(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Flammarion was best known in his time as a popularizer of astronomy, publishing a still-read Astronomie populaire in 1880. Also fascinated with the possibility of reincarnation and life on other worlds, he wrote speculative treatises on the topics. He gave these ideas fictional form in works such as the Récits de l’infini (1872; Stories of Infinity, 1874) and the romance Stella (1877).

Critics John Clute and Peter Nicholls consider Omega Flammarion’s “boldest” work of science fiction. This work, nearly contemporary to H. G. Wells’s The Time Machine (1895), is a compendium of several key themes of the emerging science-fiction literature. These include a comet-strike story, a key link in the thread that runs from Osip Senkovsky’s “Scientific Journey to Bear Island” (1833) to Wells’s In the Days of the Comet (1906) to Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle’s Lucifer’s Hammer (1977). It is also a “last man” story, like Mary Shelley’s The Last Man (1826), and an epic of cosmic death and rebirth that looks forward to Olaf Stapledon’s Last and First Men (1930).

Omega is both a tedious and a fascinating work. Though overly technical and didactic, the work still offers a unique window on French scientific culture. Omega was written by a scientist in the high period of positivism but is surprisingly skeptical of science and...

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