Editors Choice Award July 2023, Horror

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.

Eloi, Eloi, Chapter 1 by James Cooper

This chapter is a pretty definite early draft. The prose loses control of itself here and there, and sometimes I had to stop and go, “Huh?” while I tried to parse the meaning of a phrase. But that’s fixable in revision, with a good line edit and some careful copyediting.

At the same time, there are some stunning bits of imagery. Those show me where the revision can go, and what potential it has. The idea of Satan’s poetry, and a world filled with it. The moonlight moving as if it’s sentient—as if it has volition. The angels’ movement, more math than magic. The way the dream fades, like some great symphony falling into silence.

Structurally I think the chapter could use a little rethinking. The individual memories are poignant, and they’re important to Jacob’s life and character. But the way they’re set up is a bit slow, with the rhythm of exposition rather than active narration. It takes a while to get to the event that actually begins the story, the encounter with Death followed by what appears to be Jacob’s first dream.

Two things stand out to me in the narrative: Satan’s poetry and I do not dream. Is there a way to lead with the latter as well as the former? Is there some connection between them—whether it’s real or in Jacob’s head?

Perhaps a less linear timeline would help with the story’s movement. Start in the church, bring in memories of his mother’s funeral and the life experiences that brought him back here. Could he have seen Death at the funeral, too, or thought he did? Might he feel as if time is slipping off its straight track, and he’s caught in between memory and reality? And that’s what he’s been told dream logic is like?

There’s also the fact that according to science, dreams are essential. If we can’t get that level of sleep, we might as well not be sleeping at all. Actual lack of dreaming (as opposed to just not remembering dreams) can have serious mental health consequences.

Which I’m sure you know, and probably will address later in the story, but it might be relevant here. He may wonder about his own sanity, and interpret the dream as a hallucination brought on by longterm sleep deprivation. Or, and again this may be addressed later, there’s something going on with his immortal soul; it has something to do with Satan. His non-dreaming is a sign that he’s not the otherwise normal guy he thinks he is.

In short, I think the Satan’s poetry theme could be made a little clearer, while the narrative itself uses the church and the Mass as a frame for Jacob’s backstory. Let us dive straight into the present day, with quick flashbacks to fill us in. That will help with the pacing at the beginning, but also give us the information we need to understand where Jacob is coming from.

There’s lots of good story-potential here, and some powerful ideas and images. I’m looking forward to seeing how it evolves from draft to final.

— Judith Tarr

Leave a Reply