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 concept of this novel is both classic and thoroughly timely. Science fiction since its beginning has been telling stories of a ruined Earth and a last desperate diaspora. The fact that we’re at a tipping point on climate—if we haven’t already gone over the cliff—makes it all the more relevant.
I really like the title. It’s intriguing and evocative. It invites the reader to speculate as to what it means, and how the story will unfold.
I have a couple of observations about the chapter as it’s written. The first is structural. There’s a lot of action here, a lot of story-movement, and the final paragraphs blow everything up spectacularly.
And yet, much of the chapter consists of Harper’s ruminations on the past, descriptions of the other characters, exposition about how they all got to this point. She’s woolgathering while the world collapses—and in fact she’s called out on it.
That calling-out is what I call “Author Id speaking.” That’s the author recognizing that the narrative isn’t quite doing what it needs to do. Instead of focusing on the immediate action, it’s stepped outside and is wandering around the edges.
One thing that might help is rethinking Harper’s character. Not so much who she is or what her role is on the ship, but how she appears in the story. If she’s more directly involved in the action, if she’s concentrating on what’s happening in the here and now, there’s still potential for filling in the background, but it stays in the background rather than taking over the narrative. Action first, backstory second—and if the backstory can be directly related to what’s happening, so much the better.
Think about what we absolutely need to know right here, right now. What the mission is. Why it’s happening. What the stakes are—especially the fact that the planet is about to fall apart. Keep Harper focused on her job and the jobs of the people around her, as they impinge on hers.
A major part of this is the emotional aspect. There’s quite a bit of powerful emotion here, but the draft tends to back away from it. The prose for the most part is flat, expository; it’s full of passive constructions. We’re told about feelings but we don’t quite get below the surface, where the feelings actually live.
More active prose, more sense of what’s going on in Harper’s mind and body, will help. Think through how she feels; what she feels and why. Get into her head. How would you feel if you had been through what she’s been through?
Even if she’s dissociating so she can do her job—that’s one way to deal. Make it clear that’s what she’s doing. Show how she balances grief and fear, desperation, and the need to be calm, strong, efficient. How tightly does she need to hold on? How many layers of feeling can she be coping with, while the top layer focuses on the mission?
Hard SF, which is what this seems to gravitate toward, doesn’t devote a lot of time to feelings, but I think going deeper into Harper’s emotions will make the story stronger. It might be worthwhile too to think about her voice, the way in which she tells her story. The style and cadence of the draft has an old-fashioned feel, somewhere between Golden Age science fiction and an almost Steampunk sensibility, with a hefty dose of techno-speak.
Does the style fit the character? Would it work better if she were a different age or gender? Could she be older? Younger? Male? Nonbinary? What qualifies her, specifically, to be the narrator of this story? In short—why this character, and why this narrative style? Is it just the right one? Or could it be different? What is the best way to tell the story, and who is the best person to tell it?
Best of luck, and happy revising!
— Judith Tarr