The 1926 satirical sf novel King Goshawk and the Birds, by Irish playwright and novelist Eimar O’Duffy, is set in a future world devastated by progress. When King Goshawk, the supreme ruler among a caste of “king capitalists,” buys up all the wildflowers and songbirds, an aghast Dublin philosopher travels via the astral plane to Tír na nÓg. First the mythical Irish hero Cúchulainn, then his son Cuanduine, travel to Earth in order to combat the king capitalists. Thirty-five years before the hero of Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, these well-meaning aliens discover that cultural forms and norms are the most effective barrier to social or economic revolution.
HiLobrow is pleased to serialize King Goshawk and the Birds, which has long been out of print, in its entirety. A new installment will appear each week.
Chapter 7: How Cúchulainn treated a Minion of King Goshawk
After such adventures the Philosopher dared not let Cúchulainn give him the slip again. On the next day, therefore, they went linked arm-in-arm throughout the whole of their explorations; by which, as they were both far and wide, and as the slowest pace to which Cúchulainn could restrict himself was nearly twice as fast as the Philosopher could tolerate, he was so much exhausted that on the third day he readily agreed that the hero should go forth alone, but laid on him this geasa: that for no cause whatsoever, and under no provocation whatsoever, should he strike or otherwise mishandle any human being, or any property of any human being whatsoever.
Thus bound, Cúchulainn walked rapidly through the city till he came to the open country about Lucan. Presently he met with a man in the scarlet uniform of King Goshawk, bearing on one arm a wicker cage, and under the other a strange-looking apparatus somewhat resembling a set of war-pipes, the bag of which he squeezed with his elbow forcing from the nozzle a stream of violet-coloured gas wherewith he sprayed the hedges and the trees that lined the road. Under the discharge of this noxious vapour there fell at his feet great numbers of asphyxiated birds, from which he selected the robins, thrushes, and blackbirds to put in his cage, and then walked on, whistling a merry note, trampling through the fallen wrens, finches, sparrows, and other such common truck as if they had been drifted leaves in autumn.
“Fellow,” said Cúchulainn, “what are you doing?”
The bird-catcher cocked an impertinent eye, and, tapping the breast of his tunic, said: “See my livery? Then hold your lip.”
Cúchulainn, mindful of his geasa, put constraint upon his wrath. Then, laying a hand upon the bird-catcher’s shoulder, he said: “Friend, I have asked you a civil question: I want a civil answer,” fixing him with a look so persuasive that the bird-catcher made haste to propitiate him, saying: “No offence, boss. I’m gathering birds for King Goshawk.”
“Why?” asked Cúchulainn.
“They’re his birds, boss. The robins, thrushes, and blackbirds, that is. I take no others, as you see.”
“How are they his?” asked Cúchulainn.
“He’s bought ’em,” said the bird-catcher.
“Is that any reason why you should gather them for him?” asked Cúchulainn.
“I do what I’m paid for,” said the bird-catcher.
“Vile slave,” said Cúchulainn, “why do you not do what you will to do, and get paid for that?”
“Now, God help you, sir, for a poor innocent,” said the bird-catcher. “Wouldn’t we all do that if we could? But we can’t. Personally I’d like to carve wooden toys for children — I carve ’em for my own kids in my spare time: cows and donkeys and crocodiles and things, you know, all done with a penknife — amatoorish, of course, but the kids like ’em. But bless you, how could my penknife compete with the Toy Trust? — I mean if it came to business. And if I went into one of the Trust’s factories, I’d just have to stand seven hours a day feeding lumps of beech wood into a damned machine. No thank you. Not for me. The open road for this child. Now just stand aside, sir, if you please, for this job is piece-work.”
“O thou pitiable slave,” said Cúchulainn. “Give me that cage and gas-battery: for, by my hand of valour, you shall spray no more.”
At this speech the bird-catcher began to feel some alarm, for to his ears it seemed to smack of lunacy: so he set to coaxing and reasoning with Cúchulainn, saying: “Easy, boss, easy. Where’s your Majesty’s oil-field?” for it was a common infirmity of the mind in those days to imagine oneself possessed of boundless wealth, and Cúchulainn spoke with the haughtiness characteristic of one so afflicted.
“A truce to this jesting, slave,” said Cúchulainn, his anger kindling. “Give me that cage and gas-battery, or must I take them by force?”
“Please, your Majesty,” said the bird-catcher, “I am but a poor man, and these are the property of his Majesty King Goshawk, whose subject I am. Will your Majesty deign to walk down the road some fifteen perches, and at the third turning to the left you will find your Majesty’s oil-field.”
Still mindful of his geasa, Cúchulainn enforced himself to a meek behaviour, taking the bird-catcher very gently around the neck with one hand, while with the other he caught the wrist that held the cage. The bird-catcher tried to struggle but Cúchulainn mildly repressed him, and having quietly relieved him of cage and gas-battery, laid him tenderly on his back upon the road. If you will believe me, the neck and wrist of the thrall took not more than a week or so to regain their normal flexibility: yet for this moderation Cúchulainn got small thanks from the Philosopher, who laid sterner geasa than ever upon him, declaring that if he had thought the songbirds could be saved by such simple methods, he would not have gone beyond the skies for a liberator.
RADIUM AGE SCIENCE FICTION: “Radium Age” is HiLobrow’s name for the 1904–33 era, which saw the discovery of radioactivity, the revelation that matter itself is constantly in movement — a fitting metaphor for the first decades of the 20th century, during which old scientific, religious, political, and social certainties were shattered. This era also saw the publication of genre-shattering writing by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Sax Rohmer, E.E. “Doc” Smith, Jack London, Arthur Conan Doyle, Aldous Huxley, Olaf Stapledon, Karel Čapek, H.P. Lovecraft, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Yevgeny Zamyatin, Philip Gordon Wylie, and other pioneers of post-Verne/Wells, pre-Golden Age “science fiction.” More info here.
READ GORGEOUS PAPERBACKS: HiLoBooks has reissued the following 10 obscure but amazing Radium Age science fiction novels in beautiful print editions: Jack London’s The Scarlet Plague, Rudyard Kipling’s With the Night Mail (and “As Easy as A.B.C.”), Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Poison Belt, H. Rider Haggard’s When the World Shook, Edward Shanks’ The People of the Ruins, William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land, J.D. Beresford’s Goslings, E.V. Odle’s The Clockwork Man, Cicely Hamilton’s Theodore Savage, and Muriel Jaeger’s The Man with Six Senses. For more information, visit the HiLoBooks homepage.
REDISCOVERED BY HILOBOOKS: Jack London’s The Scarlet Plague | Rudyard Kipling’s With the Night Mail (and “As Easy as A.B.C.”) | Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Poison Belt | H. Rider Haggard’s When the World Shook | Edward Shanks’ The People of the Ruins | William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land | J.D. Beresford’s Goslings | E.V. Odle’s The Clockwork Man | Cicely Hamilton’s Theodore Savage | Muriel Jaeger’s The Man With Six Senses | Jack London’s “The Red One” | Philip Francis Nowlan’s Armageddon 2419 A.D. | Homer Eon Flint’s The Devolutionist | W.E.B. DuBois’s “The Comet” | Edgar Rice Burroughs’s The Moon Men | Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland | Sax Rohmer’s “The Zayat Kiss” | Eimar O’Duffy’s King Goshawk and the Birds | Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Lost Prince | Morley Roberts’s The Fugitives | Helen MacInnes’s The Unconquerable | John Buchan’s Huntingtower
ORIGINAL FICTION: HiLobrow has serialized three novels: James Parker’s The Ballad of Cocky The Fox (“a proof-of-concept that serialization can work on the Internet” — The Atlantic); Karinne Keithley Syers’s Linda Linda Linda (which includes original music); and Robert Waldron’s roman à clef The School on the Fens. We also publish original stories and comics. These include: Matthew Battles’s stories “Gita Nova“, “Makes the Man,” “Imago,” “Camera Lucida,” “A Simple Message”, “Children of the Volcano”, “The Gnomon”, “Billable Memories”, “For Provisional Description of Superficial Features”, “The Dogs in the Trees”, “The Sovereignties of Invention”, and “Survivor: The Island of Dr. Moreau”; several of these later appeared in the collection The Sovereignties of Invention | Peggy Nelson’s “Mood Indigo“, “Top Kill Fail“, and “Mercerism” | Annalee Newitz’s “The Great Oxygen Race” | Charlie Mitchell’s “A Fantasy Land” | Joshua Glenn’s “The Lawless One”, and the mashup story “Zarathustra vs. Swamp Thing” | Adam McGovern and Paolo Leandri’s Idoru Jones comics | John Holbo’s “Sugarplum Squeampunk” | “Another Corporate Death” (1) and “Another Corporate Death” (2) by Mike Fleisch | Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer and Frank Fiorentino’s graphic novel “The Song of Otto” (excerpt) | “Manoj” and “Josh” by Vijay Balakrishnan | “Verge” by Chris Rossi, and his audio novel Low Priority Hero | EPIC WINS: THE ILIAD (1.408-415) by Flourish Klink | EPIC WINS: THE KALEVALA (3.1-278) by James Parker | EPIC WINS: THE ARGONAUTICA (2.815-834) by Joshua Glenn | EPIC WINS: THE MYTH OF THE ELK by Matthew Battles | TROUBLED SUPERHUMAN CONTEST: Charles Pappas, “The Law” | CATASTROPHE CONTEST: Timothy Raymond, “Hem and the Flood” | TELEPATHY CONTEST: Rachel Ellis Adams, “Fatima, Can You Hear Me?” | OIL SPILL CONTEST: A.E. Smith, “Sound Thinking | LITTLE NEMO CAPTION CONTEST: Joe Lyons, “Necronomicon” | SPOOKY-KOOKY CONTEST: Tucker Cummings, “Well Marbled” | INVENT-A-HERO CONTEST: TG Gibbon, “The Firefly” | FANFICTION CONTEST: Lyette Mercier’s “Sex and the Single Superhero”