Editor’s Choice Award February 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.

Gladiator Superclásico, Chapter 1, part 1 by Adam Rossi

This chapter shows a vivid and far-ranging visual imagination. It’s a world of strong colors and striking imagery, and its worldbuilding is intriguing.

There’s plenty of story happening here. We get a sense of who Zé is and what he wants to do and be. We see some of his history; we start to understand what makes him tick. It’s a good beginning.

One thing I would have liked to see, and I’m sure will see as the ms. undergoes revision, is a more rounded depiction of Di, both in herself and as she relates to Zé. She matters a great deal to the protagonist and the story, but in this draft she’s somewhat lightly sketched in. The conflict between them is blocked in fairly solidly: she wants Zé to back off from his obsession with the Clásico, but he’s addicted, and it’s clear he’s not going to give it up.

What I’m not getting is a sense of connection between them. They live together, they walk through the city together, they exchange information and, at the end, have a fight, but she seems oddly distanced from Zé. Amid all the rich description, it’s hard to get a picture of her.

It seems that Zé doesn’t see her except as a reflection of himself. She calls him bello, but to him she’s kiddo—as if she were his kid sister rather than his lover. When we first meet them, she’s busy getting her morning going, and he’s nagging her for coffee. He doesn’t seem to have much respect for her, or to regard her as an independent person.

This pattern continues as the chapter goes on. They don’t interact so much as bounce off each other. One moment she’s remote, disengaged; the next, she’s smiling and bantering and offering sex. I’d like to see more of her inner life, how she thinks, what she feels apart from what Zé projects onto her.

He keeps emphasizing how small she is. The multiple references to her talent as a maker and inventor come across as patronizing. She’s tiny, but she’s smart. She’s little and cute, but she really is bright. She makes her own clothes. These details aren’t integral to the story; they don’t move the action forward, and Zé doesn’t treat her any better because of them. He seems to be trying to convince himself that she’s worthy of respect.

Does this bother her? Does she want to be seen as a fully adult human being, and treated accordingly? Or does she use his attitude toward her to manipulate him, to feed his ego and get him to do what she wants? What’s going on inside as she follows him to various places that are important to him? Are they important to her apart from him? What are her preoccupations, her wants and needs, her dreams—aside from the one fantasy of winning the lottery?

If this lack of mutual respect and this emotional disconnection is their dynamic, a bit more depth and detail would help make it clear. Let’s see more of her expressions and reactions, and a somewhat more complex range of feelings. Even if Zé is oblivious, she can reveal herself in her body language or her expressions. He might not see it, but the reader will.

None of this needs a lot of extra word count. Mostly it can be done with a line here or a change of phrasing there. The more depth and complexity Di gains, the more she’ll round out Zé as well. Then the conflict between them will be stronger, and move us more effectively into the next part of the narrative.

–Judith Tarr

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