Serendipity is a wonderful thing.
When I went to WorldCon in Dublin in 2019, I was expecting to meet people I’d only interacted with online, make new friends, learn a lot about both the art and the business of writing. I was also expecting to find interesting people from across all walks of life.
Although I was expecting very different people to be part of the experience, I believed that everyone I had longer conversations with would be part of the SFF genres in some way, shape or form.
I was wrong on many counts, but perhaps the most memorable was John Ruddy’s wonderful stand where he was selling his Manny Man-themed books and merchandise in general, but with a special focus on Irish-themed things. Is spoke to him the first day I was there (his stand was diagonally across the aisle from the Guardbridge Books stand).
I spoke to John and immediately realized he was, apart from looking the part, a student and promoter of Irish history and culture in the deepest sense of the word. I loved his cartoon people, and the book Manny Man Does Revolutionary Ireland 1916 – 1923, caught my eye… but I didn’t buy it right away because I was afraid that, loaded down with all the SF books I was going to buy (plus my contributor’s copies of Off the Beaten Path, my luggage would be overloaded.
So I went about my WorldCon business, but this little hardcover with the wonderful cartoons pulled at me and, on the Sunday, I approached John again and asked if he still had a copy. There was one, reserved for someone who hadn’t shown up… so I bought it.
And man, am I glad I did.
Irish history, especially the Revolution, is a fraught subject. Emotions still run high nearly a century after most of these events took place. At the same time, Irish history with its unmatched glorious peaks and tragic valleys is one of those things I’m a sucker for (in my mind, only Polish history comes close, hitting many of the same beats).
The book takes this tremendously complex and difficult period and not only gives the uninitiated reader a surprisingly detailed course in the events of the period but does so in an impartial and informative way, looking at the different viewpoints. Don’t be fooled by the cartoons on the cover: this is a serious book, and the conversational tone and cartoon humor do not detract from the learning in the least.
What those things do achieve, on the other hand, is to make reading the book a pleasure. I really couldn’t put it down, with even the most political of the questions becoming interesting in Ruddy’s capable hands. And the cartoons made me laugh out loud a couple of times… albeit it’s easier if you have a well-developed sense of dark humor.
So I’d recommend this one to history buffs who want to learn more about the Irish Revolution… but don’t want to get bogged down in a dry academic text… or simply want the serious issues involved to be tempered with humor. Actually, I’d recommend it to anyone, but those interested in history will absolutely love it.
Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine writer whose work is published in English all over the world. The book he launched at WorldCon in Dublin is a collection of short stories that mainly take place outside the usual science fiction and fantasy settings. So no Western Europe or Continental USA in these. Check it out here.