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.
I chose this submission for this month’s SF Editor’s Choice because I love alternate history, and because this particular setting is not one I’ve seen before. The Author’s Note promises broad and deep research, and the chapter delivers. There’s no way to fake the kind of attention to detail that we see here, the sense of time and place and culture that I like to call “period sense.”
What makes it even more impressive is that although there is plenty of exposition, and plenty of backstory incorporated into the narrative, it feels organic to me. The story develops at a steady and convincing pace; the expository bits enhance rather than obstruct the progression of events. It’s dense, chewy, and engrossing.
The one question I have relates to the character of Zoya. Her background and her personality come through strongly from the start; it’s clear she has traits that make her unusually well suited to the confinement and the sensory deprivation she’ll be asked to endure when (if) she goes into space. When she’s fobbed off on Lidiya however—a clear conflict for Lidiya between wanting to do her job regarding the payload, but being forced into a conventional female nurturing role—the interaction between them seems to me to need a bit more development, a little more layering of emotion and reaction. As written in the draft, Zoya’s words and actions don’t quite match the intensity of Lidiya’s reaction to them.
She comes across as blunt and opinionated, sliding over into actual rudeness, but I didn’t quite pick up on the abrasiveness that affects Lidiya so strongly. Lidiya is a bit raw and resentful to start with; that comes through. I’d have liked to see just a hair more from Zoya, a tone of voice, a glance, an expression, something to enhance the effect she’s having on Lidiya. It doesn’t need a lot; a line here, a phrase there, would do it. Just to bring out the conflict a little more clearly, and sharpen the emotional edge between the two women.
The transition from Lidiya’s story to Masha’s is a little jarring, but in a very good way. We’ve been immersed in one well-developed setting. Now here’s another, completely different, but clearly connected in some way that we’ll come to see as the story unfolds. It moves along rapidly, it shows another aspect of this strange-familiar world. It definitely makes me want to know what happens next.