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O'Neill, Joseph

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.

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(1878-1952) Irish educationist and author, active from around 1905; Permanent Secretary to the Department of Education, Irish Free State, 1923-1944. His first book, The Kingdom-Maker: A Verse Play in Five Acts (1917) as by Seósamh O'Neill, is a drama about the founding of Ireland featuring somewhat fantasticated Firbolgs. He was the author of three novels of sf interest, though Wind from the North (1934) is only marginally fantastic, its narrator passing through a Timeslip to give a vivid account of Dublin under Viking rule in 1013, which he loves and hates.

O'Neill turned to sf proper with Land under England (1935), a Dystopia in a Lost-World setting: in an enormous and visually exorbitant Underground cave system beneath Cumberland, which resembles a John Martin panorama, descendants of the Roman Army suffer under a totalitarian regime in which individualism is completely obliterated by Telepathic means. In its bleakness and anger, Land Under England bears close resemblance to earlier Scientific Romances like Owen Gregory's Meccania, the Super State (1918), but is more smoothly told than most; it stands in contrast – perhaps deliberately – to Herbert Read's The Green Child (1934), whose protagonist immerses himself with Stoic acceptance in an epiphany deep underground: the ideal society in this case climaxing in the peace of death.

The introduction by Æ to Land Under England is couched on the assumption that the book was a Satire on Hitlerian totalitarianism, an impression strengthened on the appearance of Day of Wrath (1936), a Future-War novel which describes the destruction of civilization in 1952 by advanced aircraft following a coalition between Germany, Japan and China (see Pax Aeronautica; Yellow Peril). Throughout his relatively brief prime as a professional author, O'Neill remained eloquent. He is a writer to be remembered. [JE/JC]

see also: Optimism and Pessimism; Politics.

Joseph James O'Neill

born Tuam, County Galway, Ireland: 18 December 1878

died Stillorgan, County Dublin, Ireland: 6 May 1952




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