Holiday reading

by Henry Farrell on August 15, 2003

One of my favorite silly science fiction novels from the 1960s, Fred Hoyle’s _Ossian’s Ride_, has long descriptions of the remote part of Ireland where I’m staying. Hoyle was Britain’s Astronomer Royal, and the main proponent of the now unfashionable Steady State theory of the universe’s origins (or, more precisely, lack of origins). He also wrote a few bad sf novels; _Ossian’s Ride_ is probably the worst of them. However, it’s interesting for what it says about attitudes to Ireland in the period when it was written.

_Ossian’s Ride_ presents an Ireland which has been transformed by a new industrial revolution. Irish firms have suddenly and mysteriously started to manufacture new super-light, super-strong materials, and the world wants to know how they’re doing it. But Irish authorities have declared large parts of the countryside off limits to foreigners. The hero of the novel (who’s British, if I remember correctly), goes through a series of sub-39 Steps adventures before finding his way to the Ring of Kerry, where he discovers that aliens have landed beside Caragh Lake, and have been giving the locals a helping hand.

For all of the novel’s hokey plotting, it’s fun to read if you know the places that Hoyle is writing about – he gets the geography right, so I imagine that he took a few holidays around here himself. And it’s interesting to note that a 1960’s UK scientist thought that a tech-savvy Ireland was a suitably outrageous starting point for a sf thriller. And that he presumed that the Irish would need help from space aliens to do anything about it. Ireland was then regarded (with some justification) as a bucolic, pre-industrial backwater. Of course, Ireland has since developed a world-class technology manufacturing and software sector, skipping past the industrial revolution without any alien intervention worth talking about (unless Bill Gates is from outer space).

Insert alien manufactory here



Robert Schwartz 08.17.03 at 1:53 am

“the now unfashionable Steady State theory of the universe”

Should be: the now disproven Steady State theory of the universe


Dell Adams 08.17.03 at 11:11 am

I liked the book too.


Martin Wisse 08.17.03 at 8:45 pm

I wouldn’t call Fred Hoyle’s sf novels bad myself; he has written several minor classics: _The Black Cloud_ for one, _October the First is too Late_ for another.

Never the best sf writer, but always at least readable and interesting, in my experience.


Nabakov 08.18.03 at 2:24 pm

I quite liked Hoyle’s (co-written with his son) ‘Fifth Planet’ which made some good points about the dichotomy between physicists and engineers and the use of threat warnings in keeping a populace malleable.

And also, a good moment in “The Black Cloud” is when the humans try to keep a vast, cool, semi-unsympathethic intelligence (voiced by a Northern groundskeeper) from snuffing things out – by playing Beethoven to it.


Nabakov 08.18.03 at 2:28 pm

And speaking of “Ossian’s Ride”, does anyone know if “Quatermass II” is now available on video? Either the original TV production and/or the film.

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