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. Long 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 8: How Cúchulainn courted a Girl of Drumcondra
The new geasa that were laid upon Cúchulainn were that he should not again go forth alone until, by the Philosopher’s instruction, he should have become thoroughly acquainted with the manners and customs of the people. So for the next two days the hero applied himself diligently to this course of study. But when the third day dawned, because of a prick and urge of the flesh, together with a dancing of the blood and a singing of the spirit, that could no longer brook such inaction, with the temerity that had once brought dark disaster and woe upon Conaire Mor, he broke his geasa and sallied forth by himself till he came to the district of Drumcondra.
There he beheld a young girl leaning over the garden gate of her father’s house, watching the people go by in the sunshine. When she saw the young man looking at her, she blushed and smiled; for the spirit of Cúchulainn had imparted to the smug features of Robert Emmett Aloysius O’Kennedy a moiety of the beauty and the fire that in the olden times had won the love of Aoife, and Emer, and Fand, and Blanadh, and Niamh, and of three times fifty queens that came to Emain Macha from the four quarters of the earth to look upon the Hound of Ulster. Cúchulainn, turning to the maiden, saw that she was fair: for though she was pasty-faced and lanky of figure, yet was she pleasing to the eyes of Robert Emmett Aloysius O’Kennedy, through which he looked upon the world. O’Kennedy’s body was thus smitten with a yearning for the damsel which infected even the soul of Cúchulainn, so that he stopped and spoke to her, saying:
“Fair maiden, you are beautiful as a morn of spring when the cherries are in bloom.”
“Galong out o’ that,” answered the girl, smirking.
“Nay,” said Cúchulainn, “send me not away from your gracious presence, for truly your voice is like the love-song of birds on a musky evening, and the Twin Stars shed not sweeter light than your wondrous eyes.”
The girl blushed fiery red, and kicked the gate nervously with her shabby toe; but she made no answer.
Then Cúchulainn said:
“Bid me again to go, and like the lightning I will be gone: for no woman yet asked me a boon that I refused her. Nevertheless, bid me not; for bitter is the air that is not sweetened by your breath. Speak therefore: shall I go or stay?”
“Sure, why would you go?” said the girl. “I was only joking.”
Then Cúchulainn kissed with his ambrosial lip the grubby finger-tips of the maiden; and he said:
“In the gardens of Paradise the winds play a melody as of silver flutes over the golden heads of the swaying asphodels. But now my desire is for a cool spot by a woodland stream, amid odours of fern and damp earth, with wild hyacinths, maybe, in the long grass, or wood anemones, and yourself stretched beside me, plashing your white feet in the water.”
The girl, playing with a faded ribbon on her blouse, thrust it between her teeth and giggled.
Cúchulainn, watching her, said:
“My thirst is for the honey that is gathered from a bed of scarlet flowers.”
“I don’t care for the kind you get in them combs,” said the girl. “I prefer the bottled stuff. But I like jam best.”
Silence fell between them at that; but presently the girl, thinking he would have invited her for a walk or to the pictures but had been prevented by shyness, said: “What was it you wanted to ask me about?”
Cúchulainn answered. “My desire is for two snowy mountains, rose-crowned, that are fenced about with thorns and barriers of ice. What shall I do to melt the ice and turn aside the menace of the thorns?”
“What do you mean?” asked the maiden.
Then said Cúchulainn: “It is your fair bosom that is the fruit of my desiring, and your red lips ripe for kissing, and your warm white body to be pressed to mine in the clasp of love.”
“O you dirty fellow!” cried the girl, and turning, she fled into her house.
Cúchulainn would have pursued her, but a tap on the shoulder made him turn round, and he found himself confronted by two men of singular aspect. Their clothing was all white, though somewhat soiled, with buttons of ivory and facings of swansdown. On their heads they wore helmets in the likeness of a sitting dove; and they carried batons of some white metal wrought in the shape of a lily. On their collars were these words in letters of ivory: CENSOR MORUM.
The official who had tapped him addressed Cúchulainn, saying: “What were you wanting with that girl?”
Cúchulainn, mindful of his geasa, restraining his desire to smite him, answered: “That, sir, is a matter between her and me.”
“Now, then,” said the Censor, “none of your lip. I’ve reason to suspect that you were asking her more than the time of day; and I’ve power to put you under arrest unless you can give me a satisfactory explanation.”
“I can tell you nothing of what passed between us,” said Cúchulainn, “without the consent of the lady.”
“Tush, sir,” said the Censor. “You must be one of these foreigners if you think we would so outrage the modesty of our Womanhood by questioning them on such a subject. Come, now. What is your explanation?”
More difficult was Cúchulainn’s task to bridle his wrath at that moment than once had been the feat of bridling the Grey of Macha by the dark lake near Sliabh Fuaith. The veins of his forehead stood out like black and knotted cords; his collar at his neck was scorched deep brown; his heart missed seven beats; but calling to mind the calm visage of the Philosopher, he put constraint on his voice and said: “I was making love.”
“With matrimonial intent?” asked the Censor, entering the reply in his lambskin-covered notebook.
“I do not understand you,” said Cúchulainn.
“Do you want to marry the girl?” explained the other Censor.
“Indeed, no,” said Cúchulainn. “There are no marriages in heaven.”
“Then you must come with us,” said the Censors, laying hands on him.
“Whither?” asked Cúchulainn.
“To the Lothario Asylum,” said the Censors, and began to haul him away between them.
“Dogs!” cried Cúchulainn. “Let me be”; and he put forth his strength so that his feet dug deep holes in the stone pathway, and the Censors could not move him. Thereupon these raised their lily-shaped truncheons to beat purity into the son of Lugh: but he, taking them up one in each hand, entwined the right leg of the one with the left leg of the other in a truelove knot, and left them there on the pavement for the gathering throngs to admire.
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 | 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”