Facing the Science-Fictional Other: Human-Alien Contact in J.H. Rosny aîné’s Les Xipéhuz
Belgian author J.H. Rosny aîné (1856–1940) is unique among early science fiction authors in his sympathetic treatment of the alien Other. In Les Xipéhuz (1887), a prehistoric tribe turns to Bakhoûn, a modern, rational man before his time, after a deadly encounter with an alien species, who then uses the scientific method to study the creatures and find their weakness. Rosny’s novella moves away from the alien-encounter trope of his time, emphasizing a scientific approach to understanding the nonhuman figure, in the place of fear and superstition. However, Rosny’s universe operates on a larger, evolutionary scale, where individual ethical responsibility and species survival cannot always be in harmony. This article examines Bakhoûn’s regret that the two species cannot coexist by drawing on Emmanuel Lévinas’s ethical concept of the face, in order to demonstrate how Bakhoûn’s final reflections transcend species boundaries.