Monday, 8 April 2013

The Unknowing Master

Happening to mention to an old friend recently that I had once won a prize in a short story competition, I fell into the inevitable elephant trap. “Can we read it?” he asked. “Why not republish it?” So, with heavy heart, I dug the magazine out of a tattered box and read the story for the first time in thirty-five years. I found a self-conscious cleverness about it which now embarrasses me, but I could see below the flashiness there was a certain stylistic flair of a type that gets you noticed. It evidently got the attention of revered sci-fi author and all-round good egg Brian Aldiss, who judged the competition.

Despite Aldiss’s flattering description of me as “discerningly hip”, the story now seems like a relic of Cold War paranoia, of a time when Mutual Assured Destruction promised to wipe us all out, leaving only a few remaining idealists to eke out an existence on some Pacific islet.

The jokes come from spending too much time in a “writers’ workshop” group at Oxford, where I grew to relish the sound of laughter when I read my efforts before an audience. 

The story first appeared in Isis in December 1977. Turning to the back cover, I’m reminded that the editor at the time was a pushy young man called Mark Thompson; I believe he later joined the BBC.

Enough with the throat-clearing. For what(ever) it’s worth, here it is. (Click on frames to enlarge.)