Val’s research examines Science Fiction across multiple modes in the cultural, literary, and creative practice contexts of contemporary Ireland and Britain. His work, dedicated to legitimising critical engagement with speculative subjects and authors, investigates the reception and interpretation of science fictional and fantastical themes in contemporary writing from the Atlantic Archipelago and popular culture more widely. His scholarship has a particular focus on how these practices transcend realism to interrogate and complicate both real world events and traditional narrative forms. His book Neil Jordan: Works for the Page (Cork University Press, 2022) is the first significant work on the fiction of one of Ireland's best known filmmakers, charting the emergence of speculative themes (body horror, fantasy creatures, time travel) in an oeuvre generally considered mainstream historical realism. In the process Val successfully challenged the critical perception that Irish literary fiction is divorced from speculative themes and tropes. He has also published a landmark article about mainstream Irish literary history: the most detailed account available of the John McGahern banning controversy in the mid-1960s (Irish Studies Review, 2011) which has since been frequently cited and was deemed by Eamon Maher to be “an indispensable reference point when attempting to understand the prevailing moral climate that dominated the Ireland of the mid-1960s”.
More recently, his research has focused on the literary application of concepts more at home in STEM subjects to fiction in these islands. He has, for example, applied Hugh Everett’s Many-Worlds Interpretation of quantum mechanics to Alastair Reynolds’s work as a demonstration of how free will and determinism can be reconciled. His research on Reynolds represents the first serious scholarly engagement with the work of this major Welsh novelist.
Val’s research has been published in highly regarded journals including Science Fiction Studies, Irish University Review, Journal of Graphic Novels and Comic Books, Irish Studies Review, Foundation: The International Review of Science Fiction, Review of Contemporary Fiction, and Dictionary of Literary Biography. He was a finalist for the 2022 British Science Fiction Association awards (non-fiction category). Much of this work and expertise has informed Val’s own creative practice, an ambitious project to blend the stylistic and linguistic qualities of mainstream Irish writing with the subject matters of science fiction. This work has been recognised with funding to attend the Clarion Science Fiction Writers’ Workshop (University of California, San Diego, 2009) and an Irish Arts Council bursary (2012). He won the 2011 Penguin Ireland short story competition and was longlisted for the 2018 Irish Novel Fair competition and for the British Science Fiction Association awards (fiction category). His story ‘The Irish Astronaut’ – which follows an American pilot exploring the unique karst landscape of the Burren in the west of Ireland – was shortlisted for the Theodore Sturgeon Award (2014). ‘The Irish Astronaut’ was subsequently selected for several prestigious anthologies such as The Year’s Best Science Fiction (ed. Gardner Dozois, 2014) and Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year (ed. Jonathan Strahan, 2014). His fiction has been published on the ‘Futures’ page of the science journal Nature (2010, 2019), in Interzone (2014, 2017, 2019, 2020, 2022), Unidentified Funny Objects (2018), BFS Horizons (2019), Best of British Science Fiction (2019, 2020), and elsewhere.
Val is the winner of 'Lecturer of the Year' in the Aberystwyth Student-Led Teaching Awards 2022. He is also a previous winner of the 'Innovative Teaching Award’ (2018) and a finalist for the ‘Best Feedback Award’ (2018).