Nav­i­gat­ing the warped course of Emer­ald sci-fi

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Living - - BOOKS - HI­LARY A WHITE

FIC­TION A Bril­liant Void

ACURSORY glance at the Gothic tra­di­tion pro­vides strong ar­gu­ments for its role as a fore­run­ner of sci­ence fic­tion. Mad sci­en­tists ( Franken­stein), un­ortho­dox medicine ( Drac­ula) and other per­ver­sions of the nat­u­ral course would be­come the sta­ple in­gre­di­ents of sci­ence fic­tion be­fore the gaze was turned to the heav­ens and the lim­it­less pos­si­bil­i­ties that they of­fered. Mix to­gether these tropes with HG Wells and Jules Verne and you get 20th Cen­tury sci-fi.

In Ire­land, as editor Jack Fen­nell de­tails in his in­tro­duc­tion to A Bril­liant Void, sci-fi has al­ways en­dured, even if much of the lit­er­ary es­tab­lish­ment look down its nose at this warped genre. Look right back to the Tuatha De Danann to find the Sky­walker pa­ter­nity cri­sis, Fen­nell says, along with laser vi­sion and metal pros­the­sis.

Fen­nell’s task in com­pil­ing this chrono­log­i­cal (1837-1960) Hiber­nian sci-fi reader is to set out his ar­gu­ment; while crit­ics may have con­sid­ered it margina­lia, the Ir­ish have al­ways had a knack for sci­ence fic­tion due to our affin­ity for ais­ling po­etry, the weirder ends of Beck­ett and Flann O’brien etc, and the Gothic.

On the face of it, the most mod­ern en­try here — Cathal O Sandair’s The Ex­ile — can seem to be the most pithy, pulpy and provin­cial of the lot, telling as it does of a Ker­ry­man liv­ing on a lu­nar colony who comes to miss the clammy cold of Kil­lar­ney. While ef­fec­tive use is made of the em­i­gra­tion metaphor, there is a very Ir­ish punch­line to it that is a lit­tle glib.

Else­where, be­fore space­ships and lu­nar long­ing, we see some ma­jorly fas­ci­nat­ing work re­vived.

But­te­vant’s Clotilde Graves is one of eight women writ­ers fea­tured in these 15 tales. Her 1917 short story The Great Beast of Ka­fue is a gilded piece of ex­otic ro­mance about a Dutch fron­tiers­man seek­ing out a Juras­sic relic still liv­ing in the jun­gle of deep­est, dark­est Rhode­sia.

A cen­tury later, its Con­rad-es­que themes of pre­da­tion and holy-grail rav­aging chime loudly. The ear­li­est in­stal­ment is that of Wil­liam Maginn’s The New Franken­stein, a bizarre item (odd­ness, Edited by Jack Fen­nell Tramp Press €15.00

Fen­nell freely ad­mits, can be a hall­mark of at­trac­tive scifi) that fea­tures one of many mad sci­en­tists here. As if ig­nor­ing the de­tails of Shel­ley’s orig­i­nal, Maginn’s bof­fin is out to cre­ate a mon­ster with in­tel­lect.

A prin­ci­pal func­tion is to hy­poth­e­sise and sim­u­late, to test our­selves against sit­u­a­tions that might ex­plain so­ci­ety bet­ter. Look­ing back at these works from to­day’s van­tage point, how­ever, they al­low us to ret­ro­spec­tively see what our an­ces­tors imag­ined for their fu­tures.

Take The Chronotron, Tar­lach O huid’s 1946 time-travel headache, where po­lit­i­cal mo­tives and over-leap­ing sci­en­tific achieve­ment cause a rift in the con­tin­uum when ap­plied to the An­glo-ir­ish War. The same ter­ri­tory is en­coun­tered in A Story With­out An End, Dorothy Mcar­dle’s riff on Civil War dream-vi­sions that, again, sees the oth­er­world be­ing dragged into the con­fu­sion and pain of a fraught con­text (Mcar­dle wrote it in Moun­tjoy in 1922 while im­pris­oned for Anti-treaty ac­tiv­i­ties).

In The Sorcerer (1922), mean­while, Char­lotte McManus, an­other Anti-treaty soldier, takes the back-lanes magic of an­cient Ire­land and smashes it against the fierce en­quiry of the sci­en­tific age to see if they can co-ex­ist.

There is, un­sur­pris­ingly, a flurry of ac­tiv­ity on the eve of the 20th Cen­tury, as phi­los­o­phy, god and sci­ence un­der­went stag­ger­ing so­cial shifts. This leads us to more bend­ing of med­i­cal ethics in The Pro­fes­sor’s Ex­per­i­ment (1895) by Mar­garet Wolfe Hunger­ford, while Jane Bar­low’s An Ad­vance Sheet (1898) wan­ders into a kalei­do­scope of al­ter­nate di­men­sions via a lu­natic asy­lum.

Less the fi­nal word on Emer­ald sci-fi than a his­tor­i­cal ar­gu­ment for its con­tin­u­a­tion and ad­vance­ment, this is more worth­while, left-of­cen­tre pub­lish­ing by Tramp Press.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.