ASIM pre-slush workshop post #6

Here is the sixth of the submissions, posted here in no particular order. Please remember that this is the opinion of one editor. There will be others who agree, but there will also be those who disagree. In the end, what you do with your story is up to you; it’s your call.

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Original text:

The Red Carpet Welcome

The man at the bottom of the ramp into the ship looked me up and down.
“Name?” he said.
“Minerva Brown.”
“We’re not expecting any new crew.”
His doubts were in his hesitation. And rightly so. In my disguise I looked nothing like a prospective starship crew member, whatever its dress-code – he was in velvety moleskin pants, a shimmering sea-green coat cut away at the front with a silk shawl knotted at his throat.
I was a little old lady in a chameleonising surcoat and matching wig. Both grey at present, and in keeping with the largely grey exterior of the Galleon. By trade I was a fact finder and a trouble shooter. My mission was to learn why this starship stayed alive when others on comparable tasks died.
Jupiter-side port gossip was that the Galleon’s programs had been corrupted. That she and the crew and her captain masqueraded as an Inter Planetary Government vessel when they were really working as privateers, with an off-world money launderer backing them. In that story fancy dress inspired by ancient sea pirates didn’t seem all that far-fetched.
I dropped my data cube into the input slot of his hand-held and he dropped his jaw at my rank and work stats. Ignoring my outstretched hand, he saluted me smartly. “Olympus of Mars. Earth-origin immigrant! First Engineer!” He snapped to attention and stared into the distance.
Not a good beginning. “At your ease,” I said somewhat tartly. “I doubt I would’ve been here if the Galleon was a naval vessel.”
He coloured.
Whether from rage or embarrassment, I couldn’t tell.
Another of the crew appeared from aft, the direction of the cargo holds. She was a young Cassiopeian, dressed in an ordinary sailor’s get-up of canvas pants adapted to her penguin-like stature and a striped sailor’s jersey.

Editor’s comments:

There’s a problem with using a lot of visual description in a short story (and particularly leading off with a lot of description), which is that it cuts into the actual telling of the story. In a novel, it’s possible (though not always desirable) to offer a lot of description; in a short story, it’s generally not a good idea. And it doesn’t help as much as one might think to establish the scene in the reader’s eye: in the above snippet, I’m stymied by trying to work out what the Galleon looks like, aside from the fact that it’s largely grey. I know what three people are wearing, but there’s lots else missing. In a SF or fantasy story, because things very often would look very different to the everyday world, the temptation is to explain all the ways in which they’re different.

The thing is, though, it doesn’t matter as much as you might expect. It doesn’t actually matter whether you tell us what everyone’s wearing–the readers will work it out for themselves. It’s more important to offer clues as to moods, reactions, things like that–and these often help the reader more to picture a character than if you go to describe the shape of his/her face, or what he/she is wearing. Readers are clever like that.

I do like the way in which you’ve outlined the protag’s mission, and have set up a degree of interpersonal tension within the first three hundred words: that’s a useful start to the story. With a bit more focus on the interactions, and less on the appearances (unless the appearances actually tell the reader something useful about the interactions), this would be off to a strong start.

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