Editor’s Choice Award August 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 Voice From The Moon Chapters 1 & 2 by Samuel Finn

 I like the premise of this novel. The dying Earth is very topical, and the wise, older alien race that comes to save it is a favorite trope. The action-adventure aspect and the hard-science-fiction elements make a nice combination. Then, as the second chapter comes to end, we get the beginnings of a mystery. I am a sucker for a good mystery.

I’m a sucker for a good dog, too. Basing the Aya on dogs really makes the submission for me. Clius is a great character, and a great way to explore the human species through the eyes of an outsider.

When it’s time to either self-publish or submit the novel, I would suggest running it by a good, thorough line editor. The prose has a lot of repetitive phrasing, word echoes, and odd or awkward constructions, which might be smoothed out for greater clarity and faster pacing especially in the action scenes.

In the meantime, for this Editor’s Choice I’d like to focus on what for me is the most striking aspect of these chapters: the alien viewpoint. I actually like the slight awkwardness and stiffness of the prose in Clius’ scenes. They make a nice, subtle point that he is not human and he is not a native speaker of human languages. When the viewpoint shifts to Z, that line edit and that smoothing out will help to indicate the change of species as well.

I did wonder as I read, if the worldbuilding might go further than it does. The draft establishes Clius’ physical appearance and his ongoing attempts to understand human language and thinking. It also makes the point that he sees differently; he can see in infrared as well as in the human visual spectrum.

This strikes me as a very human way to construct an alien based on a dog. The one human sense that tends to be presented as superior to the canine is sight. The human eye can see a wider range of colors in the visible spectrum, and see more detail within those colors.

But if the alien is more doglike than human-like, might he not also have a dog’s range of senses? If you look at it that way, it’s not sight that distinguishes him from the human. It’s smell and, to a lesser degree, hearing.

A dog’s sense of smell is a truly amazing thing. I would love to see what would happen to Clius’ perception of the world around him if smell were his primary sense, with hearing and sight subordinate to that. Sight would still matter, but think about how the scene in the bar would seem to him, how he would identify different people of whatever species, what he would have to do not to get overwhelmed, and what details he would pick up about everyone, not just those present now but those who have come through previously.

And then in the training exercise, he would have a tremendous advantage, because he would know where everyone was and how long they had been there. Would that cause the all-human units to object to his presence? Or would he have to be blocked or suppressed in some way, so that the competition would be more fair? For that matter, other units might come up with ways to short-circuit his nose, hit him with a hellacious stink or, perhaps more evilly, with something pheromonal and severely distracting, like the scent of a female in estrus.

There are so many possibilities there. In terms of craft, too, the Clius scenes could be presented with emphasis on the senses that for him are primary. Then when we shift to a human viewpoint, we’ll get a different sensory emphasis. The reader can pick up on that as the scenes and viewpoints change, and get different perspectives on the same settings and characters.

One thing to keep in mind when doing this is that when Clius is telling the story, the perspective will be different than when a human is telling it. Think about what he takes for granted, and what he accepts as normal. These will not be the same things that a human would perceive. He won’t particularly notice that he sees heat signatures unless it’s pointed out to him, or unless it’s relevant in some way to what’s happening around him.

After all, do we stop to think about the range of colors we can see, all the different shades of blue or red or green, or do we just go ahead and accept that we see them? We may only think about it if we’re talking to someone who can’t see in those ranges, or if for some immediate and compelling reason we have to be able to discern subtle shades of color. Or maybe not so subtle—think about red-green color blindness and the reason why traffic lights are arranged in a specific order.

This isn’t something that needs a lot of exposition or explanation. It’s more of an underlying rationale for how different characters perceive their environment. It’s a set of choices: what words the character uses, which senses come into play first, and how they affect what he does and thinks and feels.

I just have one further question. It’s clear that gender parity is a thing in this universe. And yet there are no females in Clius’ unit. Is this deliberate? Is there a plot-based reason for it? If so, maybe that could be made a little clearer?

Best of luck, and happy revising!

–Judith Tarr


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