FREE FICTION: Da Capo by Alex Clarkson

While you wait for this year's free Pulp Idol book of short stories from our annual competition, we thought we'd whet your appetite with a reminder of last year's winner. Novelist Geoff Ryman described Alex Clarkson's tale Da Capo as having "great prose, a surrealistic but touching fantasy idea, and a current contemporary subject given a terrifying new twist, all in one great 2000-word tale". With Alex's permission we're giving the story away again free here online, with an exclusive foreword he wrote for us a few weeks ago...

Introduction to Da Capo

As I write this, scant hours before the launch party of Big Brother 9, I feel a familiar sense of despair. Over the next three months we’ll be subjected to the minutiae of individuals we wouldn’t give a second glance were we to pass them in the street: their idiosyncrasies, prejudices, pet hates and fetishes, their political allegiances, their hilarious misconceptions, and the noises they make when they’re on the bog. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the Chorus is closer than you think—every Friday at 9pm, with round-the-clock coverage on E4. Davina McCall presents.

The first review I read of Da Capo—an anonymous comment on the bulletin board of a local newspaper—excoriated my (perceived) stereotype of an anti-Zionist Palestinian terrorist.

He also compared me to Jeffrey Archer. Nobody needs that.

Much like myself, my protagonist/antagonist (delete where appropriate) isn’t Palestinian, nor is he anti-Zionist, Muslim, or of any particular religious or political inclination. Perhaps lazily, I chose Israel as the location for my fictional apocalypse, although, given the events of recent years, I don’t feel that Israel is necessarily any more or less obvious a choice than, say, downtown New York, or the London Underground.

But Da Capo isn’t about terrorism, nor is it about centuries-old religious conflict. It’s simply about our society’s addicition to information. I wanted Da Capo to be a mish-mash of Orwell’s Big Brother—the nightmare dystopia of 1984—and the Channel 4 incarnation, which, as you may be aware, invites a selection of non-entities to cohabit a quasi-ascetic birdcage in the fervent hope that the lurid glare of the video cameras will transform them into the tabloid ubermensches lying dormant at their cores. In 1984, the proletariat masses are controlled by the restriction of knowledge and expression. In Da Capo, they’re crippled by the sheer weight of useless information. The Chorus isn’t some unknowable, alien force for subjugation as much as it’s me taking the mick out of fans of reality TV.

I hope you enjoy Da Capo. More than that, I hope it creeps you out a little bit. But, most of all, I hope—nay, pray—that, for better or worse, you come to the conclusion that I’m not Jeffrey Archer.

Alex Clarkson (Pulp Idol Winner 2007)
July 2008