Editor’s Choice Award August 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.

Library Of The Mind by Jamie Boyd

I like the concept of this story. It’s an intriguing direction for psychotherapy to take. I’m particularly moved by the fact that the librarian suffers from dementia: that she’s both therapist and patient.

I have some questions about the patient’s motivations. While the librarian does explain (or seems to) why he’s had his memory wiped, I’m not sure I’m convinced. She lets him think that he’s a therapist in training, but it doesn’t quite make sense for him to have asked to enter the therapy as a blank slate. What would be the advantage of total ignorance? Wouldn’t he want to retain some basics, to hang his therapy on?

Of course the twist is that he’s not a therapist, he’s a patient, and he’s being trained to treat himself. I wonder if there might be just a little more ambiguity in the beginning, a little more questioning on his part—if he’s a trained therapist, why doesn’t he let himself access those skills? Might he start to suspect that something’s off? He does say that he doesn’t feel like a doctor, but I think there could be some more layers to that feeling, some sense that the librarian might be misleading him.

It doesn’t need to be more than a line or two, but I think it would help make his earlier scenes more believable. Then when the twist comes, there’s more of an OH! That makes sense. And then it all falls into place.

The other thing that might bear thinking about is the way the narrative develops. The librarian has a lot of what I call “exposidialogue.” That’s dialogue as exposition. Lecture mode. She tells him what to see and do, and to an extent, what to think.

While he is there to be trained, and she is there as an instructor, I wonder if she might be more indirect in her methods. Set him up in a scene, present the situation, but rather than spelling it out, let him figure it out for himself. Ask rather than tell. Guide him toward his own conclusions.

She does more of this toward the end, but initially she’s almost mechanical in her speech and mannerisms. The prose even points toward it, describing how she prattled on. Could she prattle less and guide more? Or, if he’s perceiving her speech as prattle but it’s actually serving an instructional purpose, maybe he could come to this realization a bit more clearly as the story progresses.

The one last thing I would suggest in the final round of revision is careful attention to the choice of words and constructions. A couple of phrases made me pause:

she said, tsking her mouth into a sympathetic shape.

tsk is a tongue sound, not a mouth shape. It’s not sympathetic; it’s a way of indicating he’s on the wrong track.

A dimple of approval flashing briefly on her face

Again, not sure the words mean what they want to mean. Dimples tend to be more about humor than approval, and the visual of flashing seems to point more toward some aspect of light than an indentation in the skin.

I didn’t think the ending was overly obvious, by the way. The way the plot was moving, it was inevitable. But that’s what I tend to want out of an ending.

To me this draft reads as if it’s working its way toward completion. Mostly it seems to need more layers and more polish, and some rethinking as to how the story is told, especially when it comes to dialogue.

–Judith Tarr

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