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.
Growing Thorns 1 by Elizabeth Porco
I love the concept of this piece. I would almost say the magical system, but it slips over the line into science fiction, because Tesla and electricity and science. It’s further brightened by its narrative voice: just the kind of wry, dry wit that makes me a happy reader.
Even without the author’s note I can pick up the sense that this is part of a series. But because it’s presented as a first chapter, there are a few things that might help the cold reader figure out what’s going on. It doesn’t need chunks of exposition or a detailed backstory; a line here and a clarification there would do it.
I would suggest mentioning the electricity infection closer to the beginning. The setup with the Faraday armor is great fun, but if I knew more at the start about the timeline and the origin of these powers, I’d have a better sense of what was happening. I gather Robin is a casualty of the syndrome or disease or whatever it is? Just a hair more clarity about that would deepen the emotional impact of his loss.
The opening seems to assume that the reader knows who Rose and Deborah are and why they’re driving in the Tesla, and what they’re going to do once they reach their destination. It reads as if there’s a page or two of setup that I’ve missed. I like the technique called in medias res—throwing the reader right into the middle of things—but maybe not quite so deep in to start with. I’d have liked to have a line or two about the electricity infection, and something about what the women are up to and why. Maybe just a bit more about what happened to Robin, tying it in with what the women are trying to accomplish.
The place they drive to is a generic setting, a beach. If it were more specific, it might be clearer why they choose this particular place. Where exactly are they? Is it a lake? The ocean? Are they here because of the open space? Something about the sand? The water? How remote is it? Would they worry about being seen, considering that they’re setting up for a pretty spectacular light show?
It seems they haven’t thought things through. They don’t seem to have taken precautions against being caught—and not only because the park is closed. The ranger just barely misses getting fried. Is this because they’re new to their powers? Have they done anything like this before? Is this the first experiment, or are they further along in the process? What’s the purpose of it, and what do they hope to get out of it?
This is probably answered in previous stories, but is the infection universal, or is it just happening to a few people? The park ranger doesn’t seem to be aware of it, but it must be happening all over the world, if the women are in San Francisco and Robin died in London. The new reader needs more context, and the returning reader might appreciate a quick reminder.
This is a strong first draft, but it needs more layers. A little more setup, a more specific setting, a clearer sense of what the characters are doing and why. I’m intrigued by what’s here. I’ll be interested to see where it’s going.
— Judith Tarr