Editor’s Choice Award November 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.

Operation Spacewatch Chapters 1-3 by S. Writes

This submission hits a number of my sweet spots. Galaxy Quest. Fish out of water/aliens on Earth. Genre bookstores. Fanfic come to life. Misfit teens finding their fit (and presumably saving the world). I don’t have a problem with the flow, though I would be interested to see what would happen if the gun battle were popped back in—a lot depends on where it comes from and how it plays out and what events ripple outward from it.

The narrative voice is pretty sure of itself. It’s got the breezy tone and the quick rhythm that this corner of YA and this subgenre tend to go for. It moves along briskly, also a good thing for what it wants to be and do.

I have a few questions about the underpinnings of the story. The mood is gonzo and the genre is Adventure, but that makes it even more important to think through the reasons why people do what they do. The more solid the motivations are, the easier it is to believe in what’s happening.

There’s a kind of caculus in developing motivations. The why of the characters’ actions should come up to the level of the consequences. If they’re just doing something because it’s cool or fun or they feel like it, but if they get caught they’ll be thrown into ice moon prison for a thousand years, the two elements can feel as if they exist in separate plot universes. They need to balance each other.

In these chapters, the cadets are committing a galactic crime, but they’re more or less just doing it because Earthgirls are easy and it’s a cool, crazy prank. The fact the Meta isn’t working adds to the imbalance, because in this draft, there’s no explanation for it—probably because the scene in which it was explained was cut?—and nobody seems unduly concerned about it. We need to understand more clearly what the Meta does, why there’s no apparent security around it that the cadets have to elude before they make it to earth, and what the consequences are on all sides of that equation: for the cadets, for their superiors, and for Earth.

The same applies to their reasons for defying galactic law to invade Earth. The stakes are extremely high. Their motivations should match. Is there a game that all the cadets play, under the radar of their superiors, with some sort of powerfully tempting reward for whoever comes out on top?

Think about TikTok challenges, some of which are actively criminal—what do the perpetrators get out of it? Why are they willing to take the risk? These cadets clearly understand risk, and know right from wrong. Their choices to do wrong are intentional. Why? What is the payoff?

It has to be more than simple curiosity or even another few data points on the alien-behavior chart. If they’re committing a major crime, they need to get a major prize that makes it worth the price. Maybe they win the secret game and get all the cool points and the whole cadet universe will bow before them for years after. But that also means they have to take extraordinary measures to avoid being caught before they win whatever they’re trying to win.

What are they trying to win? Again, it has to be something big. Something extra special. Maybe there’s a rumor that the ultimate Pokemon has been seen on Earth, and if they score it, they win all the points forever and ever. Or there’s a super secret challenge with a clue that can only be found in a particular spot on the planet, that happens to be right where the bookstore is standing. If they find the clue, it will lead them to something tremendous, something outstanding. Some treasure, either physical or metaphorical.

Treasure hunters will literally die to find the secret stash. If the cadets are hunting treasure, that would explain why they’re so determined to break all the rules and risk criminal prosecution. It doesn’t need to be gold or artifacts, it can be something of value to their culture, that might be insignificant to Earthlings. But to them it’s everything.

The main thing is that the why of their coming to Earth should match the stakes if they fail. So should the obstacles they have to overcome—including the malfunctioning Meta. They can still have petty personal reasons: girls, peer pressure, curiosity. But the big overriding reason has to be a big deal.

This is particularly applicable to Gregg, who doesn’t even want to go. It’s clear that peer pressure is a major part of it, but what else could motivate him as well? Does he have a bet with one or more of the cadets, or possibly with someone from another ship? Is there something he personally hopes to find on Earth, that tips him over the edge from resistance to acquiescence? Does he have family history connected with Earth or with the ban on visiting the planet? His reasons in the draft are simple and rather flat. Adding layers and messing them up will make both the story and his character stronger.

Best of luck with revision. This is a lot of fun. I’ll look forward to seeing how it grows and evolves through future drafts.

— Judith Tarr

Leave a Reply