The city is Dublin, the year 2040. Out in the bay the USS John Barry is a permanent fixture. Sandymount Strand oozes toxins and is the ideal spot for self-immolation; town is largely the resort of junkies, whores and international flotsam and jetsam. Forces of the government of Taoiseach Domhnach Cascade shoot demonstrators on sight. And Richard Rutledge Barnes King, pill-popping, alcoholic American president, is killed at a Dublin Castle do. It is to be sure “a time when dysfunction . . . pervaded all”. It’s only 25 or so years away, and at times it feels closer.
But John Kelly has other fish to fry besides the “three-eyed mackerel” of dystopia. His arresting pictures of the urban scene are by no means to be dismissed. For one thing they’re sharply entertaining, and conveyed with a winning blend of verve and exasperation – verbal facility shadowed by a sense of cultural dismay.
But if all this novel had to offer was a series of set pieces depicting a polyglot crowd at Tara Street station, or the blocks at Grand Canal Docks where the second generation of “urban culchies” live, or the security rite of passage required to get beyond the gate at Trinity, shades of a Blade Runner remix would not be long in suggesting themselves. Especially as such scenarios – the black site at Shannon; the conversion of much of the park into Fort Phoenix – have the context of some fairly predictable takes on Ireland’s soul-destroying client relationship with the US, the world bully. But sci-fi is a red herring; the presidential killing doesn’t cue Tom Clancyoid kerfuffle.