Editor’s Choice Award October 2020, Short Story

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.

Tangled Threads And Ancient Words, part One by Rodrigio Culagovski

I was drawn to this submission by its setting. It’s a nice departure from the usual alternate-history eras and locales, and it’s not a culture or a period about which I know a great deal. I’m pleased to see how rich and detailed this opening chapter is. It bodes well for the rest of the story.

I have a couple of questions and one larger observation about the submission.

First, the reaction to Amaru’s innovative use of the khipu: it seems as if she might have had some inkling of the reaction she would receive. It can still be a terrible shock and a complete about-face from the man she thinks of as a father, but wouldn’t there have been hints that he’s at least somewhat conservative? Why hasn’t he ever mentioned gods or sacred traditions? Wouldn’t those be an essential part of his instruction? And wouldn’t he have had an inkling in his turn that she’s been doing unorthodox things with the knots?

I’m also wondering why the Inka appear to know so little about the Moxos. Evidently she’s been sent into as distant an exile as possible; but haven’t other envoys been sent there? Wouldn’t she be given some sort of briefing? Or at least, on what appears to be a lengthy journey, given more instruction and preparation than seems to be the case? And if she isn’t given that, might she wonder why, and possibly be suspicious or even fearful of what she’s being taken to?

In general I think her infraction and her exile need more solid grounding in the story. Why is it such a big deal, and why is she given such a severe punishment? And why specifically the Moxos? It does appear that there are political machinations happening, and that Jarakai is up to a whole lot of somethings, which I hope will come clear as the story progresses.

And there’s the big question that I want to ask.

Are you sure this is a novella?

There is so much here. The opening sequence could be expanded, the basis for Chusi’s sudden reversal made clearer, and Amaru’s own knowledge and understanding given more room to grow.

The journey to Moxos teases some very interesting developments. There’s a whole romance there, just barely touched on. Even if it reemerges later, I think it needs more space than the draft gives it. Let us meet the lover, get a glimpse of how the affair develops, and take a little time with their parting. Then when Amaru arrives at her destination, she has two sorrows behind her: the sharp reversal of her relationship with Chusi, and the departure of her lover (and is that her first, or the latest of several, or…?).

As rich as the world is, and as much already happens in just the first chapter, I think this has the scope of a novel. The draft feels a little rushed; there’s a lot going on, and a lot that’s quickly summarized or briefly mentioned. If it’s opened up and given space to develop its characters and events, it will be even stronger than it already is.

Best of luck with it. I love the setting, and I’m looking forward to seeing how the story grows from this beginning.

— Judith Tarr


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