Editor’s Choice Award May 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.

Unfathomable Descent, Chapter One, Going Home by Elizabeth King

There are interesting things going on in this submission. I like the juxtaposition of the sterile environment of the base and the rich greenery of Adna’s home planet. It comes right up at the beginning and sets the tone for the rest of the chapter, and presumably the larger work.

I have a couple of questions about the structure of the chapter. While it’s clear that Adna has made the decision to go home rather than stay in the C.D., it’s less clear why she’s made that choice, or why it’s so difficult. It might help to have a line or so of clarification at the beginning, establishing who and what she is, and what she’s going back to. There could be a little more about her feelings for Kerry, the stress she’s feeling, how she’s had to choose between her duty to her planet and her love for her friend.

Some of that comes through later in the chapter, but I think it would be more effective if it appears earlier. Let us see right at the start what the dream means and why Adna is dreaming it. Layer in her feelings for Kerry. Weave the two concepts together, and show how they’ve come into conflict. Then when we actually meet her friend, we’ll have a better sense of what it means that Adna is leaving.

I’d like a better sense of the timeline, too. We’re told they’ve been together for years, but what we get up front and most clearly is that they’ve been at the base for less than a year. I don’t quite get the feeling of the larger canvas; it’s more focused on the shorter term.

Since this is a final or near-final draft, I would suggest a close line edit and polish. There’s a fair amount of repetitive phrasing that might be pruned and tightened: solid-state screen, for example, or her best friend.

In the latter case, maybe we can get a glimpse of their closeness, see how their friendship works. What is a best friend, in Adna’s world? How important is it as a concept? What makes Kerry her best friend, out of all the people she’s come into contact with? And how does the best friend rank in her world, compared to family? Is it a concept her world knows, or is it something she learned after she left it?

If we know right up front how conflicted Adna is, and why she has to make the choice she does, it’s less essential to label Kerry best friend. We’ll know from context that she’s the most important person here—and that it is not easy at all for Adna to leave her. Then we’ll feel Kerry’s shock and betrayal more acutely, and understand it better.

I don’t think any of this needs blocks of exposition. It’s more a matter of choosing the right words and phrases. Give us a line or a phrase that conveys the concept and helps to build the world.

Some exposition might be saved for later, too, or left to implication: such as Oso’s accent and origins. Is it an essential detail? Do we need to know it at that particular point? Is it directly relevant to what’s happening?

Overall I think it’s a good start. We’ve got the basic conflict. The setting comes through for me, especially by contrast with Adna’s dream. It just needs some pruning  and polish, and some clarification especially at the beginning.

Best of luck, and happy revising!

–Judith Tarr


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