Editor’s Choice Award October 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.

The New Shah (Prologue) by Griffin Ayaz

I love the combination of ancient history and science fiction. It is not easy to do, and it’s even harder to do well. The writer needs to have a solid grasp of both the historical background and the tropes and traditions of science fiction.

This submission, so far, works for me on both levels. It’s well written, though in the line-edit stage I might suggest that the synonyms be pared down considerably in favor of the characters’ names, their pronouns where possible to avoid confusion, and just one or two alternative phrases. It’s confusing and rather distracting to try to keep track of multiple epithets for each character.

As brief as the prologue is, it does a good job of establishing the relationship between the princes. We quickly come to sympathize with Vidarna and despise Pashata, and we get a quick but compelling glimpse of the Shah as well. Through the references to Vidarna’s later self and the examples of friction with his father, we can see a hint of conflict that may move the plot of the novel proper. Is Vidarna now truly free? Will people finally see which of the princes was the true villain? Or will Vidarna be accused of orchestrating his brother’s murder, and have to suffer even worse consequences than he did when Pashata was alive?

I like it when I can ask questions like this. It means the story is set up well enough to capture my imagination. It makes me want to find out what will happen next.

The overall atmosphere of the prologue feels more historical than science-fictional to me. Certain details point to the novel’s genre: the packbeasts in their lack of specificity (rather than mules or camels or another terrestrial species), and the glow-lily, and of course the Immortal. I wonder if there might be one or two more hints of the alien in among the familiar, plants or animals, foods or fragrances, that aren’t the ones we know. Maybe even a reference to a weapon that signals far future albeit low tech, or a form of technology that’s distinctly not ancient Persian.

I also wonder if there might be more sense of agency in what the Immortal does. Can Vadarna predict where it will emerge, or can he do something to provoke it (voluntarily or otherwise) that then (voluntarily or otherwise) causes Pashata to fall into its maw? I like ambiguity, but I think there might be just a little more here to clarify the truth about what’s happened.

The creature makes me think of Dune with its equally destructive, similarly divine native life, which the Fremen can manipulate for their own purposes. If the parallel is intentional, it might be useful to make the Immortal similarly controllable as well.

Overall, as I said, this prologue works for me. I would definitely read on.

–Judith Tarr

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