Editor’s Choice Review November 2016, 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, Amal El-Mohtar, Jeanne Cavelos, and Judith Tarr. The last four months of Editors’ Choices and their editorial reviews are archived on the workshop.

THE AWAKENING – CHAPTER 01 & 02 – NANOWRIMO by Owen G. Richards

First of all, profuse apologies for coming in so late with this. November was a very distracted month. I will be doing my best to come in early with my December Editor’s Choice, because December is even more distracted. Meanwhile, have a crit of a lovely first draft.

One of the things I love about the editing gig is the opportunity to work with authors at all stages of their process. Every author is different, and every process has its own individual take on how to get the words down and the story moving. There is no such thing as a wrong way to write a draft. Questions of quality and refining the craft come in during the editing phase.

Here we have a sort of prologue, full of warnings and “we’re in a terrible mess and here’s where it started,” with a strongly framed flashback to what may or may not be the present time of the novel itself. So that’s the structure, as far as we can see it. We’ll have to have more in order to tell whether it works for the story as a whole. Do we need to know the future? Does it telegraph too much? Do we lose tension and suspense by knowing what eventually happens—or do we gain it as we wait to see how the optimistic past becomes the pessimistic future?

Right here and now, what we can do is look at how the scenes take shape on the page. The process seems to be, get it down, put in all possible descriptors, repeat them in various places. Revision then would involve shaping and pruning, deciding where a descriptor is most effective, and just leaving one or two repetitions in places where they’re relevant. It’s one good way to get the words down fast and not worry about edits–in short, a perfect NaNo method.

So we know Corrigan’s eyes are blue and his hair is abundant and grey, and he’s old—we’re shown this in multiple ways. A revised draft would cut these details down to a critical handful.

The writing in this miniprologue is lively and pointed. We get a good sense of what kind of person Corrigan is. There’s a bit of over-the-top-ness about him, which looks to be important to his character, but could also use a bit of toning down—pruning the language will do a pretty fair job of this. Less Is More, as the adage says.

The story proper has a similar liveliness and vividness to it. It carries its exposition well. We learn details we need to know, while getting a picture of the culture and background of the characters and the world. I particularly enjoy the juxtaposition of classroom lecture and code duello. It’s wonderfully sffnal.

What I might suggest, as with the Corrigan section, is toning down the emotional arcs and clarifying the interactions between the characters. Marshall and Levinson play off each other pretty nicely, but they need some fine-tuning in order for the initial hostility—spitting, hissing, “arrogant bitch”—to shift more credibly to the final detente.

I also wonder why Levinson doesn’t know that the duel will be televised. Wouldn’t he know the rules and procedures? Why the bulgy eyes? Is there a solid character-based reason for him not to know this, and also for him to react this strongly? If so, a concise explanation/clarification might help.

The same applies to Browning during the duel. He and Levinson both seem well apprised of the rules, except when they don’t.

It’s not clear why they have these gaps in their knowledge. Did they blow off reading the manual? Has there never been a duel while they’ve been in the program? If so, how rare is this? On the one hand it seems to be a fairly well established mode of settling differences, but on the other, there are those things the principals just don’t know.

The other question I would ask for revision is whether it’s a little too much of a foregone conclusion that Marshall will be the skipper. Should there be more doubt? An obstacle or two? More of a fight between her and Levinson, and less quick or easy capitulation on his part? What works best for the scenes we have in front of us, and the story as a whole?

Overall this is a good start. It makes me want to read more, and I’m curious about how the story gets from dueling cadets to old, mad Corrigan flipping the bird to the universe.

–Judith Tarr

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