NEW WELSH READERS' POLL 2019: BEST EVER DYSTOPOAN NOVELLA WINNER ANNOUNCED: LLOYD MARKHAM WITH BAD IDEAS/CHEMICALS
As well as looking for the best unpublished writing in the categories of dystopian novellas and prose with a Welsh theme or setting, this year, we asked readers to vote for their favouritedystopian novella ever published in the English language in our New Welsh Readers' Poll 2019. The winner is Lloyd Markham with Bad Ideas/Chemicals which was announced at our shortlisting event on 1 May 2019 at the Aberystwyth Arts Centre Bookshop.
A longlist of 11 titles in each category was selected by judge Gwen Davies with nominations from the students of the Aberystwyth University and librarians across Wales and the shortlist of the top three books as voted by the reading public was (in alphabetical order by author): Bad Ideas\Chemicals by Lloyd Markham (Parthian), Animal Farm by George Orwell (Penguin Modern Classics) and Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut (Vintage Books). Thanks to all our readers who took part!
NEW WELSH READERS’ POLL 2019 -
BEST EVER DYSTOPIAN NOVELLA SHORTLIST
NEW WELSH READERS’ POLL 2019 - DYSTOPIAN NOVELLA - LONGLIST
The full longlist of titles in the dystopian novella category in the New Welsh Writing Awards 2019 Readers’ Poll is as follows:
Slaughterhouse Five, Kurt Vonnegut (Vintage Classics)
Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury (Klett Sprachen GmbH)
Bad Ideas\Chemicals, Lloyd Markham (Parthian Books)
A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess (Penguin Random House)
Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad (Macmillan Collector’s Library)
The Time Machine, HG Wells (Macmillan Collector’s Library)
The Iron Heel, Jack London (Macmillan)
The Lathe of Heaven, Ursula le Guin (Avon Books)
Animal Farm, George Orwell (Penguin Modern Classics)
A Cool Million, Nathanael West (Covici Friede)
The Day of the Locust, Nathanael West (Random House)
THE TIME MACHINE by HG Wells
Review by Aline Bruck
I have always been a huge fan of so-called time-travel stories such as the 80s classic film, Back to the Future and Audrey Niffenegger’s novel, The Time Traveller’s Wife. And, if there is any lesson to Andy Andrews’ bestselling nonfiction title, The Butterfly Effector any season of the TV series The Flash, then it is that you shouldn’t tamper with time, since everything happens for a reason.
But if I could turn back time, I would definitely attempt to convince my younger self to read The Time Machine, ignoring the fact that it is considered to be a classic (which I’ve always found offputting). I can now understand why people have always been fascinated by Wells´ masterpiece. It is, by any measure, a timeless story.
The final chapter ends with such a strong conclusion, with the time traveller having finished retelling his tale, that it makes the epilogue superfluous. The adventurer´s doubt in his own story renders him even more sympathetic and apparently reliable a witness than you can imagine that most characters travelling through time and space might be. Throughout the novel, he proves again and again that to err is to be human, and that we should never assume too much about the future nor that we belong to an exalted species.
In the end, for us, as well as for the narrator, ´the future is still black and blank´. And unlike stories in this genre, The Time Machine does not give you the feeling that you are missing out on something by staying at home in the here and now. To the contrary, it gives you the choice whether you want to believe the time traveller´s story or in an alternative explanation. If there is a moral here it is that, however unlikely something might seem, you shouldn’t preclude the possibility of its authenticity.
Aline Bruck is a student in the Department of English and Creative Writing at Aberystwyth University and part of a team that helps New Welsh Review run our annual writing prize, the New Welsh Writing Awards and Readers’ Poll, focusing in 2019 on dystopian novellas and short prose works with a Welsh theme or setting, to complement the themes of the writing prize. You can vote for The Time Machine or other dystopian novellas on our longlist above (the shortlist will be announced on 19 March).
THE IRON HEEL by Jack London
Reviewed by Kim Hope
Compact and intense in its detail, The Iron Heel by Jack London is a ground-breaking piece of dystopian fiction chronicling the rise of a tyrannical, corrupt oligarchy which causes massive social change, upheaval, and ultimate anarchy.
This is a first person account from the viewpoint of Avis Everhard (wife of head revolutionist, Ernest Everhard). However, the novel offers detailed insight into the ways in which its main characters are altered following a key speech by Ernest which is presented at the outset. In this speech, he critiques metaphysics and the views of the middle classes on intellectual traditions and stereotypes.
The way in which this speech was written by London had me captivated from the start. It foregrounds Ernest’s powerful voice and intellectual vigour despite his working class status, and this combination is what had originally proved alluring to Avis. From this point, the seed has been planted. Avis, her father and the bishop Morehouse find their eyes being opened to the corrupt nature of the oligarchy, as well as institutions such as the church and the law, which they had monopolised, as the readers, in turn, start to learn about London’s socialist views. I found all of the scenes presenting speeches by Ernest equally compelling; I felt drawn into the room in which he delivered them, as though I were there listening to him speak. Ernest’s surname, Everhard, is of course symbolic as well as poignant, as he is forever steadfast in relation to his stance and role within the cause. The novel, beginning in the style of documented manuscript and reading like history, slowly shifts. By its concluding chapters, it reads as apocalyptic, dystopian fantasy, and yet the story remains very real, haunting and prophetic.
Effectively encapsulated by London through his dual heel-machine metaphor, the oligarchy successfully keeps the working class crushed beneath its heel. Meanwhile, bound up in their corrupt machinations, the lower working classes, later represented as an abyss, are reduced to animalistic, primitive beings. Highlighting the magnitude of the task of overturning such a system, this novel is a must read for anyone interested in dystopian fiction, society and classism.
Kim Hope is a student in the Department of English and Creative Writing at Aberystwyth University and part of a team that helps New Welsh Review run our annual writing prize, the New Welsh Writing Awards and Readers’ Poll, focusing in 2019 on dystopian novellas and short prose works with a Welsh theme or setting, to complement the themes of the writing prize. You can vote for The Iron Heel or other dystopian novellas on our longlist above (the shortlist will be announced on 19 March).
THE DAY OF THE LOCUST by Nathanael West
Reviewed by Autumn Haworth
I should start by giving the same warning that I was given by my editor: this book’s age (with a publication date of 1939) is reflected in the language it uses about women and minorities. If you don’t wish to read a book where prejudice is apparent, The Day of the Locust is not for you.
The story follows Tod Hackett’s life in 1930s Hollywood. It’s a satirical piece that thrives off caricatures of the kinds of people there at the time. West’s use of slurs against people of colour, gay people, and – most commonly – women are apparent throughout. Sometimes it could be misconstrued as his way of showing how ridiculous these kind of attitudes are. However,such insults are repeated so often that it becomes all too obvious that this fiction truly is a product of its time. However, that is not a reason to dismiss it completely. If it were released today, I would condemn it, but acceptable levels of prejudice and offensiveness are not what they were in the 1930s. The novella’s merits are clear, as it’s an excellent satire of Hollywood on the period. When Tod is searching for someone on the movie sets, he travels between them like he’s travelling between real worlds. He goes between deserts and Parisian streets, seeing people eating cardboard food. It’s a beautiful metaphor for the falseness of the world around him. I do wish that more of this book was as beautifully written; perhaps an audience of the time would have picked up on references that I missed, but, for me, few sections matched up to the craft and inventiveness of those scenes.
I don’t know that I’d recommend this book. While its satirical merits are certain, it often made me incredibly uncomfortable. But maybe that’s the point. Perhaps West didn’t want this to be an easy read.. After all, The Day of the Locust does read as though it were a warning against lust for fame as much as it’s a satire of those who seek it.
Autumn Haworth is a student in the Department of English and Creative Writing at Aberystwyth University and part of a team that helps New Welsh Review run our annual writing prize and Readers’ Poll, focusing in 2019 on dystopian novellas and short prose works with a Welsh theme or setting, to complement the themes of the writing prize. You can vote for The Day of the Locust or other dystopian novellas on our longlist above (the shortlist will be announced on 19 March).
HEART OF DARKNESS by Joseph Conrad
Reviewed by Rebecca Boru
Heart of Darkness is a profoundly uncomfortable read in the best possible way. The novella is an explicitly anti-imperialist novel that documents the worst excesses of the ivory trade in colonial Africa. It follows Marlow during his time with an ivory company and his hunt for the charismatic and mysterious Kurtz who has become a living myth in the depths of the jungle. As Marlow learns more of Kurtz and delves deeper into the untamed wilderness, he also descends into the horrifying depths of human cruelty.
Though I do recommend this book, reading it evokes an elephant in this room: racism. Racial slurs in the novel are said flippantly and frequently, and Conrad associates indigenous peoples with savagery. The novel was originally published in 1899, and it does ultimately have an anti-imperialist message, but these aspects, albeit that they reflect contemporaneous attitudes, might rub modern audiences the wrong way.
Conrad’s writing style in this novel reminds me of HP Lovecraft’s, and they also share thematic elements. While Heart of Darknessdoes not approach the level of cosmic horror that Lovecraft attempts, nevertheless, reading both their fiction, one does find oneself seeking the ‘other’ elsewhere, only to confront it within oneself. This novel builds suspense you in an alien world surrounded by the unknown, permanently on edge, waiting to be attacked by something deep in the jungle. Unease permeates both the station and the almost mythical Kurtz through a technique that proves as evocative as Bram Stocker or Poe. Despite Marlow’s entourage, the reader is left in a state of oppressive isolation.
This is a haunting, terrifying and deeply upsetting text where you feel yourself spiraling, along with its characters, into an unknowable horror. An unsettling read, a brilliant read.
Rebecca Boru is a student in the Department of English and Creative Writing at Aberystwyth University and part of a team that helps New Welsh Review run our annual writing prize, the New Welsh Writing Awards and Readers’ Poll, focusing in 2019 on dystopian novellas and short prose works with a Welsh theme or setting, to complement the themes of the writing prize. You can vote for Heart of Darkness or other dystopian novellas on our longlist above (the shortlist will be announced on 19 March).
SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE by Kurt Vonnegut Jr
Reviewed by Analicia Garcia Priego
Kurt Vonnegut Jr sets out to describe the indescribable horrors of war, and in particular the Dresden bombing that occurred during World War II. He himself experienced it, he appears twice in the book as a character that the main character, Billy Pilgrim, doesn’t even get to meet. That’s all right by him, as Vonnegut himself would say, the story is not about him. A few times, the story doesn’t even appear to be about the war, or Dresden. The centre of the story is Billy Pilgrim and his ability to get unstuck in time.
Billy Pilgrim travels back and forth in time in a zig-zagging way that would be very confusing were it not for the author’s ability to weave the storylines together in a coherent way. Vonnegut gives long, helpful depictions of Billy’s stay at Tralfamador, in outer space, and its zoo, conveying the way in which the resident aliens behave and the reasons for keeping Billy in a zoo away from Earth.
In contrast, the author does not expand as much on Dresden and its bombing. His explanations are not as detailed, and he does not dwell on the feelings of other soldiers or on Billy’s own feelings at the desolation he encounters. Yes, there are mentions of Billy crying and of him having seen things worth crying about, but Vonnegut makes it a point not to dwell on them. Perhaps this is due to Vonnegut’s deep understanding of language and its limitations. There are not enough words in the English language, or indeed any language, to adequately convey human despair and suffering. Silence is sometimes more eloquent than words, and Vonnegut punctuates this silence with his famous refrain of ‘so it goes.’
It is not only when speaking of the war and Dresden that the refrain becomes important. It also appears to punctuate every tragic event that Billy encounters. ‘So it goes’ takes the place of human resignation when faced with painful things that we have no way of changing. Billy Pilgrim can’t do anything to stop the war, cannot stop his mother or his wife from dying, or himself from being abducted by aliens and put in a zoo. Billy goes through life with the absolute certainty that each one of us has experienced at some point in our lives. There are moments that we can’t avoid, even if we want to. Our lives are peppered with tragic moments that later will become tragic memories that we will be ultimately unable to change. Billy is not spared a single tragedy, he has to live through them, process and accept them in the only way he can.
Billy Pilgrim is not a hero by any stretch of the word, he is just a human being, navigating his life. He accepts everything that happens to him, from the war to being abducted by aliens. He goes back and forth in time and space and through it all he is still Billy Pilgrim, still a man, still unable to change destiny. All he can do is think to himself ‘so it goes’ at every unexpected turn his life makes.
Death is mentioned many times, not as something to be terrified of, but simply as a part of life. After all, Billy inhabits a slaughterhouse in Dresden in order to survive. In fact, both Billy Pilgrim and Vonnegut think that their epitaph should be the same: ‘Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt.’ Once again there are not enough words to describe death, but there is a wish that in death there will be no more tragedies to soldier through. If there is a lesson to be learnt from Billy Pilgrim, it is up to each of us to find it; I’m sure the lesson will be different for everyone.
BAD IDEAS\CHEMICALS by Lloyd Markham
Review by Serky Marchant
Bad Ideas\Chemicals by Lloyd Markham didn’t feel like a book; it felt like a television series. The story follows twenty-one-year-old Cassandra Fish, who ‘believes she is out of this world, wearing her orange film-set spacesuit in the hope that her absent parents will return and take her back to her real planet,’ and who goes on ‘one last great night out’ with her friends Billy and Fox. The book is separated into parts rather than chapters, each one focusing on a different character and providing us with narratives that vary in tone, and force you onto a rollercoaster of opinions. The front cover makes you think you’re going into a thrilling 80s sci-fi movie, and while from Cassandra’s point of view that may be true, it certainly isn’t for characters like Alice who come home after two nights of drinking and smoking to find their pet lizard dead in its cage and crawling with roaches.
After reading the blurb, it seemed obvious to me that Cassandra wasn’t actually an alien, just a human with a vivid imagination and a lot of faith, particularly when I discovered that this idea of hers started after watching an alien invasion film.However, as I read more and more of the book, Cassandra’s conviction started to rub off on me: maybe she is an alien, and maybe that’s how the story’s going to end, with her being taken back to her home planet by her alien parents.
But we discover that Cassandra’s parents are not aliens: her father left home when she was very young, and her mother committed suicide. Once I realised that her brain had decided to forget this reality by creating one in which her family will be happy and safe on another planet, then the heart-wrenching nature of this story hit me. This is no crazy 80s adventure.
Bad Ideas\Chemicals, with its frequent inclusion of drugs, teenage angst and extra-terrestrial lingo, is a remarkable little book that mixes ecstasy with tragedy, bravery with catastrophe, and solidarity with complete and utter stupidity.
Serky Marchant is a student in the Department of English and Creative Writing at Aberystwyth University and part of a team that helps New Welsh Review run our annual writing prize, the :New Welsh Writing Awards and Readers’ Poll, focusing in 2019 on dystopian novellas and short prose works with a Welsh theme or setting, to complement the themes of the writing prize. You can vote for Bad Ideas\Chemicals or other dystopian novellas on our longlist above (the shortlist will be announced on 19 March).
A CLOCKWORK ORANGE by Anthony Burgess
Reviewed by Will Lyon
How far will the human race go to reform criminals and reduce crime? This is a question no doubt on many people’s lips when hearing about the latest riot or scandal on their newsfeed, television or paper. Police violence in America, Britain and France is rising at an alarming rate, making many question the governments’ mentality in their methods. This need to question our morality has its roots in many of the events of the last century, and is most effectively explored in literature. Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange was and remains a seminal component in our search for moral justice.
Alex is a teenager who enjoys sex, listening to Beethoven and going on violent rampages through his town with his three droogs (partners in crime), raping and killing along the way. Betrayed by his droogs, Alex is arrested and sent to prison. Originally sentenced to fifteen years, Alex is informed of a government treatment that will eradicate all violent tendencies, and will shorten his sentence if he agrees to undertake it. Little does Alex know that the Ludovico Treatment will do him more harm than good.
Burgess abandons polarising post-war governmental attitudes of good-and-evil. Instead, he explores Alex’s point of view and his rights to freedom of thought. The excruciating torment that Alex experiences as a result of his actions makes us question, in turn, the government’s rights. These conflicting priorities, of individual liberty and public safety, are of major social concern today. Burgess encourages us to align with Alex, despite his vile crimes, and we come to empathise with someone whom we might have previously regarded as beyond the pale.
This unexpected alignment also comes through many of Alex’s characteristics — namely his boyish charm and quick wit — which make him an incredibly strong character and a highly convincing allegory of our inner demons and conflicts. Burgess’ use of Nadsat — a language Alex uses which Burgess invented using a combination of corrupted Russian and cockney slang — gives the narration a truly unique style and gallop, and serves to complement the author’s powerful depiction of a deformed world.
Questioning our basest drives can be unpleasant and embarrassing. But it is only by questioning our own surface opinions can we truly see into deeper waters. Burgess understands this and Alex is the embodiment of this dilemma. A Clockwork Orange is a warning to governments worldwide and to every individual who has been tempted to make a kneejerk reaction to the moral predicaments of our fellow human beings.
Will Lyon is a student in the Department of English and Creative Writing at Aberystwyth University and part of a team that helps New Welsh Review run our annual writing prize, the New Welsh Writing Awards and Readers’ Poll, focusing in 2019 on dystopian novellas and short prose works with a Welsh theme or setting, to complement the themes of the writing prize. You can vote for A Clockwork Orange or other dystopian novellas on our longlist above (the shortlist will be announced on 19 March).
FAHRENHEIT 451 by Ray Bradbury
Reviewed by Analicia Garcia Priego
Ray Bradbury holds up a mirror to modern society and demands we gaze upon it. From the moment we openFahrenheit 451 we are plunged into a world so similar to our own that it’s chilling. With big screens and small ‘seashells’ in our ears, surrounded by information, seeking pleasure and avoiding the pain of life at all costs, we might think he’s describing the world of today. Books have been relegated to the background while screens are ever present in our lives.
The first time I read this book was ten years ago, when my experience of it was different. The world has changed; it’s a different world and yet it’s the same. Everything changes to remain the same, like Lampedusa’s The Leopard. A cycle that keeps repeating itself again and again. More screens, better screens but still screens.
On the other hand, Bradbury’s book has not changed, it has the same words, and it tells the same story. The novella is written with short sentences, and an uncomplicated, easy to understand language. This might be due to Bradbury’s writing style, which he himself has described as ‘[writing] at the top of my lungs and from some secret motives within.’ He has been interested, since before the 1950s, in book burnings and those that try to preserve them. The underlying theme in his stories seems to be the destruction and preservation of books, and the knowledge they carry.
Reading Fahrenheit 451 for the second time I found myself thinking of the burnt books of the library of Alexandria, and the book burnings in fascist Germany. I also thought of the slow but unmistakable change that books are going through. Nowadays any one can be turned into a movie, its plot edited to fit into one of our screens. It is not the equivalent of burning a book, but the feeling persists that books are still being relegated to the background.
From the moment I had it in my hands this second time I realised that Fahrenheit 451 was relevant to the political climate of today. This is not a time to remain immune to events, nor the time to hide behind our screens. As the protagonist Montag says to his wife:
We need not to be let alone. We need to be really bothered once in a while. How long is it since you were reallybothered? About something important, something real?
And here is Bradbury, bothering us with something important and real. It’s like looking at an old friend who tells you that you can’t continue like you have before, you can’t ignore your pain, you can’t run away from your problems forever.
Bradbury presents a world at war, not only against the unseen enemy but against knowledge and truth. He presents a reality so dire that people seek to escape it in any way they can. There are subtle tragedies intermingled with the great fear of war and complete obliteration. The subtle tragedy of not knowing, not dying and not living. Bradbury presents each of these not like delicate photographs of a past long forgotten but as vivid reflections of a pain etched into the very fabric of the present. Montag plays the role of a hero doomed to failure, immersed in a world that is not his own anymore, in a place where he is supposed to fit in, but doesn’t. If that is not a picture of the world of today, I don’t know what is.
However, there is hope in Fahrenheit 451 as well. Hope comes after everything else is lost, it reminds us of the myth of Pandora’s box. Bradbury ignites a small, tender flame of hope in between these pages of subtle tragedies and doomed destinies. It is perhaps this hope that makes the book even more relevant to audiences today.
ANIMAL FARM by George Orwell
Review by Analicia Garcia Priego
George Orwell tells a story we want to believe. He digs deep into the human soul and recognises the ever-present need to see ourselves in the stories we tell each other. Whether it is within a movie, videogame or a book, human beings always look for someone with whom to identify. We see ourselves in these fictional characters, our strengths, our weaknesses, our fatal flaws and redeeming qualities.
Animal Farm starts out as an idyllic tale of rebellion and success. We can’t help but find good qualities in the characters with whom we identify. Here we see courage, wit, kindness, patience, solidarity. We see raw humanity embodied in these beasts and realise that we are not as different from them as we thought. From the very beginning, we see their problems from their point of view, and, little by little their point of view becomes ours.
Much like the fairy tales we were told as children, we hope that this story too will end in a ‘happily ever after’. George Orwell anticipates our feelings, he can guess at what the reader is thinking, but offers no reassurance of a happy ending. It is an innate human quality, I believe, to desire for things to work themselves out, and for the heroes of the stories we read, to come out victorious. Take Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, for example. It’s a story we know, one which we have seen, and heard many times. There is a universal knowledge about how it will pan out, and yet when we encounter it again there is that small bit of hope that this time it will work out.
It is that same hope which comes into play when reading Animal Farm. Orwell shows us a portrait of ourselves and for a few happy moments we are able to believe in a perfect, peaceful world. He paints this world close enough to be desirable but far enough that it is out of reach. And yet he compels the reader to reach for it.
Orwell does more than to tease us with the image of an unattainable world, he delights in changing the rules of the game. He is the author, and by opening his book we, the readers, are agreeing to play by his rules in this universe he has created. At first the rules seem fair and straightforward, much like the seven commandments observed in Animal Farm, but the more we read, and the more the story progresses, these commandments and Orwell’s rules change.
By the end of the book we might come to the realisation that we are not reading the same book we started. Changes in narrative and plot can be jarring and upsetting, but Orwell introduces them slowly, justifying each little change until we accept it as the new normal.
This sentiment is best expressed by the narrator: ‘The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.’ This changing of rules and swapping of places is poetry in itself. The rules have been changed again and again, but by the end it seems that we are once again in the same place where we started. Only it is a darker place, with new, and yet strikingly familiar, rules.
We look from the beginning to the end, and from the end to the beginning again and again, and yet it is impossible to say which is which. The end might as well be the beginning for all we know, Orwell does not offer guidance in this respect. It is the reader and only the reader who must come to a conclusion. Indeed, if there is a moral to be found, it is the reader’s job to find it. The masterpiece is complete, and the author stands back and allows us to explore it at our leisure.