, 2014): Jean Bruller/Vercors

The SFATW Spotlight is a series of brief, occasional articles that provide an introduction to authors, artists, editors, and others who help to create and present speculative fiction. The subjects in the Spotlight come from a variety of countries in a range of genres.

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Jean Bruller (26 February 1902 – 10 June 1991) was a French author who published under the pseudonym Vercors, which he adopted while fighting with the French Resistance in World War Two.

In Nazi-occupied France, Vercors and Pierre de Lescure risked the death penalty by founding Les Éditions de Minuit, an underground press that flouted the censorship imposed by the occupation and the collaborationist Vichy regime.

Minuit published some of France’s greatest authors–generally under pen names–including Louis Aragon, Paul Éluard,  François Mauriac, Jean Paulhan, and André Gide, and it continues publishing to this day.

Vercors’ best known work of speculative fiction is the science fiction novel Les Animaux dénaturés, which has been translated into English under the titles, You Shall Know ThemBorderline, and The Murder of the Missing Link.

Vercors, flanked by the first English edition of You Shall Know Them (left)and a current edition (right).  Source for the portrait is here.

Vercors (Jean Bruller), flanked by the first English edition of You Shall Know Them (left) and a current edition (right). Source for the portrait is here.

Like Albert Camus–his countryman, fellow author, and Resistance comrade–Vercors combined compelling writing with a moralist’s point of view.

In You Shall Know Them, a tribe of primitive apemen, called Tropis, is discovered living in New Guinea.  When a businessman tries to exploit them as cheap labor, the issue of whether or not they’re human—and therefore entitled to the same protection as other workers—becomes the focus of debate.  A scientist impregnates one of the Tropis with his own sperm, then kills the child once it’s born, as a way of forcing a legal decision on the humanity of the Tropis, which the court must decide in order to determine whether or not he committed murder.

The English translation of Les Animaux dénaturés was nominated for the 1963 Hugo Award for Best Novel.

The Burt Reynolds film Skullduggery (1970) was an adaptation of the book, but was so bad that the author had his name removed from the credits.  The trailer, embedded below, seems to bear out the idea that the film is an execrable abomination.  Possibly the only thing to recommend it is that it features two alumni of the Star Trek Original Series School of Overacting, Roger C. Carmel, who played Harry Mudd in two episodes (“I, Mudd” and “Mudd’s Women”) and William Marshall, who played Dr. Richard Daystrom (“The Ultimate Computer”).


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