REVIEW: “The Exile” by Cathal Ó Sándair

Review of Cathal Ó Sándair, “The Exile” in A Brilliant Void: A Selection of Classic Irish Science Fiction, edited by Jack Fennell (Tramp Press, 2018): 253-260 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

The final story in this anthology was originally published 123 years after the first one — so far into the future of the early 19th C as to be almost unimaginable (though that didn’t prevent the early authors from trying!). The contrast between this story and the previous ones was marked: This one felt modern. This is in part because, although it was written in 1960, it is set in what is still the future of 2019. (Although it’s not our timeline, that’s for sure; we did not make contact with the Selenites, those who live on the moon, in 2007 as happened in this story.)

Seán Murphy was a young man when he first read an advertisement in the paper calling for young men to emigrate to the Moon. Despite his mother’s desires, and promising to come back within 5 years, Seán went. But when his mother died before the five years was up, there was — for many years at least — no reason for him to return home, no reason, until he himself was old and grown, his wife dead, his children scattered. Then it seemed to Seán that his life on the Moon was an exile, and he desired to return to Ireland, to die there.

The joy in this story is the way it pokes sly fun at the loyalty that the Irish have for Ireland — “the nicest place under the sun” (p. 257) — in the face of the width and breadth of the solar system for comparison. But the grass is always greener on the other side, and what Seán finds when he returns to Ireland is not quite what he bargained on.

(Originally published in 1960; this translation by the present editor.)