Editor’s Choice Award January 2021, 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.

Sun Chaser by D. Campbell

This is a jewel of a story, beautifully conceived, tightly focused and precise in its language. It reminds me of a number of classic stories, notably Ray Bradbury’s “All Summer in a Day” and the Original Star Trek episode, “For the World Is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky.” It honors its predecessors even while it puts its own stamp on its subgenre.

Yes, it is science fiction, most definitely. It’s set in the future, extrapolating from events and phenomena of the present. That’s pretty much the definition of mainstream SF.

I have a couple of questions about the current draft. First and most minor, beer is a thing in the story. I like that, but it pinged my worldbuilding instincts, and made me wonder how and where in this underground world people are growing barley and hops, not to mention food crops in general. Not that the story needs a digression, but—maybe a very short line, closely tied to its context?

I wondered too about Papa’s card. Evie’s theft is a suspenseful scene, building on the tone and feel of her first attempt to sneak up the stairs, and leading into her second, when she succeeds. That’s a nice resonance. But in waiting until after the Sun Day ceremony to use the card, isn’t Evie risking being discovered? Wouldn’t Papa notice that this crucial item is missing?

Maybe he would keep his card in a safe place, a box or container? Somewhere that he doesn’t worry about because he believes it’s secure? That he wouldn’t make a habit of checking regularly? Would he leave it behind when he goes to the ceremony? Wouldn’t he keep it with him whenever he’s outside the apartment, in case of emergency?

Would it make more sense for Evie to steal it after the ceremony, when Papa is home and probably asleep? She could slip it out, do what she’s planned to do, then return it before he wakes. Otherwise she risks being discovered before she can use the card.

One more suggestion I would make is to rethink Celia’s character a little bit. In this draft, I don’t get a sense that she’s about to become a human sacrifice. She’s annoying and entitled, which is a good reflection of Evie’s age and personality—Evie doesn’t like her and it’s clear to see why. What I’m not getting is the full significance of her role in the ceremony.

Evie does mention that Celia is a fanatic, that she believes she’ll be the one to prove that the sun has stopped burning humans to death, but I think the story needs more. A little more ambivalence, a stronger sense of what’s all too likely to happen. If it’s clearer that people are in denial, and Celia worst of all, that will help. So will layering more complexity, building up various characters’ emotions (Celia’s in particular), clarifying the disconnect between the believers and the skeptics—beginning with a clearer indication as to what that belief is. It’s just a bit too subtle in the draft.

I don’t think any of this will add much more word count. The story is strong. It just needs a line here and a clarification there, to bring it to its fullest potential.

–Judith Tarr

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