Of flights to Mars and Irish folklore

This week, we’re at the last of the Seanchai Library SL gatherings for 2013 – and the first for 2014! So why not warm-up for New Year’s celebrations by dropping-in to the library on Monday December 30th, or have your day-after-the-night-before headaches soothed away with a tale or two on Thursday January 2nd?

As always, the programmes at Seanchai Library this week commence at 19:00 SLT, and will be held on the Seanchai Library’s home on Imagination Island.

Monday, December 30th, 19:00: A Martian Odyssey

Challenged to provide a story about each of the planets in the solar system, Gyro has come-up with a classic tale from the 1930s centred on my favourite world beyond ours – Mars.

Written by Stanley G. Weinbaum and first appearing in wonder Stories in 1934, A Martian Odyssey takes place in the early years of the 21st century, just (according to the story) a decade after the first lunar landing, and some 20 years after the invention of nuclear power.

In it, a four-man crew arrive on Mars in the first human mission to that planet. Not long after their arrival, one of the crew – Jarvis – sets off on a solo mission aboard an auxiliary rocket craft, only to experience a malfunction which forces him to crash-land many hundreds of miles from base. Rather than await rescue, Jarvis decides to walk back to the mothership.

Not long after he sets out on his journey, Jarvis comes to the aid of a birdlike creature, which decides to travel with him. While he can understand nothing of the creature’s language, Tweel – as the creature calls itself – manages to learn some English, allowing them to communicate. Thus is the start of a unique friendship as the two companions travel together, encountering other strange and exotic Martian lifeforms as they slowly make their way back Jarvis’ mothership, Ares.

A Martian Odyssey is in fact the first part of a 2-part story involving Jarvis, his crewmates and Tweel. With the follow-up Valley of Dreams picking-up the story a short while after Jarvis has rejoined his fellow humans aboard Ares.Both tales are interesting for some of the concepts they introduce, which resonate somewhat with later thinking and controversies concerning Mars as the emerging space programme meant humans could explore the Red Planet for real.

Pyramids feature in the stories, for example, and pyramids became the subject of much debate and conspiracy theories in the 1970s following the Mariner 9 and Viking missions. Also in A Martian Odyssey, Jarvis and Tweel encounter a creature which is possibly silicone-based – and even in the late 1960s, NASA hadn’t ruled out the possibility that Mars, despite its tenuous, carbon dioxide-rich atmosphere, might still harbour hardly lifeforms predominantly based on – silicone.

In the follow-up Valley of Dreams – Weinbaum even managed to wrap some Earth-based mythology into the tale, beating the likes of von Däniken to the idea of gods being ancient astronauts by a good few decades – and providing the idea in a much more enjoyable way!

A Martian Odyssey is perhaps the first modern science-fiction story to present a sympathetic but non-human alien as a protagonist, and is regarded by many as one of only three stories ever written that changed the way all subsequent ones in the science fiction genre were written.

While Weinbaum’s life was cut tragically short, preventing him from truly reaching the heights of recognition enjoyed by his peers such as Lester del Ray, Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury or Arthur C. Clarke, his work is nevertheless as important, and in many respects as epic, as many of the works by those peers. His Planetary series, for example, weaves a series of consistent tales about the solar system as it was understood by in the 1930s, presenting a series of individual stories which are interlinked and consistent with one another to offer a cohesive whole.

Thursday January 2nd, 19:00: The Early Adventures of Finn McCool

Finn McCool  – Fionn mac Cumhaill – is a mythical hunter / warrior who appears in folklore spanning Ireland, the Isle of Man and parts of Scotland, as well as sharing some links with Welsh mythology.

finn McCoolAlso known as the “Green Hero”, Finn McCool draws his name “Finn” or “Fionn”, meaning “blond”, “fair”, “white”, or “bright”, from the fact that his hair turned prematurely white. According to legend, he was born of Cumhall – leader of the Fianna (small, semi-independent warrior bands found in both Irish and Scottish mythology) and Muirne, daughter of the druid Tadg mac Nuadat.

Raised in secret, Fionn, who was originally called Deimne, became a skilled hunter and warrior, serving several local kings, albeit incognito, due to the events surrounding his mother and father – and the latter’s death.

Gaining wisdom as a result of burning his thumb while cooking a very special meal in a story with strong resonances of Welsh mythology, Fionn sets out on a life of adventure, love and legend, which ends perhaps not with his death, but in the fact that he lies sleeping with the rest of the Fianna under the hills of Ireland.

In this story, read by Seanchai Shandon Loring and written by Bernard Evslin, are woven the deeds and adventures of a young Fionn in the times before he became a great Irish folk hero.

Special Note

There are no planned readings at the Seanchai Library SL on either Tuesday December 31st or Wednesday January 1st, 2014. However, there might be a short-notice event taking place on the latter – so keep an eye on the Seanchai Library blog for updates!


Please check with the Seanchai Library SL’s blog for updates and for additions or changes to the week’s schedule. The featured charity for November and December is Reading is Fundamental.

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