Here is the fifteenth and last of the submissions. 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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Following this post, I will talk a bit about the project, about slush in general and about the magazine and myths that surround it in cyberspace [cue in mysterious music].
Price of Allegiance
“Mr. Tobin, there is a gray Cicada here to see you.”
Alastair Tobin, Earth’s official ambassador to the Galactic Union, was more than a little surprised. In his eight years of service he could count on one hand the number of times anyone had visited his office on Union Central station in person. On a rare occasion when someone had any business to conduct with the humans, they just sent him a message. A member of the Union’s oldest and most influential species showing up at his door was unprecedented.
“Ask it in,” Tobin responded via the intercom.
A Cicada walked in, folding its wings. The alien was short, corpulent, and had thin, veined wings extending from its midsection. Its severe gray garb was in stark contrast with the rich, bright colors the Cicadas generally favored.
“Welcome, on behalf of humanity. I am honored by your presence.” A wall panel emitted a series of high-pitched sounds, translating the standard greeting into the guest’s native language.
“Thank you. On behalf of the Union, I am honored to be here,” said the Cicada.
_On behalf of the Union._ The visitor was indicating that it was here on official Union business, rather than representing the interests of its own species. Tobin motioned for the Cicada to take a seat and lowered his own armchair to adjust for the height difference between them. The Cicada acknowledged the invitation by leaning on the side of the chair, but declined to sit down. At least they were now more or less at eye level.
“Tell me, Ambassador Tobin,” said the Cicada without any preambles, “what do you think is the most important function of the Galactic Union?”
Uncertain of his visitor’s intentions, Tobin chose his words carefully. “The Union facilitates the exchange of art and technology among all the known intelligent species that are advanced enough to join in.”
This sets the scene reasonably effectively, but it’s a rather static opening. There’s a hint of intrigue–something unusual is evidently happening, in the background–but after 300 words, we haven’t really arrived at anything that could be considered a narrative ‘hook’.
Things are unfolding too gradually, in my assessment. Part of the problem is that you’re offering too much explanation: while the second sentence suffices nicely to telegraph that this is a SF story, rather than fantasy (for example), it provides too much of the wrong sort of detail: Tobin is Earth’s ambassador, he’s held the post for 8 years, his office is on Union Central station. These are things which are certainly relevant, but they’re not engaging: they don’t encourage the reader to identify with the central character.
This needs more tension, it needs a stronger sense of intrigue, and something dramatic or at least ominous needs to be waiting in the wings.