Editor’s Choice Award September 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 Answer Man, Chapter 12 by Scott Clements

Every once in a while I like to shake things up when doing an Editor’s Choice, and talk about what a submission has done right. I do have a couple of comment/suggestions in the usual vein, but mostly I want to point to the things in the chapter that work for me.

First the suggestions. In the line edit stage, it might be worthwhile to pay attention to the tendency to repeat the same word or phrase in successive sentences. They tend to come in groups of three. One or two incidences might indicate a deliberate device, but it’s frequent enough to make me ask if it’s more of an authorial habit. Notice for example the repetition of well at the very beginning, and later on, the reiteration of back. Maybe think of ways to vary the words and phrasing to avoid an echo effect.

The other thing I might question is the use of ellipses to indicate static and pauses in the AI sequences. I’m not sure they do what they want to do. Maybe let the jerkiness of the phrases and the disconnects within the sentences do their thing without additional signaling. The writing is good enough to hold up its own weight, I think.

But that’s pretty minor. In general this chapter does the job for me. The author’s note is clear about what’s going on in the novel as a whole, and provides a good lead-in to the chapter. I get what’s happening, and the shifts into and out of Darby’s own consciousness have a nice flow to them. The layers of escalating tension—Rejko on the mountain, Darby in the AI—play on one another to heighten the overall effect.

I like the chapter’s focus on a specific character and incident, combined with the sense of something much larger and more complicated, which will give Darby plenty to do as the novel goes on. It’s a good snapshot of the plot and the protagonist. The lead-in at the beginning and the cliffhanger at the end are solid chapter-craft.

Within the chapter, I particularly appreciate the vividness of description. There’s a strong sense of place, and a rich variety of sensory detail. It’s evocative. It takes me into the scene in direct and immediate ways. I can feel the wind. The terror of the thing, whatever it is, comes through clearly.

While I kicked a little at the use of ellipses in the AI sequences, I think the way they stop and start, the pauses and interruptions in the flow of thought, build tension well. That there’s more going on than this one incident seems clear. So is the fact that Darby is in some jeopardy as he tries to do his job. I can see that there are more revelations to come, and more mysteries, too.

This is good stuff. Well done.

— Judith Tarr

Leave a Reply