Irish Science Fiction



    “Irish Science Fiction” by Jack Fennel, revisits a critical paradigm that has often been overlooked or dismissed by science fiction scholars – namely, that science fiction can be understood in terms of myth. Science fiction springs from pseudo-science rather than ‘proper’ science, because pseudo-science is more easily converted into narrative; in this book it is argued that different cultures produce distinct pseudo-sciences, and thus, unique science fiction traditions.

    Jack Fennell’s innovative framework is used to examine Irish science fiction from the 1850s to the present day, covering material written both in Irish and in English. Considering science fiction novels and short stories in their historical context, Irish Science Fiction analyses a body of literature that has largely been ignored by Irish literature researchers. This is the first book to focus exclusively on Irish science fiction, and the first to consider Irish-language stories and novels alongside works published in English.”

    Jack Fennell teaches at the University of Limerick, Ireland.

    “Irish Science Fiction” TOC :


    1. Mad Science and the Empire: Fitz-James O’Brien and Robert Cromie

    2. ‘Future War’ and Gender in Nineteenth-Century Ireland

    3. Nationalist Fantasies of the Early Twentieth Century

    4. States of Emergency: Irish SF During World War Two

    5. The 1960s: Lemass, Modernization and the Cold War

    6. The Wrong History: Bob Shaw, James White and the Troubles

    7. Exotic Doom: the SF of Ian McDonald

    8. The Dystopian Decades: From Recession to Tiger and Back Again

    9. The Shape of Irish SF to Come

    Bibliography Index

    Format: Hardback

    Size: 239 x 163mm

    224 Pages

    ISBN: 9781781381199

    Publication: November 5, 2014

    Series: Liverpool Science Fiction Texts and Studies 48


    “Irish Science Fiction is a timely study in more ways than one. A chronological examination of two centuries of Irish sf, it is a groundbreaking and long-overdue work, coming in the wake of much recent interest in other ‘national’ sf traditions (Ukrainian, Italian, and Israeli, among others). Covering texts in both English and Irish Gaelic, the book is both an analysis of a surprisingly diverse selection of Irish literature and an important injection of sf into the field of Irish literary studies.” – Conor Reid, Science Fiction Studies

    An important and groundbreaking book … it introduced me to a whole body of writing about which – after 40 years in the field – I knew next to nothing, and made me want to search out and read much of it. I imagine most readers will feel the same way, and will, as do I, feel gratitude to the author for guiding us to and through the heretofore terra incognita of Irish science fiction.” – Philip O’Leary, Boston University

    Despite what has been the norm for sf films throughout the decades, I knew that if aliens did decide to invade Earth, their activities would not just be confined to North America.

    Planetary conquest logically means that all nations are fair game, and Ireland would be a choice location for a first strike, since we could not retaliate with nuclear weaponry.

    When I started my doctoral research into Irish SF, I thought that I had picked a nice handy topic: there couldn’t be that many Irish SF novels and short stories out there, and whatever amount there was must be very recent. Over the course of the next four years, I was proven wrong over and over again. There were hundreds of texts out there, so many that I had to abandon my plans to write a comprehensive overview. What struck me as particularly bizarre, though, was the difficulty I had in finding this stuff when there was such an abundance of it. The reasons became apparent as I continued digging.” – Jack Fennel

    “Until very recently, Irish SF was seen to be just as sub-literary as its international counterparts, something worthy of a dismissive footnote at most, or occasionally a whimsical, patronising article.

    “Unlike the solipsistic suburban guff that informs a great deal of Anglo-American ‘high art’ literature, which is at least somewhat organic, I’m convinced that in Ireland, this avoidance of genre is all about keeping up with the Joneses.

    Our literary history is full of the fantastic: this is where Gulliver’s Travels, The Picture of Dorian Gray and Dracula came from, not to mention the old heroic sagas and vision-poetry.

    Rather than celebrate that mad box of tricks, however, many Irish people tried to distance themselves from it, especially in the early years of independence; there was a fear that indulging in non-realist material would amount to playing up to dreamy fairy-story stereotype, and we were keen to show that we could be as responsible and grown-up and rational as any other modern nation. Fantastic and science-fictional stuff was still published of course, but it was ignored and downplayed, largely for fear of what the neighbours might think.

    So, the idea that the Irish just ‘didn’t do science’ was due to the lack of adequate research and education infrastructures in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and the notion that we just ‘didn’t do SF’ was down to the fact that there wasn’t a cultural/critical infrastructure of writers and scholars prepared to take the genre seriously.” – Jack Fennel


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    Jack Fennell’s bibliography of Irish Science Fiction, which describes hundreds Irish Science Fiction stories and books published from the 1850s to the present day :

    Albedo One Magazine Issue 46

    Emerald Eye: The Best Irish Imaginative Fiction“. Frank Ludlow & Roelof Goudriaan, eds.  Dublin: Aeon Press, 2005.

    “An anthology of short SF, fantasy and horror, produced by Irish authors, and authors resident in Ireland.

    Contributors: Mike McCormack; Mike O’Driscoll; John Kenny; Robert Neilson; Bob Shaw; Seán Mac Roibin; David Murphy; William Trevor; Michael Carroll; Anne McCaffrey; Dermot Ryan; James Lecky; David Logan; John Sexton; Sam Millar; Fred Johnston.”

    Kevin Barry – City of Bohane. London: Jonathan Cape, 2011.

    “Set in 2053-2054, in the eponymous fictional city in the west of Ireland. Bohane is a bleak urban environment where crime and murder are part of the fabric of everyday life, ruled by gang lords. The most profitable trades in Bohane are prostitution and opium, both of which are concentrated in the Smoketown area: whoever controls Smoketown controls the city, and currently that person is Logan ‘The Albino’ Hartnett, chief of the gang now known as the Hartnett Fancy. The city has been calm for many years, but the peace is starting to look shaky, as the Fancy’s traditional rivals, the families of the Northside Rises, have been growing in strength and are seeking an official feud. To make matters worse, the Fancy’s former boss, a ruthless man known as ‘The Gant’ Broderick, has returned from the Big Nothin’ after an absence of twenty-five years, for reasons best known to himself. The most striking aspect of the novel is its use of language, which has drawn just comparisons to Joyce and Burgess.”

    Roddy Doyle – “57% Irish.” The Deportees. London: Vintage Books, 2008.

    “A short story set in Celtic Tiger-era Ireland, in which an academic is asked by the Minister for the Arts and Ethnicity to develop a means of measuring Irishness. The young man develops a Blade Runner-esque device that measures the subject’s emotional reactions to Riverdance, goals scored by footballer Roy Keane, and Irish-made pornography. Principally a satire on the Irish and European attitudes to immigration, the narrative also contains hints that it is set in the future (for example, the aforementioned Roy Keane has quit football to take a post at the UN, and pop singer Ronan Keating is now bald).”

    Conor Kostick – Epic. Dublin: O’Brien Press, 2004.

    “A Young Adult novel set on New Earth, a colony planet settled by Scandinavian pacifists. The planet’s economy and legal system are controlled by Epic, a colossal virtualreality role-playing game originally developed to keep the colonists entertained as they voyaged through deep space. As citizens spend every spare moment playing Epic, their realworld society crumbles, and a small handful of players have amassed enough in-game wealth to effectively control the entire planet. When a teenager called Erik assembles a team of adventurers to kill a dragon, thereby earning enough in-game money to force a change in the constitution, he finds himself at the centre of an anarchist plot to destroy the game, and discovers that Epic has become self-aware. As the title foreshadows, the plot culminates in an apocalyptic battle between the forces of good and evil. The game is ended, the ‘Casiocracy’ is overthrown, and an egalitarian world system is established. In places, Epic reads like a dramatised textbook on economic theory for teenagers, but it is notable for including references to political philosophy.”

    Tim Booth – Altergeist. Bantry: Fish Publishing, 1999.

    “This novel is set in a fractious near-future “New Ireland” where the Roman Catholic Church, the Russian Army and an American media corporation compete with the remnants of the Irish government for control over the state. The plot follows Misha Ploughman, a cadet at the “DizBee” Learning Centre for Advertising Design, who goes on the run after top-secret software is downloaded into her brain, one consequence of which is the “Altergeist Effect” – for reasons unknown, the software triggers personality changes in young women, accompanied by phenomenal telekinetic powers.”

    John Joyce – A Matter of Time. Dublin: Poolbeg Press Ltd., 1999.

    “The first part of Joyce’s Virtual Trilogy. Following an air crash in Egypt, billionaire computer expert and captain of industry Theodore Gilkrensky comes out of seclusion to investigate whether a device manufactured by his company had anything to do with the disaster. He is aided in his investigations by a small army of pilots and bodyguards, as well as a self-aware computer system modelled after his deceased wife (the titular Maria). Opposing him is a Japanese keiretsu which is seeking to acquire controlling shares in the company, and prepared to go to any lengths to do so – including hiring an Islamic fundamentalist group to kidnap Gilkrensky, and sending a mentally-unstable ninja to acquire the miraculous computer. Every character has a personal agenda of their own, with revenge as the primary driving force behind most of the plot strands. The narrative strays outside of the corporate/conspiracy/technothriller pattern, however, by introducing new-age spirituality into the mix.”

    John Joyce – Virtually Maria. Dublin: Poolbeg Press Ltd., 1998.

    “The second in Joyce’s Virtual Trilogy. Following the first book’s adventures in Egypt, billionaire software designer Theo Gilkrensky continues his quest to find a way to travel into the past to save his wife Maria from assassination, using the reality-warping powers of ley-lines. Circumstances lead him to Florida, where he finds a naturally-occurring ley-line wormhole in the area known as the Bermuda Triangle, and manages to successfully transport himself back to the year 1945. Complicating matters are Yukiko Funakoshi – the deranged ninja assassin from the first book – and Jerry Gibb, a perverted and sadistic computer game programmer, who steals Gilkrensky’s “virtual Maria” to fulfil his sexual fantasies.”

    John Joyce – Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow. Dublin: Spindrift Press, 2008.

    “The third in Joyce’s Virtual Trilogy. Theo Gilkrensky continues his quest to travel back through time and prevent his wife’s murder, using a wormhole generated by ‘ley lines.’ Once again, he is pursued by the insane ninja Yukiko Funakoshi, and in this volume he acquires additional enemies in the American and Japanese secret services, corporate pirates and lawyers. As in the previous volumes, the alpha-geek Gilkrensky extricates himself from tricky situations by means of James Bond -style heroics, as well as relying on his colossal personal wealth to avoid the legal and political fallout of his actions; all the while, he continues to fend off the affections of a brace of beautiful, jealous women – including the self-aware VR simulacrum of his dead wife.”

    Catherine Brophy – Dark Paradise. Dublin: Wofhound Press, 1991.

    “On the planet Zintilla, a humanoid species has evolved into two distinct types: natural humans who live rustic lives in the wilderness, and ‘Crystal Beings’ who have altered their bodies over the generations through participant evolution. The Crystal Beings lack legs, reproductive organs and excretory appendages, and they live beneath the Cowl – a colossal roof covering a large portion of the planet’s five continents – in a society devoted to knowledge and logic, where emotions are abhorred as ‘chaos.’ Somewhat predictably, a group of young Crystal Beings manages to escape from the cowl with the help of the unevolved ‘bipeds,’ forming a rebel movement to end the joyless, antiseptic Zintillian hegemony.”

    Sam Baneham – The Cloud of Desolation. Dublin: Wolfhound Press, 1982.

    “The protagonist of this story is an individual named Dig 951, a young inhabitant of a subterranean society called Utopia. By persistently asking awkward questions, Dig creates pandemonium in Utopia, a totalitarian theocracy where an unguarded comment can give rise to a far-reaching political scandal. It is clear to the reader from the outset that this underground civilisation arose as a result of worldwide nuclear war, and that the mythical ‘Overlanders’ referred to by its inhabitants are the scattered bands of people who survived the conflagration. Dig is sent on an expedition to the surface, where he encounters an Overlander family and learns some uncomfortable truths about the world he lives in.”

     Iarla Mac Aodha Bhuí – An Clár AMANDA (Amanda Program). 1998. Indreabhán: Book Publishers, 2000.

    “When Séamus Uí Dhuibhir downloads a program into his brain without realising what it is, it’s up to his brother Conall to figure out a way to save him. The eponymous AMANDA program grants Séamus a phenomenal degree of control over the stock market, but it is also re-writing his personality at the behest of persons unknown. Conall, together with hard-drinking investigative journalist Jane and computergeek Wayne, follows leads across Korea and China while trying to keep one step ahead of Colonel Kim, the South Korean chief of police with dreams of dominating all of Asia. Unusually for young adult fiction, there are no teenage characters here with which the target audience can identify: the protagonists are all professionals who appear to be in their late twenties to early thirties, while the hapless Séamus is happily married. The novel won a prize at Oireachtas na Gaeilge 1998, but it was not published until 2000.”

    Iarla Mac Aodha Bhuí  – Domhan Faoi Cheilt. Indreabhán: Book Publishers, 1999.

    “A juvenile space opera. The title means, “A Hidden World.” Two teenagers from a distant future (when humankind has colonised outer space) discover an artificial environment floating in the void. When they enter it, they find themselves in a replica of Earth, populated by descendants of the last inhabitants of Atlantis. There are two tribes at war here, one of which is a slave-driven economy, while the other is peaceful and lives in harmony with the environment. Our two heroes lead a slave rebellion, and help the good Atlanticans to escape before the artificial sun (a nuclear reactor) explodes. Notable for its use of Gaelicized SF terms borrowed from Star Trek (e.g. “féasair,” meaning ‘phasers’).”

    Seán Mac Maoláin – Algoland. Dublin: Oifig an tSoláthair, 1947.

    “The unnamed narrator of this novel (possibly Mac Maoláin himself) tells us at the beginning that everything that follows is a dream brought on by eating seafood before bedtime. He finds himself in the country of Algoland (named after a phrase in the works of Pliny the Elder), where he befriends the poet laureate, Tagaldus. Tagaldus takes it upon himself to guide the narrator around Algoland’s capital city, La Primabura, while answering questions about the strange country. Algoland is shielded from view by a canopy of trees with blue-green foliage, camouflaging it against the sea to anyone that might be flying overhead. The capital city is underground, and the inhabitants speak a language very similar to classical Latin, wear skin-tight clothing, and travel around on motorised rollerskates. Most of the buildings have wheels, so that houses can be situated according to the occupier’s mood; VIPs and members of the military have the option of flying hither and yon by means of Greer-like wing apparatuses, and the elderly are conveyed to and fro on floating seat-platforms. Algolandish society is not a perfect, egalitarian society – there is a ghetto for the poor, citizens are obliged to carry a psychometric device that measures emotions associated with violent behaviour (and to present themselves at the Court of Law once a week, so that their ‘read-out’ can be examined by a clerk), and there is a flourishing criminal element concerned primarily with illegal tobacco farming. There is no plot to speak of in this text; neither are there any sf neologisms, despite the repeated references to ‘replicator’ technology that seemingly produces foodstuffs from nothing. The novel ends when, just as he is about to be killed by a falling house, the narrator wakes up.”

    Tomás Mac Síomóin – Ag Altóir an Diabhail (At the Altar of the Devil). Dublin: Coischéim, 2003.

    “A recently-widowed teacher named Beartla B receives a circular letter from a company called Marital Electronics Ltd. The company wishes to sell him ‘an electronic bride,’ also known as a ‘Juliet.’ This appliance is apparently very realistic, and has lifelike responses to touch and verbal interaction. Initially enraged by this offer, under the duress of prolonged loneliness Beartla B begins to entertain the notion. Soon, he has ordered a ‘Juliet,’ and in so doing, he triggers a tragic chain of events. The situation lends itself to some comic scenes. Beartla tries to decide on the appearance of his custom-made bride, but cannot make his mind up between Monica Lewinsky and Mary Robinson; he then finds that he cannot follow the badly-translated assembly instructions. All the while, he remains oblivious to the affection shown to him by a flesh-and-blood woman, “Deirdre of the Blue Nails.” However, the comedy of the text is mixed with anger and sorrow: Beartla is narrating this tale to a psychiatrist in a mental institution, where he has been incarcerated after detonating a bomb in the centre of his village.”

    Tomás Mac Síomóin – An Tionscadal: Fabhal don nuaaois i dtrí eadarlúid. Dublin: Coisceim, 2007.

    “An Irish expat living in Catalonia comes into possession of an old map showing the location of a mysterious village in the mountains. Daithí Ó Gallchóir researches the village of Les Pedres, and learns that the locals have an average lifespan of two hundred years. This longevity, Daithí discovers, is linked to a bioluminescent species of ginseng that only grows in the vicinity of the village, and he soon starts planning how best to exploit this plant for financial gain. There is a link to Ag Altóir an Diabhail: Daithí works as a marketing executive for Martel, the mysterious multinational behind ‘Marital Electronics Ltd.’”

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