Editor’s Choice Award February 2023, 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 Museum Of Average Days by Kate Ellis

The author’s note on this story set me up to expect a bit of confusion and a bit too much by way of themes and story-stuff. This much is true: it’s not a quick skim. It’s a story that needs and rewards a close and careful reading, and a reread or two after that.

What it’s not is jumbled or confused. Two themes come clear for me: climate change and the love between the first-person protagonist and the beloved whom they’re speaking to directly in second person. The Museum of Average Days is both the title and the unifying motif. There’s the world the way it used to be, as preserved by the mysterious “Museums,” and the world as it is now, in which the characters have to live. And, as we discover toward the end, die.

On the first reading I bobbled somewhat at the depth of backstory. The calligraphy class, for example, seemed to pile on top of too many other elements; it felt like a distraction. But on the second read, I picked up the thread of the albatrosses, and saw how the image of the brush strokes both helps to describe the birds, and pulls together the references to albatrosses in the story as a whole—both as a literary reference and as a literal pair of birds who may also be part of a government spy program. They’re the mechanism that transforms romance into tragedy.

The whole story is like that for me. It’s very dense, packed with detail, but all of those details serve the story as a whole. While there’s a lot there, there’s nothing extraneous. Everything contributes. It all moves us forward to the conclusion.

The only thing I would do, really, is a line edit and a copy edit, to make sure all the niggly bits are sorted. It is not an easy story, but it’s not supposed to be. It needs to be what it is: rich, complex, with multiple layers. That’s what makes it so powerful.

–Judith Tarr



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