REVIEW: “The Diamond Lens” by Fitz-James O’Brien

Review of Fitz-James O’Brien, “The Diamond Lens” in A Brilliant Void: A Selection of Classic Irish Science Fiction, edited by Jack Fennell (Tramp Press, 2018): 21-49 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

O’Brien’s story is a first-person narration of Mr. Linley, a man obsessed with microscopes, convinced he’s the first person to make all sorts of discoveries despite never having studied any of the classics, and who sounds like basically the most irritating mansplainer of mid 19th C New England (yes, that’s where it’s set, there and in NYC, which strikes me as an interesting choice for an Irish author). Add in a bit of casual anti-semitism, some problematic gypsy stereotypes, and the objectification of women, and the entire thing is rather horrific. But read through a 21st-century lens (albeit not diamond), it’s something of a howler — I had trouble taking the narrator at all seriously, and enjoyed thinking of all the devastating memes I’d post in reply to his Twitter feed (which I’m sure he would have had, if Twitter existed in the 19th C).

But like the previous story in this anthology, O’Brien’s has a solid dose of microscopy and optics, which I appreciated, and lively doses of spiritualism and unlikely coincidences. It’s almost enough to offset the entire lack of redeeming features in Mr. Linley’s character — almost.

(This was originally published in 1858.)