The Broken Land Critical Essays

Ian McDonald


(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

For readers reared on George Bernard Shaw, William Butler Yeats, and James Joyce, it can be unsettling to be reminded that by the end of the twentieth century, Ireland had become virtually a Third World country, with a history of oppressive colonialism, violence, famine, and poverty. Despite a rich heritage of visionary literature and mythology, not to mention an unparalleled tradition of satirical fantasy from Jonathan Swift to Flann O’Brien, it is hard to think of a clearly Irish tradition in science fiction, one that takes account of both the fabled Irish love of language and more bitter economic and historical realities. Ian McDonald seems to have set out to remedy this situation single-handedly, not only with his panoply of Irish history in King of Morning, Queen of Day (1991) but also with this sometimes harrowing novel of oppression, violence, and redemption.

In one sense, the novel is a depressing catalog of twentieth century atrocities, displaced to a distant setting that resembles, at various times, Northern Ireland, Nazi Europe, South Africa, and Southeast Asia. McDonald’s cultural and mythic background suggests a panoply of oppressed peoples, but the chief antagonists—the Proclaimers, who rule with more or less conventional technology; and the Confessors, who can alter biological forms for technological uses—suggest nothing so much as Catholics and Protestants and their conflict in Northern Ireland.


(The entire section is 493 words.)