Editor’s Choice Award March 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.

A Fresh Start by Bryan Andrews

This story has a nice flow to it, and a quiet movement that I like very much. It’s deeply focused on character. For me, it works. I agree it needs a punchier title, one word maybe, something that sums up the emotional impact, the dissociation, the separation of the original and the clone.

The opening doesn’t need to move faster, I don’t think. It certainly doesn’t need any Big! Huge!! DRAMA!!! The one thing I would suggest is to clarify the situation in the first scene just a hair more. I had a little trouble at first figuring out whether Samuel and Lisa had traveled into space before, and was this a second trip? Or were they moving from training to actual travel? And then it became clear that something else was happening, and after the scene break, I realized where we were. At that point I was fully in the story, and the rest pulled me along fairly smoothly.

Since the story is so short, every word really does count. There’s some lovely figurative language and some powerful images: The seismic pain of bone hitting bone—that’s visceral and vivid.

I would ask about all the passive voice however, whether most of it could better be shifted to active. Save the passive for the occasional, calculated effect, and let the active do the job the rest of the time. Here for example:

Motor skills were learned, but so was resilience; both physical and mental. Skills remembered by the body from youth, even though their learning was forgotten by maturity.  

Would this be more effective if Samuel feels it directly rather than through the filter of the passive?

There’s some odd phrasing, too, that seems to be a Thing lately—I’m seeing it in various authors’ works, and I’d love to know where it comes from. Phrases like sat reclined or the two Lisas were sat on the grass and sat casually on the grass in the sense of being set down, placed on the grass, made me stop and blink a bit. The first doesn’t really need sat, it’s contained in reclined; likewise, the two Lisas could simply sit, rather than “be sat” or set. The last phrase might be more conventionally grammatical if it were changed to sitting.

As for the content warning, specifically about cannibalism, in an odd bit of synchronicity, I recently came across a series of Youtube videos about well-known cases of cannibalism-for-survival. What’s interesting is that the survivors don’t seem to have been treated as monsters, and their degree of trauma has ranged from acute to essentially nonexistent. It’s especially striking in the case of the Chilean rugby team whose plane crashed in the Andes. Apparently they have accepted their actions as necessary for survival, and been regarded more with admiration and compassion than with horror. This video has some interesting perspectives: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=syJyPq7lRGc  The channel has an episode on the wreck of the Essex, too, and of course the Donner Party.

I like the way cloned Samuel does his best to be understanding, and original Samuel is racked with guilt–not because he did it but because he enjoyed it. The only thing I might suggest is just a little more polish, a little more sharpening of the contrast here, a line or two more to clarify the clone’s feelings of dissociation, of separation from his other self. Otherwise the story is strong, and I like the way it ends. It says what it has to say, shows us where it’s going, lets us imagine what happens after. It’s all the more effective because it’s so quiet.

–Judith Tarr


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