17 May 2011

Ood do you think you are?

As I've mentioned before, the good doctors at the hospital sent me home with a tube emerging from my abdomen, attached to a rather-too-large drainage bag (ewwwwwwww. Yes, it skeeves me out to think about it as well). The bag comes with a velcro band so you can attach it around your waist like a belt, but being rather lazy I find myself walking around the apartment carrying the bag in my hand (double-plus ewwwwwwww), leading The Very Understanding Girlfriend to comment on more than one occasion on my new found resemblance to an Ood.


For those of you unfamiliar with the Ood, a fictional alien race from the new incarnation of Dr Who, a helpful illustration can be found above. The photo is of a display at the Dr Who Experience in Cardiff, which The Very Understanding Girlfriend and I, finding ourselves in Cardiff with an hour or two to spare on our way back from Glastonbury last year, had occasion to visit. Disappointingly it was somewhat smaller on the inside than the outside, but apart from that it ticked all the boxes one would normally associate with a roadside attraction on a forgotten stretch of a US highway, like a drive-through tree or the world's tallest chair made from roadkill: It broke up a monotonous journey, allowed for a toilet break and momentarily distracted from the rather dismal surroundings.

Oh, and it had Ood.

What struck me about the exhibition though was how much Cardiff, and Wales in general, had rather surprisingly embedded itself into modern UK Sci-Fi, not just through Dr Who and its spinoff Torchwood, but most recently with the third series of Being Human. In fact theses last two aren't just filmed in Wales, they make the fact that they are set in Wales the cornerstone of most episodes. Wales is a character in the storyline just as much as any of the actors. Before the relaunch of Dr Who I don't think anyone could have conceived of Wales as a Sci-Fi location, the thought of sinister aliens shuffling down its streets would have stretched the bounds of belief even by genre standards.

And its not just Wales that has undergone something of a transformation in the minds of genre writers, for Scotland too in recent years has produced some of the UK's finest Sci-Fi, from Iain M. Banks to Ken MacLeod, and Edinburgh and Glasgow feature larger than life not just in the writings of native Scots but in transplantees drawn north of the border like Charlie Stross. They hijack the city-as-character theme normally used to great effect in crime novels, using it to create a familiar and believable environment to operate in, with just enough difference to keep the reader on their toes.

As I watched the latest episode of Game of Thrones, shot in Northern Ireland, and saw ads for Camelot, shot here in the Republic, the thought occurred to me that while we serve as a great backdrop for the production of many fantasy films and shows, and have attracted to our shores our fair share of US fantasy writers in search of tax-breaks and inspiration, unlike Wales or Scotland we have a distinct lack of native genre writers, and a more noticeable lack of sci-fi set here in Ireland.

Its not that we have a lack of writers who have worked in speculative fiction, Jonathan Swift and Bram Stoker were both Dubliners, but neither set their most outlandish works in Ireland. The altogether more contemporary John Connolly brings a healthy dose of the supernatural into his crime novels, but again all of his works are set in the US, mostly in Maine. He has said on more than occasion that being an Irish writer doesn't mean you have to write about Ireland, he sees himself as a writer who just happens to be Irish.

It could be that since we pride ourselves on our literary heritage (and by "pride" I mean "brag about it to anyone foolish enough to stop and listen"), we are weighed down by generations of "Great Writers" who have eulogised the country and the city to such an extent that it is now almost taboo to write about it in anything less than an epic historical fashion. Even Roddy Doyle has created his own mythologised City on the backs of the working class Northsiders, running barefoot to the dole-office without breaking a single twig in the urban forest. Perhaps Ireland is too grand a thing to be allowed into the hands of a genre-writer, or are would-be authors dissuaded by the ghosts of Great Writers standing over their shoulders casting scorn on any attempts to write something other than the Great Irish Novel with suitable amounts of rain, fathers and sons who cannot talk to each other, grinding poverty and the repetitive tugging of forelocks at our forbears?

All of these thoughts have distracted me well from my ongoing illness which continues to show no sign of improvement. Major surgery is on the immediate horizon and another extended stay in hospital will follow. The upside of this will (hopefully) be a gradual return to full health over the next six months, and fewer opportunities for The Very Understanding Girlfriend to compare me to Ood and other oddities.

Which would be nice.

Photos from the Dr Who Exhibition

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At 12:22 am, Blogger lusciousblopster said...

good to have you back in such flying writing form! go Ood!


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