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O'Leary, Patrick

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.

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(1952-    ) US author whose studiously Equipoisal first novel, Door Number Three (1995), much expands the 1990s American venue of its beginning: a therapist is the inventor of a Time Machine and brings back knowledge of Earth's grim Post-Holocaust Near Future whose main inhabitants seem to be a new race – possibly Mutants generated through intense radioactivity – who function primarily as dream-eaters, their choicest source of nourishment being humans traded them for complex reasons, via Time Travel; his patient is an Alien, which is, in a sense, another story. The centrality of Story itself, not normally at the heart of sf discourse, dominates this tale and its successors [for discussion of Story see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below], and strengthens a sense that O'Leary has taken some of the enigmas at the heart of Gene Wolfe's harder fictions to heart.

His second novel, The Gift (1997), a fantasy couched within an abstract sf frame, even more explicitly structured as dramatic rendering of the nature of Story and Storytelling, for the eponymous gift is precisely the gift of storytelling that wizards from another world have bestowed upon a race of bipeds, enabling them to become human. Again, moments of Equipoise – including a vision of a Dystopia far into the future – give the narrative a compelling edginess, a sense that some revelation may be imminent, perhaps at the hand of an unseen God. The Impossible Bird (2002) again sets itself into unstable ground: Earth has been invaded by benevolent Aliens in saucers who – wishing to pass on the ambivalent benefits of some sort of Immortality to their mortal subjects – arrange for the "souls" of dead humans to enjoy a form of resurrection as programmes in a Virtual Reality enclave. The story itself, which begins as a moderately orthodox Posthumous Fantasy [see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below], complicatedly unpacks into a family romance irradiated by Memes of Transcendence. In 51 (2022), a portal between Dimensions opens some time after the first nuclear test (16 July 1945) at Alamogordo, New Mexico; from this portal emerges a long flood of Aliens whose indeterminate shape and being explains their being called Imaginary Friends (or IFs) by those they contact. The story is narrated to a friend by a man whose task seems to be the execution of Memory Edits on some of those befriended. Ultimately, there is a meeting of minds and hearts.

O'Leary's short fiction – assembled in Other Voices, Other Rooms: A Collection of Stories, Meditations and Poems (coll 2000) and The Black Heart (2009 chap) – tends to focus on the fate of individuals, many of them Catholic, in the badlands of contemporary life. [JC]

Patrick O'Leary

born Saginaw, Michigan: 13 September 1952




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