Publication News

Peter wants us all to know: Dreamforge Anvil Magazine purchased Peter S. Drang’s story “The Pluripossible Box” (Science Fiction, 3,500 words). Peter would like to thank everyone at OWW who reviewed this story which asks (and eventually answers) the question, “What’s in the box?”

Congratulations, Peter!

Editor’s Choice Award April 2021, Science Fiction

The Editors’ Choices are chosen from the submissions from the previous month that show the most potential or otherwise earn the admiration of our Resident Editors. Submissions in four categories — science fiction chapters, fantasy chapters, horror, and short stories — receive a detailed review, meant to be educational for others as well as the author.This month’s reviews are written by Resident Editors Leah Bobet, Jeanne Cavelos, and Judith Tarr. The last four months of Editors’ Choices and their editorial reviews are archived on the workshop.

In The Time Of The Khoji (Part 1) by Ethan “Sam” Rodgers

Every so often I like to shake things up a little bit and do an Editor’s Choice that talks about what makes a submission work, rather than pointing to elements that need work. There are a few copyedit-level issues here, a bit of continuity, and so on, but those are easily fixable. What I want to do is point out the good-to-wonderful aspects of this section of a novella.

From the beginning I was struck by how humane the writing is. The characters have a core of compassion, and the protagonist clearly cares deeply for his family and his world. I can see the antagonists emerging, and get a sense of where the story may go with them, but the focus for now is on the sense of community that the Hi’mu share. I love the way it manifests in Song, and the ways in which their living spaces are designed to facilitate it. It even affects the way children are raised, taught to wait their turn and to work together with their family.

The worldbuilding overall has real depth and breadth to it. I get a good visual picture of Vasant’s portion of Tau-Seto, from his underground habitation to the world it’s set in. The people around him are equally well drawn, especially his family and his driller, Gamya.

The interaction between Vasant and Gamya could use a little polish, especially in her reactions during the scene at the Tavaro Spire—more complexity, more clarification—but her willingness to learn from him, and her patience with his liabilities, underscores the basic humanity of this part of the story. Vasant’s age and the problems it presents come through with both clarity and compassion. He has to do what he has to do, and his coworkers help him as much as they can. It’s one more set of details that establish the nature of their community.

Details in general are well drawn and well chosen. Exposition for the most part weaves seamlessly into the narrative. We learn about specific elements when we need to learn them, and we get just enough to develop a clear picture of what’s going on. The pace of the plot rarely stops for an expository speed bump. In general it flows smoothly onward, carrying us through this section and on to the next.

Altogether this is a lovely opening, and it makes me want to read on. Well done, and well written.

–Judith Tarr


Editor’s Choice Award April 2021, Fantasy

The Editors’ Choices are chosen from the submissions from the previous month that show the most potential or otherwise earn the admiration of our Resident Editors. Submissions in four categories — science fiction chapters, fantasy chapters, horror, and short stories — receive a detailed review, meant to be educational for others as well as the author.This month’s reviews are written by Resident Editors Leah Bobet, Jeanne Cavelos, and Judith Tarr. The last four months of Editors’ Choices and their editorial reviews are archived on the workshop.

The Bishop Takes All by Kathryn Jankowski

On the question of whether this story is fantasy or horror, I come down on the side of horror—as a subset of the genre called dark fantasy. It’s a classic plot: the bad guy who tries to cheat a supernatural opponent and gets what he deserves. I like the retro feel here, the noir elements, the mid-twentieth-century vibe—and, just for fun, the echo of Dickens in the face in the door knocker.

Overall I think it works. Doyle is appropriately skeevy without going too far over the top. The Bishop does tend to Hold Forth, but it fits his personality. He Explains Things. It’s a trait that  defines a preacher, and a cleric in general.

I have one large-ish question and a couple of smaller ones. In the latter category, the Marleyesque door knocker is a nice effect, as is ramping it up with the homage to Doyle’s Irish heritage in the banshee’s cry. I might have liked to see just a bit more reaction from Doyle, more concern about what it means. He blusters his way through it, but it feels as if there’s a connection or two missing. Would he take it as more of a warning that the Bishop is on to him, and proceed with more caution? Or is he deliberately putting it out of his mind while he focuses on his scam?

I’m not sure Doyle would be concerned about the Church allowing a bishop to gamble. Catholic parishes have been running Bingo games for generations, along with raffles and similar games of chance. The Church herself is a wicked old strumpet, and she’s run every kind of game, from the Crusades to the church fair. Doyle being an Irishman might acknowledge this with a wink and a nod.

The cards are an issue, too. Would he push back harder on using the Bishop’s deck? Would he be more suspicious that the Bishop insists on using this particular one? Wouldn’t he wonder if there’s some sort of chicanery involved?

That brings me to my big question, which is the central metaphor of the story. The title reads to me as a chess reference, but the story is not about chess. Is there a way to play on the Bishop’s position without switching games? Could he be one of the court cards? The joker?

If it’s a very old deck, might it be a Tarot deck? I’ve heard that that was originally a set of playing cards. Would it be apropos here? After all, in the Tarot, there’s the Hierophant, not to mention the Devil. And there are people-cards among the minor arcana.

In any case, it’s a solid story, well grounded in its subgenre. Best of luck in finding a home for it.

–Judith Tarr

Editor’s Choice Award April 2021, Horror

The Editors’ Choices are chosen from the submissions from the previous month that show the most potential or otherwise earn the admiration of our Resident Editors. Submissions in four categories — science fiction chapters, fantasy chapters, horror, and short stories — receive a detailed review, meant to be educational for others as well as the author.This month’s reviews are written by Resident Editors Leah Bobet, Jeanne Cavelos, and Judith Tarr. The last four months of Editors’ Choices and their editorial reviews are archived on the workshop.

Now I Must Sink, Chapter 1 by Shane Burkholder

Horror, more than other genres, explores the private lives we live inside ourselves–our private fears, odd thoughts, forbidden urges, strange perceptions, and more.  It can be disturbing and horrifying to experience things we can’t share with others, to realize that we are, in some sense, locked within ourselves with no escape.  And since everyone (I think) experiences this to some degree, it’s easy for readers to relate to a character going through this type of experience.  The Twilight Zone offered many episodes focused on characters experiencing things they can’t share with others (“Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” “The Hitch-Hiker,” “The After Hours,” “Time Enough at Last,” and “Walking Distance” being a few).  Chapter 1 of Now I Must Sink explores this territory, focusing on the internal despair and fear of William, which hold him at a distance from his family and the world.

The chapter conveys William’s isolation well, and some of his strange perceptions and thoughts are compelling.  I feel I’m getting a glimpse inside a unique and compelling character whose thoughts are as strange as some of my own, which allows me to relate to William while at the same time feeling curious about him.  In paragraph 6, for example, William thinks about the morning routine of his family, which has become familiar and in some ways comforting.  He follows this with, ” It is not so bad to boil when the water is heated slowly,” referring to the urban legend that a frog, put in water that is slowly heated to boiling, will not jump out.  I think many of us mentally connect daily routines to death, since each day marks our progress toward death.  But most of us, I think, don’t think about ourselves as frogs boiling to death.  Juxtaposing a statement about comfort with one about boiling is pretty jarring and powerful, and the idea of boiling reveals William as a distinct, compelling character.

I think there are three main challenges associated with writing a chapter or story that focuses on this internal experience, and those are three areas in which this chapter could be strengthened.

First, since much of the piece focuses on the internal, and on internal thoughts and experiences that are strange and abstract, it can be a challenge to convey these thoughts and experiences clearly.  For me, William’s thoughts and experiences are sometimes unclear or vague.  For example, as William looks at a stack of ungraded tests from the class he teaches, his thoughts (as the man) are described this way:

“But the man does not see questions. None of the answers are right or wrong. Rather he sees only so many eggs uncracked. So many ledgers overflowing with black that they need not ever be balanced. But as with all journeys, these many have a horizon, and all the man can see is the terminus of youth awaiting every name written on every test. Out into the cold world. No different from when one is born.”

What I glean from this is that he sees his students as “eggs uncracked,” meaning they will be cracked when they become adults out in the world, when they reach “the terminus of youth” that awaits them all.  I enjoy that, and it ties to his previous thoughts of the frog and death, but much of the passage is obscure to me.

I don’t understand why he “does not see questions” or even what that means.  What does he see?  I also don’t understand how not seeing questions relates to answers not being right or wrong.  That seems a completely different issue, and the uncertainty it implies seems inconsistent with William’s certainty about death.  The idea of “ledgers overflowing with black” seems to describe youth, yet the idea that “they need not ever be balanced” again, for me, contradicts the idea of death.  They won’t always be overflowing with black.  The “cold world” uses imagery that works against the idea of boiling, and I don’t understand the significance of the final sentence.  So out of seven sentences, two of them are conveying clear ideas that I can connect to other parts of the story and character.  Perhaps other readers will understand more, but my suggestion would be to put a lot of effort into making these internal thoughts and experiences as clear as possible, making sure each word choice is exactly right and connects with other parts of the story so we can form a web of associations and meaning that helps us understand William and what he’s going through.

One way to start this procedure of clarifying would be to much reduce the use of sentence fragments in the story.  Fragments, when used in familiar situations, can be effective.  When coupled with abstractions and strange thoughts, fragments create confusion and obscure the point.  The chapter has many fragments, and most of them mark places where I found the content unclear or vague.  Another technique would be to search for vague words such as things and try to replace them with more specific words.

Another major challenge associated with writing a piece that focuses on internal experience is creating a very strong point of view.  Point of view is important for every story, but in this type of piece the POV is prominent and critical.  The POV needs to be controlled and consistent, and when shifts in POV are necessary, they generally need to be made gently and gradually, so readers are not distracted from what’s going on with the character.  This chapter is told through a third person omniscient point of view.  A narrator tells us what William is thinking.  But the psychic distance in the point of view is shifting constantly through the chapter, which creates needless distraction and confusion.

John Gardner created the classic example of different levels of psychic distance in his book The Art of Fiction.  You can find his example in this article:

Psychic distance is the mental distance between the narrator and the character whose head the narrator is in.  If you think of the narrator as a telepath, like Mr. Spock in Star Trek, reading the mind of the character and conveying that information to readers, psychic distance is a measure of how good a telepath the narrator is.  If he’s not very good, then he won’t know the name of the character.  In this case, the narrator refers to the character much of the time as “the man,” which means he is at a great psychic distance.  Yet at other times, he refers to the character as “William,” putting him at less of a distance, and at yet other times, he refers to the character as “he” or “him,” minimizing the psychic distance.  The pronoun puts us the closest to the character, a place where we are beyond names.

There are other elements that determine psychic distance, but for simplicity, I’m going to focus on how the narrator refers to the character.

Generally, if you’re going to change the psychic distance, it’s a good idea to start with the psychic distance being the largest it will ever be, to establish the big picture and the range in which the POV will operate.  Then you can zoom in on the character, and often authors will remain at a minimal psychic distance for the rest of the piece.  In this chapter, we start out using the pronoun, so psychic distance is at a minimum.  I actually think I’m reading a piece in third person limited omniscient because the narrator seems invisible.  Then in the 10th sentence, we jump from “he” to “the man.”  The narrator appears and the psychic distance swells in the middle of a paragraph.  This trips me up and distracts me.  It also jerks me away from the character.

The chapter jumps back and forth many times between “he” and “the man.”  This is a problem because these two terms lie near the extremes of psychic distance, so we’re zooming almost all the way out and almost all the way in over and over.  About two-thirds of the way through, the narrator seems to learn that the man’s name is “William,” and then we alternate between “William” and “he.”  That works better, because “William” just has a little more psychic distance than “he.”

I would suggest eliminating the term “the man” from the chapter, starting out with “William” and then moving closer with “he” as appropriate.

The final challenge I want to discuss in writing a piece that focuses on internal experience is the hardest:  tying the internal experience to external events in a compelling way.  While the internal experience can be fascinating, a work that focuses solely on the internal is rarely successful.  The internal and external need to interact with each other.  External events can evoke internal reactions.  Internal desires or delusions can motivate external actions.  If you think about internally focused stories like “The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe, or the Twilight Zone episodes I mentioned above, they all have the private internal life of the main character tied to external events in a memorable and powerful way.  The first-person narrator in Poe’s story shows us how his internal life motivated him to kill a man.  In “The Hitch-Hiker,” Nan Adams keeps seeing the same hitch-hiker on her cross-country road trip, but no one else sees him or understands what she’s going through.  Ultimately, she realizes she is dead and he is death, waiting for her.

This chapter ends with William’s house disappearing in the fog, an external event that is promising but, for me, not enough to create a compelling bond with the external that makes me want to read the rest of the novel.  The chapter ends without giving me a clear sense of what’s happening.  I’m guessing maybe he’s been swept into another world, but that doesn’t seem to fit with the chapter I’ve read and seems fairly familiar.  Prior to this, the chapter hasn’t established a strong relationship between the internal and external.  Through most of the piece, William is sitting and thinking, and going outside to get the mail and thinking.  Starting a piece with a character thinking about his life is generally not a strong way to start, and that’s what’s happening here.  Little happens externally beyond that, except for his family following their morning routine, a mail truck driving away, and the mailbox squeaking open.  If the sound of the mailbox was conveyed in as vivid, disturbing, and compelling a way as the filmy “vulture-eye” of the old man in “The Tell-Tale Heart” or the hitchhiker in “The Hitch-Hiker,” that could help to create the start of this bond between the internal and external.  But as it is, I feel that William is overreacting to a simple squeak, and I become impatient reading a paragraph about that overreaction.  I don’t get excited or worried or intrigued by the connection between William and the mailbox.  I have a similar reaction to the mail truck.  The imagery of red brake lights looking like “eyes watching from a pit into hell” seems kind of cliched and familiar, not like they fit in the same chapter as some of William’s compelling thoughts.  Since I don’t know where the novel is going, it’s hard to offer a specific suggestion.  But I think the external needs to have more of a place in this chapter, and it needs to interact with William’s interesting focus on death in a believable way.

I enjoy getting a glimpse into William’s unique internal life.  I hope my comments are helpful.

—Jeanne Cavelos, editor, author, director of The Odyssey Writing Workshops Charitable Trust


On The Shelves

Trouble In The Stars by Sarah Prineas (Philomel Books April, 2021)

Trouble knows two things: they are a shapeshifter, and they are running from something–but they don’t know what. So when the StarLeague shows up, Trouble figures it’s time to flee.

Changing from blob of goo form, to adorable puppy form, to human boy form, Trouble stows away on the Hindsight, a ship crewed by the best navigators and engineers in the galaxy, led by the fearsome Captain Astra.

As the ship travels, Trouble uses the time to figure out how to be a good human boy, and starts to feel safe. But when a young StarLeague cadet shows up to capture Trouble, things get complicated, especially when Trouble reveals a shapeshifter form that none of them could have expected. Soon a chase across the galaxy begins. Safety, freedom, and home are at stake, and not just for Trouble.

From acclaimed author Sarah Prineas comes a rip-roaring outer space adventure about an oddball hero, a crew of misfits, and finding family where you least expect it.

Grapevine/Market News

Uncharted Magazine is now open to SFF and Horror short stories of between 1,000-5,000 words. Payment is a flat $200. You can find more information here.

Fairytale Review is open until July 6, 2021 for a themed issue on sleep. They are looking for flash fiction of no more than 1,000 words, and payment is a flat $50. You can find full information about the theme and submitting here.

Silver Shamrock Publishing is holding an open call for their horror anthology Midnight Beyond The Stars. Payment is 6 cents per word for stories of between 2,500 and 6,000 words. Full details can be found here. 

Editor’s Choice Award April 2021, Short Story

The Editors’ Choices are chosen from the submissions from the previous month that show the most potential or otherwise earn the admiration of our Resident Editors. Submissions in four categories — science fiction chapters, fantasy chapters, horror, and short stories — receive a detailed review, meant to be educational for others as well as the author.This month’s reviews are written by Resident Editors Leah Bobet, Jeanne Cavelos, and Judith Tarr. The last four months of Editors’ Choices and their editorial reviews are archived on the workshop.

The Healixir Trans-Galactic Lounge by Michelle Tang

The “man walks into a bar” setup deepens in grim, gorgeous, necessary ways when an escalating genocidal standoff back home forces diasporic Vi’hun care workers into a set of hard choices—and eventually a hard-won freedom. “The Healixir Trans-Galactic Lounge” caught my eye this month by ably and guttingly creating a universe steeped in sacrifice and care and tackling the questions of who deserves to receive them, who’s forced to provide them, what it means to choose, solidarity, and self-worth. This month, I’d like to talk about how we balance the technicals of story to talk about urgent, painful, impactful material in ways that are both honest and effective as narrative.

The brilliance of “The Healixir Trans-Galactic Lounge” is how much history, current conflict, and systemic struggle is folded into its universe in a way that honours those experiences, but stays deeply accessible to readers who are outside them—while completely functioning as a science fantasy story.

It’s quite clear what this piece is pointing at in its rich universe stuffed with service industry jobs: medical care that’s dressed up like a bar, hostessing, massage therapists, the choice between freedom and a family, other people’s borrowed words and body language, and a workplace that’s constantly configuring to look like someone else’s paradise, never Minta’s. Farmer Zonne’s exploitative biological controls, endless wars, and repeatedly reanimated soldiers carry shades of WWII Japanese comfort women and colonialist regimes in a way that’s recognizable enough to not need explanation—so I can just feel their impact as a reader.

However, “The Healixir Trans-Galactic Lounge” packs those questions into its fundamental worldbuilding without ever sabotaging its own ability to be a cohesive, internally consistent, affecting fictional world. The point where a lot of stories handling the question of harm can crack a little is when real-world facts and motives overwhelm the fabric of the story itself; there’s unfortunately a significant balancing act required, craft-wise, when we draw on serious—and live—topics like the dynamics of oppression and hope. Succeeding at that balance—where a piece works as a fictional story and works as an expression on real-world dynamics—is a difficult and huge achievement.

There are two major choices the author has made here that let “The Healixir Trans-Galactic Lounge” shine this way: first, by making all the pressures and choices Minta and her co-workers face absolutely structural—but pressures its characters consider. Bits of worldbuilding like the Vi’hun’s precarious position as healers whose vital work can’t ostensibly be turned on each other and care work exhaustion built into the yellow flash on Jaela’s skin cover the simple analogies structurally, and then there’s the question of what Minta does about them. They’re part of the fabric of Minta’s world (showing, not telling) but Minta consistently thinks about them, considers how they impact her choices now and later, discusses them with Jaela—telling, not showing. There’s a balance of techniques here, and they’re working together to develop the situation in a way that’s organic and complete.

The second choice is simpler technically but much more profound: the way the story itself isn’t using Minta as a tool to make a point. It centres, instead, her complex wants, pains, and desires as she moves through a situation and shows readers her own—and Jaela and Katia’s—agency, impacts, and desires. By letting its characters be complicated and whole, “The Healixir Trans-Galactic Lounge” fights back structurally against flattening and objectification—and makes its point in the resonance between how it’s chosen to tell the story and what the story’s about: “How many of us had died trying to save people who had used us as tools?”

As this is a middle draft, I’ve got (appropriately!) mostly small suggestions for how to strengthen the piece; the structural work’s definitely already done.

There are some little points of technical friction that could be addressed. I’d suggest attention to some early exposition—I think there’s probably a more subtle or organic way to unfold the starting rules of how Vi’hun healing works than Blippo the regular—and a little more ease into the transition between Minta’s decision to resist and the aftermath of Katia’s attempt on the farm, which as it stands feels somewhat abrupt. The emotional tone changes very rapidly, and as a reader I felt a bit of whiplash.

I’d also suggest that, given how the symbolism of “The Healixir Trans-Galactic Lounge” works, there could be a little more thought around how the Sun Yams needing iron-based blood to germinate works on the symbolic level. It’s the least accessible idea in the piece for me: what does it say that the Vi’hun, who are healers, can only eat via others’ pain, conflict, and suffering? There’s something potentially complex in there that could perhaps use another beat.

Finally, my biggest suggestion would be to consider a new title for this piece—and it’s purely a question of being deliberate on the question of genre telegraphing. Titles are the first space where we, as writers, have the ability to help guide readers’ expectations about what to look for in our stories. Before they even read the first sentences, we’re telling our readers which parts of what they’re about to read are important, should be focused on, should be remembered.

The title as it stands evokes a certain space of the genre (for me, and I’d recommend that the author absolutely get second opinions on this, too): a subgenre of 1970s and 1980s space opera that’s light, a little goofy, and more concerned with adventure than depth. I’d suggest putting some thought into which aspect of this piece is the most important—what the author wants readers considering as important when they come into the read—and what kind of title could work to get them on the right track. In short: which title really shows who this story is.

But: “The Healixir Trans-Galactic Lounge” is a thoroughly beautiful piece: handling complex griefs and hopes that have no easy answers with an emotional honesty and sheer guts that shine through every line. With a few technical revisions and some polish, I’m fully confident it’ll have no trouble finding an audience and a home.

Thanks for the read, and best of luck!

–Leah Bobet, author of Above (2012) and An Inheritance of Ashes (2015)

Editor’s Choice Award March 2021, Fantasy

The Editors’ Choices are chosen from the submissions from the previous month that show the most potential or otherwise earn the admiration of our Resident Editors. Submissions in four categories — science fiction chapters, fantasy chapters, horror, and short stories — receive a detailed review, meant to be educational for others as well as the author.This month’s reviews are written by Resident Editors Leah Bobet, Jeanne Cavelos, and Judith Tarr. The last four months of Editors’ Choices and their editorial reviews are archived on the workshop.

Maggie And The Weretrees, Prologue and Chapter 1 by Elizabeth Underwood

I love the title of this submission. It has a sprightliness to it that I find appealing, and the idea of weretrees is intriguing. Most shapeshifter novels give us animal forms. Humans who shift into trees is an unusual variation.

This opening chapter sketches enough of the story to give me a sense of what it’s about and how it will develop. The structure of the world comes through: the existence of supernatural creatures and, of course, shifters, who apparently live in the human community without needing to hide what they are. There are still limits to human belief, but the different species for the most part knowingly coexist.

As for the chapter itself, first let me emphasize that there is no wrong way to write an early draft. Every author’s process is different. However the words get on the page, what matters is that they do.

Revision is where the author’s individual process adapts itself to the wider world. At this stage, for this particular chapter, I have a few suggestions.

The author’s note mentions visuals and descriptions. I would have liked the physical description and some of the background of Nikhila at the beginning of the chapter rather than the end. Who she is, where she comes from, that she’s quite young and small for a dragon, that her wings have been damaged and that her office is has room enough to fly—all these things could be sketched in a few lines soon after we meet her. That would let us see as well as hear her, and help us understand what Maggie and Oliver are seeing and hearing as they interact with her.

In this draft, there’s quite a bit of what I call “floating heads:” dialogue with little or no framing, just the words spoken. A little more stage business, more action and reaction, tone, expression, would fill out the conversations and give us, again, a clearer sense of who the characters are and what their personalities are like. How do their voices sound? What are characteristic gestures and expressions?

There’s a tendency to break up the speeches with chunks of exposition and backstory. These interpolations are useful to the author in the draft, as notes and synopsis, but the reader gets bumped out of the story, and often out of the conversation. We then have to go back and reread in order to follow the discussion.

Nikhila’s history, Maggie’s background, the details of the world and the characters, are interesting in themselves, but some questions to ask each time are:

Is this directly relevant to what’s happening right here and now?

Does it move the story forward, or does the story stop for the explanation or the exposition?

Is there a smoother or more seamless way to convey the information here?

Should it show up earlier, or can it be filled in later in the narrative?

In short: Where is the most effective place for these details to appear?

Once Oliver has met with Nikhila and Maggie, the action slows down. Maggie loses focus and purpose, and so as a result does the story. The narrative turns to synopsis and backstory, rather than to characters moving the story forward, interacting with each other in new and informative ways, and showing us more of who they are.

When Maggie calls the artifacts dealers, give us one or two examples that sum up the rest. Let us see and hear the interactions. She might fiddle with the tarot cards during one of these conversations, then after she’s hung up, draw the Death card. That would tighten and focus the scene and concentrate on the most relevant details: the lack of information, the significant card.

I would save the details about Eion for the scene in which Maggie goes to see him. Let their relationship and its background emerge there, as she and Eion interact. All we need to know in this chapter is that she and Eion have history, and that’s one of the reasons why Nikhila delegates the job to her.

Likewise, Nikhila’s history and her relationship with the Cast looks as if it will play a part in the larger story, but is it relevant here? Do we need it at that point in order to understand what is going on? Or can we wait for a later chapter, and keep our focus on Maggie and the weretrees?

As for the question of viewpoint, I don’t think we need Oliver’s point of view in this chapter. We get it in the prologue, which is where, as the author’s note observes, he’s the one suffering the pain. In the first chapter of the narrative proper, framing and grounding the dialogue will give us a clearer picture of how Oliver feels, without needing to shift viewpoint. We’ll see and hear it as Maggie does, bolstered by what we know of what happened that night in the grove. Maggie may not pick up everything that’s going on, but we will, because we’ve spent that time in Oliver’s head.

–Judith Tarr

Editor’s Choice Award March 2021, Science Fiction

The Editors’ Choices are chosen from the submissions from the previous month that show the most potential or otherwise earn the admiration of our Resident Editors. Submissions in four categories — science fiction chapters, fantasy chapters, horror, and short stories — receive a detailed review, meant to be educational for others as well as the author.This month’s reviews are written by Resident Editors Leah Bobet, Jeanne Cavelos, and Judith Tarr. The last four months of Editors’ Choices and their editorial reviews are archived on the workshop.

A Fresh Start by Bryan Andrews

This story has a nice flow to it, and a quiet movement that I like very much. It’s deeply focused on character. For me, it works. I agree it needs a punchier title, one word maybe, something that sums up the emotional impact, the dissociation, the separation of the original and the clone.

The opening doesn’t need to move faster, I don’t think. It certainly doesn’t need any Big! Huge!! DRAMA!!! The one thing I would suggest is to clarify the situation in the first scene just a hair more. I had a little trouble at first figuring out whether Samuel and Lisa had traveled into space before, and was this a second trip? Or were they moving from training to actual travel? And then it became clear that something else was happening, and after the scene break, I realized where we were. At that point I was fully in the story, and the rest pulled me along fairly smoothly.

Since the story is so short, every word really does count. There’s some lovely figurative language and some powerful images: The seismic pain of bone hitting bone—that’s visceral and vivid.

I would ask about all the passive voice however, whether most of it could better be shifted to active. Save the passive for the occasional, calculated effect, and let the active do the job the rest of the time. Here for example:

Motor skills were learned, but so was resilience; both physical and mental. Skills remembered by the body from youth, even though their learning was forgotten by maturity.  

Would this be more effective if Samuel feels it directly rather than through the filter of the passive?

There’s some odd phrasing, too, that seems to be a Thing lately—I’m seeing it in various authors’ works, and I’d love to know where it comes from. Phrases like sat reclined or the two Lisas were sat on the grass and sat casually on the grass in the sense of being set down, placed on the grass, made me stop and blink a bit. The first doesn’t really need sat, it’s contained in reclined; likewise, the two Lisas could simply sit, rather than “be sat” or set. The last phrase might be more conventionally grammatical if it were changed to sitting.

As for the content warning, specifically about cannibalism, in an odd bit of synchronicity, I recently came across a series of Youtube videos about well-known cases of cannibalism-for-survival. What’s interesting is that the survivors don’t seem to have been treated as monsters, and their degree of trauma has ranged from acute to essentially nonexistent. It’s especially striking in the case of the Chilean rugby team whose plane crashed in the Andes. Apparently they have accepted their actions as necessary for survival, and been regarded more with admiration and compassion than with horror. This video has some interesting perspectives:  The channel has an episode on the wreck of the Essex, too, and of course the Donner Party.

I like the way cloned Samuel does his best to be understanding, and original Samuel is racked with guilt–not because he did it but because he enjoyed it. The only thing I might suggest is just a little more polish, a little more sharpening of the contrast here, a line or two more to clarify the clone’s feelings of dissociation, of separation from his other self. Otherwise the story is strong, and I like the way it ends. It says what it has to say, shows us where it’s going, lets us imagine what happens after. It’s all the more effective because it’s so quiet.

–Judith Tarr