Editor’s Choice Award August 2021, Fantasy

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.

Revised: Bodies for Gods Chapter 1 by James Cooper

I did something for this Editor’s Choice that I’ve only done once before: I read the original version as well as the revision. I’m glad I did. It’s always interesting to see how a draft changes from one version to the next.

In this case, the goal was to be clearer about what is going on in the chapter, and to reduce confusion. I think the revision does this. It certainly pares down the prose and focuses on the characters and the action.

There are a few things that might help the chapter become even clearer and even more focused. One is quite basic. The revision is much less prone to passive voice and word echoes than the original, but I think another pass would be even more effective. Try the Kill Challenge: kill all the passives and the repetitive phrases, then see how it reads, and whether any of them needs to go back in.

I understand why the revision gave up on the attempt to convey different viewpoints within the same character. It’s a great idea but a serious challenge for both the writer and the reader. Better to go simple, stay in one viewpoint and let the story unfold through that pair of eyes.

The revision works hard at this, and maybe goes a little too far in the direction of making sure we know exactly whose point of view it is. There are frequent viewpoint tags; we get multiple repetitions of words and phrases that emphasize which version of Signy is telling the story, words like know, remember, watch. At one point we’re told in no uncertain terms that the Signy-viewpoint is the adult, and she’s in the time of the child:

If any looked her direction at all, it was as if she wasn’t there. Of course, she wasn’t. They looked right through her. Occasionally, they even walked through her.

I think it’s clear enough that she’s not physically there. One iteration of that is all the narrative needs; then it can move on to meet the child Signy.

TOnce it’s established that Signy is having an out-of-body experience, the tags become a distraction. It might help to run another Kill Challenge. After the first couple of tags, delete the rest and see if the narrative makes sense. Then just restore them where it’s absolutely necessary to clarify the meaning.

One more thing I think might help with clarity. I get from the context as well as the author’s note that viewpoint-Signy has had large portions of her memory eaten by the god that’s taking her over. There are references to what’s missing, and we’re told that she can’t remember who the people are that she sees. I’m still not absolutely clear on how the process works.

There’s another layer or two of worldbuilding to be done here, I think. I feel as if I’m wanting a bit more on how she knows what’s missing, and how she feels about it. Does she build new memories through these visions, or is that also taken from her? Can she form new memories and process them into longterm memory, or has she lost that capability? How aware can she be of what’s happening to her, and will that awareness erode as the damage progresses?

Those questions are probably answered in the novel as a whole. I just find myself wanting a little more at this opening chapter, a hint of what it all about, and a foreshadowing of what’s to come. Asha will give us some of that, but maybe there could be a little more here.

It’s an intriguing concept, for sure. The loss of Signy’s memory and self is both epic and tragic, and at the same time, it’s deeply personal. That comes through even in this short chapter.

–Judith Tarr

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