Editor’s Choice Award December 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.

Transient Prologue and Chapter 1 by Chuck Saul

This is an intriguing set of scenes. I like the concept, and the direction the plot seems to be going in. There are enough glimpses of the world and its people and institutions that I can start to get a picture of what sort of story this is going to be.

Two things might be worth pondering as the draft evolves.

First, the Prologue works for me in a general sense. It seems to be set in the future of the first chapter, and points toward an unexpected, possibly catastrophic outcome. That’s good, and pulls me forward into the story proper.

One thing to think about in revising this section is to be very, very attentive to the construction of sentences and the meanings of words. A good part of the effect here is based on the prose style. Watch out for awkward phrasing and incorrect or off-kilter choices of words. For example:

the moaning body

Usually I’m in favor of tight writing and condensed phrasing, but this is a just a bit too condensed. It’s distracting, as I try to make the noun and the adjective fit together.

The same thing happens with

striped red with wet streaks

I have to stop and parse it. Is the body red-striped? What are the wet streaks? Water? Some other liquid? It takes a moment to realize it’s the streaks that are both red and wet, i.e. blood.

Be careful of awkwardness as well, such as this:

Words take shape like the gurgling sound water makes when submerged within it

The words don’t seem to follow each other. Words, shape, gurgling, submerged, come from different places and have different meanings. The metaphor strains and breaks. And what is submerged? What is it?

Rich and evocative language when done well is an wondrous thing. But every word has to be carefully chosen and every sentence meticulously constructed. Especially in a prologue, which is the reader’s introduction to the world and the characters.

The narrative proper sets a completely different tone. It’s both disconcerting and refreshing to switch to breezy corporatese. We’re clearly in a different, more pragmatic universe. Part of the interest will be to find out how we get from here to the universe of the prologue.

I do think however that this section needs some rethinking and recasting. Rather than opening with two emails in a row from the CEO, I wonder if it would be better for the pacing of the story to intercut them with character actions and reactions. Give us more of the human element, and introduce it sooner.

The human element in this draft needs work as well. The narrative consists almost entirely of Ihara’s internal monologue. He relays information, provides chunks of exposition, and ruminates on various subjects. His coworker Malick comes across less as a character and more as a plot device—an irritant that drives Ihara outside.

The world beyond the office is nicely described. But here again, when he’s interacting with other humans, Ihara lives inside his own head. His conversation with Mani is filtered through his headset. It’s almost as if she doesn’t exist except as a voice in his ear.

This could be very effective if it’s meant to be a foreshadowing of what is going to happen to Ihara. If that’s the case, it might be worthwhile to make it clearer, to let us see that Ihara is already dissociated from other humans. If and when he becomes whatever he is in the prologue, it will be a natural progression from his existence prior to the flight.

Best of luck, and happy revising!

— Judith Tarr

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