The Secret History of Northern Irish Science Fiction

19 May 16

Join us on May 19th at 7:30pm for Richard Howard’s talk ‘The Secret History of Northern Irish Science Fiction’ and one of the last chances to see our current exhibition ‘Scissors Cut Paper Wrap Stone’ (ending May 21st). Refreshments will be provided.

Using the exhibition Scissors Cut Paper Wrap Stone as a point of departure, this talk will sketch the history of a science fiction tradition in Northern Ireland. Beginning in the late nineteenth century with Robert Cromie, it will trace the development of this tradition in the region, a tradition solidified by Belfast natives Walt Willis and James White, who instigated the Irish Fandom science fiction group in the 1940s and produced the fanzines Slant and Hyphen. Willis and White were eventually joined by Bob Shaw, one of the most prolific science fiction authors the region has produced. Shaw and White’s own efforts in the genre from the mid-twentieth century to its end will also be discussed; short stories and novels that were received in the context of the international science fiction community, but that extrapolated from and estranged the material conditions of Northern Irish society. As the latest iteration of the tradition, there are many schisms within the genre that separates the work of Ian McDonald from those that came before him. The paper will nevertheless attempt to propose a unified theory of Northern Irish science fiction, if only to detect the remainders and contradictions that might answer the questions: to whom is Northern Irish science fiction a secret and why?


Dr Richard Howard is a researcher working at Trinity College Dublin. His PhD thesis ‘Estrange Conflict: Fragments of the Irish Troubles in the Science Fiction of Bob Shaw and James White’, a study of the Belfast writers Bob Shaw and James White, received funding from the Irish Research Council and was completed in April 2016. His research interests include Irish science fiction, weird fiction, critical theory, medical humanities, speculative philosophy, science and technology studies, and postcolonial theory. He also writes fiction and has had work published in Weird Tales, Electric Velocipede and most recently in Jeff and Ann VanderMeer’s The Bestiary anthology.

Read the text of Richard’s talk here:

The Secret History of Northern Irish Science Fiction