Editor’s Choice Award May 2021, 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.

Cageborn by Jamie Boyd

I love ravens. I follow the RavenMaster of London on Twitter. It was a pleasure to find a submission that takes the raven’s point of view and turns it into a lovely and affecting story.

The title strikes to the core of who Corax is, both psychologically and socially. I think it might work even better if the fact of his being born in a cage were woven more clearly through the story. Maybe a bit more from his son about his refusal to leave his sanctuary, and a bit more about the ways in which the Cageborn are regarded by the rest of the world.

I have a few questions about the worldbuilding. The detail about Corax’s beak tearing the pages of the book is a nice touch, but would it make more sense for him to use his feet and claws? Are his eyes suited to reading on a flat page? Does he need some sort of accommodation—lenses, a mirror, something to make raven eyesight work in a human context? Would his eyes have been altered as well as his brain?

Thinking about that detail made me wonder about the setup of Dr. Enota’s experiment. The disappearance of humans would probably also mean the disappearance of electronic and digital devices, not to mention the internet. Would the ravens have initially been taught to read on screen? Is Corax’s difficulty is not so much with reading as with reading hardcopy? Were his mate’s alterations more extensive or effective, so that it was easier for her to make the transition?

Unmodified ravens are very vocal. They’re good mimics and can be taught human speech. Would these enhanced ravens have learned to speak a human language? Would Corax have taught his son? Zephyr may not be enhanced, but normal raven intelligence is pretty far up there. Would that be another reason for him to be rejected by the gang?

Does Dr. Enota need to be male, or even binary? Would it matter to a raven?

Since Corax despite his modifications is still very much a raven, I appreciate that he’s at ease with living with the dead Doctor. Would he have cleaned the bones, or would he have left the body to decompose naturally out of respect for human sensibilities?

(In a similar context, my impression is that vultures aren’t so much garbage eaters as eaters of the dead. I’m not sure they would see the dump as a longterm source of groceries. Rather, they might be feeding on corpses of actual garbage eaters. Vultures are Nature’s undertakers, after all.)

The story does a pretty good job of inhabiting the raven’s skin, but it slips in a few places. The references to Corax’s face, to his blush of embarrassment, like the reference to Zephyr’s expression, would work if they were human, or if they had faces, like mammals. Ravens don’t have what we might consider a face. It’s mostly beak. Corax might feel a rush of heat over his body, but not necessarily around his beak.

Ravens are very expressive, but they do it through body language and movement, as well as through vocalization. Corax’s feather-pulling is a great detail, and a good illustration of avian stress. How might he show embarrassment? Ducking his head? Hiding it under a wing? Making himself small? Maybe instead of his face heating, he catches himself flattening down or turning his head away. Likewise he’ll read Zephyr’s emotions in how he stands and moves, whether he ruffles his feathers or flattens them out, what he does with his wings or tail, how he blinks or clacks his beak, and so on.

I don’t think any of these revisions need to add a lot of word count. Mostly it’s a matter of thinking through the concept of the story, clarifying its main themes, and sorting out a bit more of the worldbuilding. Best of luck in revision, and thank you for the opportunity to be a raven for an afternoon.

–Judith Tarr

On The Shelves

The Ship Of Stolen Words by Fran Wilde (Amulet Books June, 2021) 

No matter how much trouble Sam gets in, he knows that he can always rely on his magic word, “sorry,” to get him out of a pinch. Teasing his little sister too much? Sorry! Hurt someone’s feelings in class? Sorry! Forgot to do his chores? So sorry! But when goblins come and steal his “sorry,” he can’t apologize for anything anymore. To get his “sorry” back and stop the goblins from stealing anyone else’s words, Sam will have to enter the goblins’ world and try and find the depository of stolen words.
There, he meets Tolver, a young goblin who’s always dreamed of adventure. Tolver longs to use the goblin technology—which can turn words into fuel to power ships—to set off and explore, but his grandma warns him that the goblin prospectors will only bring trouble.
Together, Tolver and Sam will have to outsmart the cruel prospectors and save the day before Sam’s parents ground him forever!

Editor’s Choice Award May 2021, Fantasy

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.

To Claim The Amethyst Throne: Prologue & Chapter 1 (Part 1) by Laura Ferriesa

This submission drew me with its gorgeous title, and the prologue and chapter promise a lush, intricate, elaborate fantasy full of court intrigue and, possibly, high magic—though we don’t see that here (or yet?). The prose is reaching toward the high style, more so in the prologue than in the opening chapter. It’s full of rich description and rhetorical effects.

I think the prologue needs a pass or two more of revision to prune the repetitive phrasing and fine-tune the emotional arc. The force of grief and the shock of betrayal come through clearly, but they could be more subtle and the evolution of the Emperor’s feelings more gradual, especially in the confrontation with Uzuri. It’s a bit over the top in this draft, a bit more overstated than it might most effectively be.

The same applies to Soria’s “crowing” over Nadira’s death. Her scorn rings true, as does her exulting, but again, it could be a little less in-Alarcon’s-face. A bit of polish, some careful toning down, will (in the lovely paradox of Less-Is-More) make the scene stronger.

Chapter 1 has a somewhat different voice and tone, and for me, through Shaylee’s eyes, the story comes alive. The pacing is leisurely, but it doesn’t drag. We learn things we need to know in order to understand who Shaylee is and what her world is like.

There is a some repetitiveness as the chapter progresses, a tendency to go over and over the same information, which can be pruned and tightened in revision. Just make a note of how often the same words appear and the same concepts repeat themselves: Shaylee’s background and family history, Aunt Lisel’s history, Shaylee’s desire to join the flock of her siblings, the awful saffron gown. Clearly she obsesses over these things, and it’s important we know that, but she might pare down her repetitions by just a bit.

I appreciate (and salute) the self-awareness of the narration and its viewpoint. Shaylee knows she spends a great of time in her head, and is well aware that she has a habit of running over and over the same ideas. For the most part it works; just once in a while the prose might be tighter and less inclined to spin in place.

It’s a pleasure to read a ms. that knows the rules (which are really just guidelines) and bends them to good effect. Tulia’s rattling on could become tedious, but it’s nicely balanced and the things she says are important for the reader to know. She’s a good example of her character type, just far enough over the top to be memorable, but not so much that she strains credulity. That’s the balance of detail and the narrative control that prologue needs—and, I’m sure, will achieve with revision.

As for the question in the Author’s Note, yes, I would read on. I want to know what happens to Shaylee, what’s been going on in court since Nadira’s death, and who claims the Amethyst Throne. It’s a good start. I’d like to see more.

–Judith Tarr

 

 

Editor’s Choice Award May 2021, 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.

Thulean Tomb 8.8.95 by Ethan Sabatella

I’ve enjoyed found-footage movies, so I was excited to read the piece and see how this would work as a transcript.   The piece conveys complex action pretty clearly, and I get a pretty good sense of the characters Leth, Kaneq, and Holger.  The most exciting part of the story, for me, occurs when the effigy, “resembling a towering shark with multiple mouths,” is introduced.  That gives me a strong feeling of mystery and horror, and creates a Lovecraftian atmosphere.  The mystery and horror grow when we learn of the “Bone-Caster . . . He Whose Blood is Smoke” and when the dark forces start to manifest.   The protesting Inuits and the possessed Kaneq provide additional threats that build suspense.  All of that works well.

I think there are several elements in the story that could be strengthened, though.

Leth is a very passive protagonist.  He does little in the story except film and flee.  That makes me not care as much about him as I might, and it makes me emotionally withdraw from the story, since it seems clear to me that Leth will only survive this story if the author makes that happen; Leth, on his own, will not cause his survival.  While of course the author makes everything in the story happen, readers need the illusion that events are unfolding on their own, without interference from the author.  Readers need to feel that the characters’ actions have consequences.  When Holger climbs up toward the Inuits, it’s clear to me that they aren’t going to let him up.  Yet Leth doesn’t figure that out until it’s too late, and then doesn’t do anything but call to Holger.  Since the process of Holger climbing would be slow, there’s a great opportunity to build suspense and have Leth figure out something to do in the attempt to protect Holger.  Doing some research on this type of expedition and what equipment they would have would provide some possible weapons/tools Leth could use, both here and elsewhere in the story.  Right now, they seem to have no equipment beyond the camera.  For example, perhaps they have a flare gun that Leth could threaten to fire at the Inuits, and ultimately could fire.  The Inuits could be unharmed, but at least Leth would have tried.  (And the Inuits could become angrier, which would increase the threat.)  Or one of the Inuits could fall, hitting Holger and sending him to the bottom.

On a related point, the story would be stronger if Holger didn’t die but was horribly wounded, so Leth and the others couldn’t just forget about him and move ahead with the plot but would want to struggle to get out of the cave as quickly as possible so they could help Holger.  As it is, when they return to the cave, it’s unclear whether their goal is to continue exploration or to escape.  And there doesn’t seem to be much urgency for a while.

The Inuits vanish from the story at this point, which wastes an opportunity to bring them back later.  I was waiting for them to come back at the worst possible moment, which is when they should come back.  One possibility would be to have them kill Leth after he escapes the cave at the end.

Returning to the issue of Leth’s passivity, I think he needs to do more to attempt to combat Kaneq’s possession.  He doesn’t notice her blue eyes the first time, which seems odd.  When it’s clear to me that she’s possessed, Leth is still asking her what’s wrong, which is not convincing.  I think he’d be shaking her and yelling at her to snap out of it and reminding her of what really matters to her.  This could provoke Kaneq to hit him with the scrimshaw; right now, she seems to have no good reason for knocking him out.  He’s not doing anything that matters anyway.  If he was on the verge of getting through to her, if there was a moment where she broke through the possession and told him to run, it would make more sense that the dark powers would reassert their control over her and force her to silence Leth.

Later, after she knocks him out, she orders him to take the camera and he does, and he films as horrible things happen and a member of his team is burned to death.  Instead, he should be acting.  Let him drop the camera, and let the camera capture only glimpses of what happens.  Then Leth could try to save Oskar and the interns.  When the interns fight him, he could guess/realize that the Kaneq is controlling them with the scrimshaw.  He could rip it out of her hand.  In the current version, Leth throws the scrimshaw on the fire, but if it has any effect, that’s unclear to me.  It certainly doesn’t destroy the dark powers.  I don’t know why Kaneq would throw herself on the fire to be with the scrimshaw when the effigy has come to life; I would think she’d want to be with the effigy.  Anyway, a clearer chain of cause and effect with a simpler and more powerful emotional impact could work better.  Perhaps taking the scrimshaw makes Leth possessed and frees Kaneq.  Leth could compel the interns to burn Oskar to death, and Kaneq could try to stop him, and Leth could throw her in the fire.  This would make Leth more active (tragically so) and would make me sympathize more with Kaneq in her death.

It’s disappointing that we don’t see the effigy in action a little more.  We’re told it tramples the interns, but that happens very fast and I don’t really know the interns, so it doesn’t have much impact.  It’s also disappointing that the effigy doesn’t do anything with its cool shark heads.  Perhaps the shark heads could rip the interns apart.  And maybe one could bite off Leth’s arm.  Or if the shark heads are made of smoke, perhaps when they bite you, that part of your body turns to smoke and goes into the effigy.  So pieces of their bodies are going up in smoke, which would be creepy.

Other elements that I think could be strengthened are the format and the narrator.  Formatting this as a screenplay with phrases like “CUT TO” and “INT. BASE CAMP LODGE,” for me, undermines the premise you establish in the first two paragraphs.  I don’t believe the government created a transcript like this.  I think the piece would be more believable if it didn’t contain the screenplay terms and was formatted more like a government transcript.  Getting some actual government transcripts for comparison would be helpful.

I think the piece also needs to address why the government would release this transcript.  This could not only make the piece more believable but could add a second layer to the story.  For example, perhaps the surviving Inuit took the camera after killing Leth and let a local news channel run a few clips of the footage.  Perhaps the government then arrested the Inuit for murder and released the transcript to discredit his claims and the video clips.  In that case, the narrator, the person providing the descriptions of the characters and action, would have an agenda in writing that narration.  He could be trying to explain away any signs of the supernatural and say that the expedition members became hysterical after Holger was killed, or started to hallucinate when exposed to the chemical smoke in the cave.  This would give the government a goal it is trying to achieve, making it essentially yet another force in opposition to Leth and his team.  As is, the narration is pretty objective, making me emotionally distant and minimizing any subtext in the story.  I would be more intellectually involved if I were trying to figure out what really happened, as opposed to what the narrator is telling me happened, and I’d be more emotionally involved if I felt the government was trying to cover up what really killed Leth and his team.

One final point I’d like to mention.  I don’t know why Leth is referred to by his last name, when Kaneq is referred to by her first name.  It would be better to be consistent, since the government is making these choices and probably has a policy about transcripts.

This piece took on a great challenge in telling this story through a found-footage transcript.  It held my interest throughout and painted some vivid and disturbing images.

I hope my comments are helpful.

–Jeanne Cavelos, editor, author, director of The Odyssey Writing Workshops Charitable Trust

 

Editor’s Choice Award May 2021, 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.

The Machine Wasn’t In The Mood by Kate Ellis

“The Machine Wasn’t In the Mood” is a gem in the making: dryly funny, sincere, thoughtful, and instantly relatable when it comes to those desperate attempts to suss out what’s behind your favourite band’s lyrics. I was drawn to this piece this month by its instant sense of atmosphere, but saw what the author’s notes are describing as confusion in this draft. So this month, I’d like to discuss some strategies for handling ambiguity in a way that helps readers digest it smoothly.

Nostalgia, whether it’s being thwarted or not, works on evoking the feeling of a time and place, and “The Machine Wasn’t In the Mood” has a wonderful hand with its descriptive metaphors—each of them unique and precise and just full of personality—and a great eye for detail. The use of pop culture references is deft and well-timed, not too many to overwhelm but enough to shorthand a few personalities and places without eating page space.

But where this piece really shines is in how it lines up every aspect of its craft to express its central themes.

“The Machine Wasn’t In the Mood” subtly and smartly layers together a peek at that gap between projection and what’s really going on in a number of ways, all of which are slightly different but work together to—to borrow the metaphor—form a harmonic chord. The point about the difference between algorithms and real people, the difference between “authentic” and flawed music (The Waffle Irons) and Niles Deep as the stand-in for formula and what’s most acceptable, and the town built by people overrun now with car dealerships and chain stores (but still never Barry’s idea of Americana) all work together to establish that question from different angles. And then it’s neatly developed with the idea that no, a whole town isn’t going to stop dead to become a shrine to a half-successful indie band regardless of what the fandom might yearn for; it’s alive, it’s real, and it’s going to keep living—resonating with Flo’s “question is would I want to” at the idea of flattening Mapes out into something simple and digestible, and a classroom full of comp sci students Sam thinks of as “the next generation of Niles Deeps” nonetheless slipping the leash of what they’re expected to be doing.

As a diagnostic: I can tell as a reader that this silt of thematic ideas is working because when their conclusion pays off—“It was okay to make the wrong moves because you eventually landed on the right ones. And if you didn’t? You were still running on your own algorithm and not someone else’s.”—it’s powerful for me.

These aren’t ideas calling explicit attention to themselves; they’re tucked in the corners, slowly adding up like mercury. The way they accrete forms a foundational cohesion: Those layers of thematic imagery here resonate so very well that despite the author’s feeling of mess, they’re telling me what “The Machine Wasn’t In the Mood” is about and how to read what develops next on the plot level.

That’s why when the speculative element and the mathematics come in, it doesn’t read to me as out of left field, but surprising and fascinating: I’ve been primed as a reader for something other than the story the tropes say to expect, and it hooks perfectly into the already-established question of patterns and algorithms Niles Deep created.

I am hearing the author’s concern about complication and confusion, and while I don’t think this is in as rough shape as spending a pile of time with a story can make us feel, there are places I can suggest sharpening and focusing—and some thoughts on how to diagnose the ending. They’re mostly to do with how the ambiguities in the story are handled.

I think where “The Machine Wasn’t In the Mood” can be more focused—and achieve its effects more strongly, is where the resonances and ties between ideas are weaker. Some of the arcs in “The Machine Wasn’t In the Mood” do resolve satisfyingly, but in a story that’s built so strongly on its thematic layer, it’s ideal to be able to take every single one of those threads and trace it through an arc of conflict: problem, process, resolution. I’d suggest disentangling that stuck feeling by looking at places where those ties aren’t as cohesive, or where problem doesn’t make it through process to some new understanding, or fold into the resolution of another problem. Those are little things, but they introduce elements of ambiguity that can fuzz or distort the ambiguities you’re putting there on purpose, and the more noise we can clear as writers, the better the signal can come through.

Notably, I think there’s still room to anchor the core ideas of that projection gap and the glory of real things being weirder and sometimes better than we imagined to some of the other stuff floating around Sam’s life: Lise’s obvious cheating, Sam’s mother’s professional lack of faith, that overwhelming sense of freelancer poverty failure (good observation on the age-inappropriate sneakers, by the way; your Resident Editor knows those feels), Barry’s idea of “when it was okay to be aspirational”, the liner notes’ idea of ideal women as “girls with (the) unambitious dreams”, and the whole emergent question of what failure and success means. There’s something rising through the subtext here about how the notion of fucking up isn’t even a yardstick, it’s 100% the wrong question, but depending on where the author wants to go with that, the connections could be a little more explicit or tighter.

On the plot level, I’m personally fine with stories where the speculative element is standing just offscreen, in the shadows. It’s visible enough to readers to be fun and intriguing in that Where’s Fluffy? kind of way—Mapes’s money, the shadowy government men, and the very commitment to unknowability—but I’d suggest bringing out at least one element of the ending just slightly more.

On one hand: Sam and Flo obviously break into the house, and see something, and Sam decides not to talk about it in print but imply that there’s more to the story.

On the other hand: There’s the ghost of some embryonic relationship between Sam and Flo forming (“yet another possibility bouncing between them”), but given the age gap and where their arc ends—about to break into Mapes’s house (why specifically?), there’s not enough on the page at present to tell me what it is. I think part of the trouble here is there are clues that can read in a few different directions: the potential connection between Flo’s ENIAC comment and the pressure on Sam to become, specifically, a teacher could suggest she’s helping Flo reclaim a lost road and get back to her own self; the trouble with Lise and that quote above could suggest something romantic. But it’s not quite on the page yet.

I think some of that ambiguity in both elements of the ending—plot arc and character arc—is part of the trouble the author’s been feeling with the ending. If there’s more solidity in one element, the ambiguity in the other can come through more clearly as signal—and as the kind of narrative potential readers can fill in in their heads, off the page. When both elements that are supposed to be closing in a way that produces readerly satisfaction are uncertain in terms of what happened, and their outcomes, it’s harder to figure out which way to go. I think putting a little more on the page in just one of those areas could really help focus and solidify that confused feeling at the end—or at least provide a solid starting point for further repairs.

But I would very much not give up on this. It’s delightfully complex, subtle, funny, and original, and it’s well on its way to gelling—and, I think, finding a good home in print.

Thanks for the read, and best of luck!

–Leah Bobet, author of Above (2012) and An Inheritance Of Ashes (2015)

Publication News

Peter wants us all to know: Dreamforge Anvil Magazine purchased Peter S. Drang’s story “The Pluripossible Box” (Science Fiction, 3,500 words). Peter would like to thank everyone at OWW who reviewed this story which asks (and eventually answers) the question, “What’s in the box?”

Congratulations, Peter!

Editor’s Choice Award April 2021, 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.

In The Time Of The Khoji (Part 1) by Ethan “Sam” Rodgers

Every so often I like to shake things up a little bit and do an Editor’s Choice that talks about what makes a submission work, rather than pointing to elements that need work. There are a few copyedit-level issues here, a bit of continuity, and so on, but those are easily fixable. What I want to do is point out the good-to-wonderful aspects of this section of a novella.

From the beginning I was struck by how humane the writing is. The characters have a core of compassion, and the protagonist clearly cares deeply for his family and his world. I can see the antagonists emerging, and get a sense of where the story may go with them, but the focus for now is on the sense of community that the Hi’mu share. I love the way it manifests in Song, and the ways in which their living spaces are designed to facilitate it. It even affects the way children are raised, taught to wait their turn and to work together with their family.

The worldbuilding overall has real depth and breadth to it. I get a good visual picture of Vasant’s portion of Tau-Seto, from his underground habitation to the world it’s set in. The people around him are equally well drawn, especially his family and his driller, Gamya.

The interaction between Vasant and Gamya could use a little polish, especially in her reactions during the scene at the Tavaro Spire—more complexity, more clarification—but her willingness to learn from him, and her patience with his liabilities, underscores the basic humanity of this part of the story. Vasant’s age and the problems it presents come through with both clarity and compassion. He has to do what he has to do, and his coworkers help him as much as they can. It’s one more set of details that establish the nature of their community.

Details in general are well drawn and well chosen. Exposition for the most part weaves seamlessly into the narrative. We learn about specific elements when we need to learn them, and we get just enough to develop a clear picture of what’s going on. The pace of the plot rarely stops for an expository speed bump. In general it flows smoothly onward, carrying us through this section and on to the next.

Altogether this is a lovely opening, and it makes me want to read on. Well done, and well written.

–Judith Tarr

 

Editor’s Choice Award April 2021, Fantasy

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 Bishop Takes All by Kathryn Jankowski

On the question of whether this story is fantasy or horror, I come down on the side of horror—as a subset of the genre called dark fantasy. It’s a classic plot: the bad guy who tries to cheat a supernatural opponent and gets what he deserves. I like the retro feel here, the noir elements, the mid-twentieth-century vibe—and, just for fun, the echo of Dickens in the face in the door knocker.

Overall I think it works. Doyle is appropriately skeevy without going too far over the top. The Bishop does tend to Hold Forth, but it fits his personality. He Explains Things. It’s a trait that  defines a preacher, and a cleric in general.

I have one large-ish question and a couple of smaller ones. In the latter category, the Marleyesque door knocker is a nice effect, as is ramping it up with the homage to Doyle’s Irish heritage in the banshee’s cry. I might have liked to see just a bit more reaction from Doyle, more concern about what it means. He blusters his way through it, but it feels as if there’s a connection or two missing. Would he take it as more of a warning that the Bishop is on to him, and proceed with more caution? Or is he deliberately putting it out of his mind while he focuses on his scam?

I’m not sure Doyle would be concerned about the Church allowing a bishop to gamble. Catholic parishes have been running Bingo games for generations, along with raffles and similar games of chance. The Church herself is a wicked old strumpet, and she’s run every kind of game, from the Crusades to the church fair. Doyle being an Irishman might acknowledge this with a wink and a nod.

The cards are an issue, too. Would he push back harder on using the Bishop’s deck? Would he be more suspicious that the Bishop insists on using this particular one? Wouldn’t he wonder if there’s some sort of chicanery involved?

That brings me to my big question, which is the central metaphor of the story. The title reads to me as a chess reference, but the story is not about chess. Is there a way to play on the Bishop’s position without switching games? Could he be one of the court cards? The joker?

If it’s a very old deck, might it be a Tarot deck? I’ve heard that that was originally a set of playing cards. Would it be apropos here? After all, in the Tarot, there’s the Hierophant, not to mention the Devil. And there are people-cards among the minor arcana.

In any case, it’s a solid story, well grounded in its subgenre. Best of luck in finding a home for it.

–Judith Tarr