Wolf Planet, Oz HardwickThe jacket is mostly taken up with a complex monochrome pen and ink drawing, set against a pale blue sky with a great planet or moon curving behind it.The drawing features a central human fdigure, but faceless, and there seem to be various wolves leaping at him or around him. The title is right justified in the top right hand corner, in the sky. Lettering of the title is white. Below it, also right justified but in smaller caps, is the name of the author in black.

The Hedgehog Poetry Press, 2020    £5.99

Between worlds

There’s a subtitle to this pamphlet: ‘A Space Age Folktale’. The opening lines of this poetic prose narrative settle the reader down to be told a story:

Ahead of schedule, we’re entering the realm of science fiction, strapping ourselves into reclining chairs, watching screens fill with a planet that looks something like the Earth we remember, but less detailed, less hospitable.

Stories work like this; we give ourselves up to the story-teller, the shaman, who in time will tell us where we are, and why, and what the Big Bad Wolf (whose voice sizzles in our ‘retro headsets’) is up to. Do we ever grow out of being told stories?

There’s a nod to Little Red Riding Hood and to the Three Little Pigs, who re-appear in the background; meanwhile, time is in freefall. ‘Future and past are indistinguishable here’ we are told. This is the Space Age, and the Big Bad Wolf lopes in and out of a place where ‘everything moves in slow motion. Ownership is elastic’. Even sleep is elastic and liable to be interrupted, as when a 4.00 am phone call finds ‘all your barely recognisable selves circling, adrift from the Earth’.

The first-person narrator is both familiar and unfamiliar, like the dystopia he inhabits. It’s a place where ‘twitchy police finger batons at the first tentative march, and already yesterday’s slogans have been filed under dead languages.’ We’ve been alerted to this in the opening paragraph with the chilling question ‘Who’d have thought that dystopia would be so mundane?’

Big Bad Wolf is an ambivalent character, one who gets invited round for tea occasionally. The conversation is circumspect — no religion or politics — just ‘what’s new in the dark wood, and how there’s a trend in towards personal redemption and a wider morality in current comedy shows’. At the end he’s still snapping at the Moon and the story is wide open, returned to the reader.

It’s as though we’ve been given the ingredients for a story but not the exact recipe. But this is the Space Age, and stories aren’t so sure of their own endings. This one hangs round, long after the final full stop — as a good story should.

D. A. Prince