Editor’s Choice Award January 1, 2024, Fantasy/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.

Flying Beyond The Mother Sea by Lyri Ahnam

This story excerpt offers a glimpse of an intriguing world. It raises good questions in this reader’s mind: What kind of bone are the towers made of? Is it hunted, scavenged, salvaged? Does the term fish-singers mean fishers actually sing the fish into the nets? These people must not be human, between the fact they’re genderless, and the use of the term budparent. I’d like to know more about what they look like as well as how they think. Overall I get the sense that this is a carefully and thoroughly built world, and that there’s a great deal more of it to explore.

The excerpt needs a bit of polish and a little more thinking through of the individual scenes. There’s an unfinished feel to it, a sense that it needs more layers of emotion and motivation.

In the opening scene, although we’re told why Aislon is alone and unobserved, I want a little bit more. A phrase here, a line there, that places them more distinctly in context. A sense of how deep their rebellion is, and how far they’ve deviated from the path ordained for them by their family and their culture. Then when Fuar appears, we’ll be ready for the confrontation.

I wonder too how Aislon has managed to pursue their project so far without any resistance or interference. Has no one seen them? Asked why they’re accumulating the materials for the glider? Entered their room and asked questions?

What is their family situation? Is it just Aislon and Fuar? Who else lives in the mansion? Are there other relatives? Does their culture have servants? We hear a flute, see curtains, but there are no people in evidence except the distant fish-singers.

These questions don’t all need to be answered in one short excerpt, but I’d have liked a hint or two or three. More context; more background. More sense that the world is populated.

The conversation between Aislon and Fuar needs more context as well. As written, it’s a “floating heads” scene: lines of dialogue with minimal framing. A line of stage business here and there—tone, expression, body language, as well as a bit of emotional or physical reaction in our viewpoint character—will round out the scene and give us a better sense of the characters.

Adding emotional and contextual layers does not necessarily mean adding word count. The excerpt is rich in description and in visual imagery. But it’s also rich in repetitive words and phrases.

Phrases echo each other in adjacent sentences: bone towers in the opening sequence for example. We may not need strings of noun combinations—tension fiber harness or rope safety tether or tether rope. Do we have to know the exact material, as long as we know what it does?

If a word acts as a modifier, does that word earn its keep? Does colorful tell us all we need to know, or could we have a word that more clearly defines the concept? Do we need both graceful and elegant, along with lacy and the billowing curtains, or can the image be a little more concise?

In short, how much of the description is essential to the movement of the story and the development of the characters, and how much can be folded into context while we focus more on Aislon’s inner world and the conflicts that drive it? The end of the excerpt features a major life decision, a choice that will change everything. The beginning and middle can do more to support it.

Give us more of Aislon’s need to be free; more of the complex emotions that underlie their actions. They must know their culture and their family well enough to understand that what they’re doing won’t meet with approval. Their dream of being named a Paragon is consciously naïve. Where does that naivete come from? How do we get from Aislon’s dream to Fuar’s flat denial?

If we have those layers of emotion, and those elements of background and context, Aislon’s choice to launch into the storm becomes inevitable. There is nothing else they can possibly do and still be able to keep on living.

— Judith Tarr

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