Editor’s Choice Award January 2022, 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.

WIP / One Night At The PáJaro Azul by Rodrigo Culagovski

The worldbuilding in this submission is rich, deep, and thorough. I had a real sense of being there, of the full sensory experience of the setting and the characters. It’s well done, and it pulled me along from scene to scene.

In places the prose might use a little polish, a bit more attention to the structure of sentences and the meanings of words. At the same time, some of what seemed at first like wobbles or bobbles looks in retrospect like an intentional expression of the character’s take on the world. Coté in the first section has a way of qualifying everything he says: adding throat-clearing words and phrases like maybehoweverto be honest, and rambling on a bit through his sentences. And yet, as I read whole of his scene and then the two viewpoints that followed, I realized that these verbal tics help establish the character.

Saleh by contrast—and this reads as intentional, too—is almost too flamboyant. He declaims, he throws in flourishes, he lets us know just how sure he is of himself. I might be tempted to tone it down a little, to smooth it over just a tad, on the principle that less is more.

I might also suggest for this section that the dialogue be framed a little more clearly, with a bit more stage business. Not a lot—not every line or every two or three or half a dozen lines—but I’d have liked more sense of what’s going on as the characters speak. What are they doing, what are their expressions, their body language, their tone of voice? They’re rather hanging in space in the draft, coming across as what’s often called “floating heads.” An anchor here and there would clarify the action and define the characters.

Mailén’s scene could use a little more of this as well, though the more extensive exposition helps to fill in the background. These passages of history and description work for me, for the most part; there’s enough going on, enough movement from scene to scene and through each scene, that I don’t feel as if the story is bogging down.

By this point too I’ve got a sense of how the narrative works and what the story is trying to do. In comparison to the third scene, the first one, from Coté’s viewpoint, might benefit from some trimming and tightening. It’s dense with worldbuilding detail, and in general that’s a good thing. But as with Saleh’s flamboyance, the story might flow more smoothly with fewer pauses for exposition and description.

When I’m revising a draft and polishing the prose, I try to think about what we absolutely must know in order for the scene to make sense. I see what I can do to pare down the details and the backstory. I focus on what’s directly relevant right here and now, and what the character might actually be thinking as he travels through this complex landscape. Would he perceive it in such detail, or would he be caught up in his errand, in his need to move toward his goal? What would actually be in the front of his mind, and what would he dismiss as irrelevant to his immediate purpose?

Saleh’s scene is very spare by contrast, even with the conversation that serves as exposition. Malén’s scene feels more tightly focused, more intent on moving the action forward into the next scene or chapter. If Coté’s scene came closer to the spareness of Saleh’s and the focus of Malén’s, this opening sequence would be even more effective than it is.

As for where I think it’s going, clearly they’re all going to converge at the Pájaro Azul—that’s evident even without the author’s note. We have a spectator who’s sneaked away to attend, a performer who wants to be a star, and a group of hackers/saboteurs who must be planning something suitably disruptive. For the rest, as a reader, I’m happy to strap in for the ride and see where it takes me.

— Judith Tarr


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