Editor’s Choice Award March 2018, 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.

Audit 1771: The Church Of The Thinking Hedonist CHAPTER 2 by Claudia Casser

When someone says, “If you’re uncomfortable with diverse viewpoints, you won’t want to read this,” I’m all over it. I read for pleasure and for relaxation, but I also read to stretch my mental muscles, and the way our genre has changed in the new millennium has really worked for me. It’s not always comfortable, but it is exhilarating.

This submission is right in my wheelhouse. One thing I try hard to do as a writer and reader is to constantly examine my assumptions. We all have them, and so many of them are so embedded in our world view that they’re invisible to us. When a work of fact or fiction calls them out and asks us to to take a good, hard look at them, we may be tempted to run veryveryfast in the opposite direction.

And that’s exactly what’s happening to Sarah in this chapter. She’s being tested, and so, as readers, are we.

It’s very easy when writing idea-based stories to slide over into preaching. It’s also very hard to write such stories with a light touch. Putting the two together is a serious high-wire act.

For me, it works. It stays on this side of my personal line for both idea-fiction and humor. I can see how it’s structured to set up Sarah and Therese as foils, and how Sarah has been set up by her adopted sect to confront her early conditioning and expand her ethical landscape. There’s a lot going on under the surface—and that takes skill.

To answer the author’s questions, I was not confused, but I did go back as instructed and check out the opening chapter. I had questions about the Flock, but just when I was about to make a note, Koo appeared and those questions were answered. Koo is a great character; I particularly like that the character is nonbinary, or rather hyperbinary.

My other question, about how and why the planet happens to be named Brunch, is not critical; I just happen, personally, to notice names, and I’m not sure this one works for me, again personally. I suppose it’s a play in Sunday brunch? It’s maybe a little too far in the direction of gonzo, in a story that otherwise balances its various elements with a deft touch. It seems to undercut the seriousness of the ethical underpinnings, while not quite managing to be on point for the humorous overlay.

But that’s a personal and idiosyncratic reaction. As a Very Serious Editor-Critter, I appreciate the brisk plotting and the distinctive voice. I might, if the writing were less skillful, wonder if setting an Amish woman turned agnostic in the middle of a cult of hedonists might be a bit over the top—but this variety of humor works because it is over the top. It’s making a point, and that point needs extreme examples.

Humor is hard. Props to this author for pulling it off—while also pulling off a potentially disastrous juxtaposition of ethical and moral systems.

–Judith Tarr

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