Editor’s Choice Award June 2020, 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.

The Black-Leopard Numen by Rita de Heer

This chapter has lovely bones. The setting, the characters, and the worldbuilding have great potential, and the voice and narrative style, while still figuring themselves out, are starting to show what they can be. It’s a good draft, with more to come.

I love the title. I want to know what it means. I see hints of it in the chapter, a reference here and a phrase there–the leopard eye, the cat imagery. And that, for an opening chapter, is a good thing. It encourages me to keep reading, makes me see certain words and concepts a little more clearly, and leads me onward through the story.

I think as the hominids’ nature and culture come more into focus, the verb tenses will sort out as well. It’s not clear yet whether the shifts are the author experimenting with different tenses to see which one works best, or whether the changes of tense serve a purpose in the narrative. If it’s about whether to tell the story in present or past, it comes down to what feels right—what works best for the story as it wants to be told.

If the shifts of tense are more complex, if they reflect the characters’ states of mind, or where they are on their personal timeline, or what they’re trying to do at a particular moment, that will take a little more time to develop. What’s most important is that the shifts be consistent, and that they be clear, especially early on. Once we have the pattern, once we know what each shift means, we can follow the story as it flows from past to present and, maybe, future. I’ve never actually seen a story written in future tense, but I’d be open to the concept.

Even in draft I get a sense of how these hominids have their own culture, their own ways of seeing the world. Moggy’s viewpoint is intriguing because he’s a child. His thought processes are still developing, and he’s learning how the world works. He doesn’t have a name yet, which is a nice insight into how his people approach language and identity.

I do have questions about the two sides? personalities? worlds? of Moggy. There’s the I, and there’s the kid. Are they separate personalities? Past and present selves? States of existence—Moggy in the world of the living, the kid on the border between life and death? A good part of that will probably come clear later in the story, but a little more clarity might be useful here.

One thing that might help with this is the mirror-description sequence. The character looking at himself in the mirror and describing himself is a venerable and somewhat disreputable trope. Usually in writing classes we’re told, Don’t Do That.

But, if there’s anything I’ve learned about rules of writing and elderly tropes, it’s that if you can put a new spin on it, and if you can carry it off, you can get away with just about anything. Since Moggy is not “us-human” as the author’s note says, and since his world and his culture differ in various ways from ours, maybe the mirror can be part of that. Might it be a way of grounding himself in this world? Of establishing that he is in this timeline, in this body? Could he use the mirror to suppress the kid and anchor himself among the living? Or might there be other and even more intriguing cultural aspects to the act of looking at himself in the mirror?

For that matter, if we think of a mirror as a portal to another world, maybe looking into one is dangerous. It might bring the kid even more to the fore, and Moggy might risk being lost between worlds. There’s a whole range of things that could happen when Moggy meets the mirror.

I’ll be interested to see how this story and characters evolve. There’s so much going on already, and so much still to discover.

— Judith Tarr

Leave a Reply