In the Watchful City by S. Qiouyi Lu
In the Watchful City explores borders, power, diaspora, and transformation in an Asian-inspired mosaic novella that melds the futurism of Lavie Tidhar’s Central Station with the magical wonder of Catherynne M. Valente’s Palimpsest.
The city of Ora uses a complex living network called the Gleaming to surveil its inhabitants and maintain harmony. Anima is one of the cloistered extrasensory humans tasked with watching over Ora’s citizens. Although ær world is restricted to what æ can see and experience through the Gleaming, Anima takes pride and comfort in keeping Ora safe from all harm.
All that changes when a mysterious visitor enters the city carrying a cabinet of curiosities from around the world, with a story attached to each item. As Anima’s world expands beyond the borders of Ora to places—and possibilities—æ never before imagined to exist, æ finds ærself asking a question that throws into doubt ær entire purpose: What good is a city if it can’t protect its people?
Thank you to TorDotCom and Giselle Gonzalez for sending me an e-ARC for review.
In the Watchful City takes us on a trip, pushing the walls of science fiction and storytelling, that place between linear stories and surreal imaginations. S. Qiouyi Lu’s writing is boundary-shattering, completely sparkling with new experiences. An experience like no other.
A story that weaves in and out of the story, and its ability to bend and stretch our minds, we get to see the significance of memory through objects and its connections to people. It’s bits and pieces of stories within a much larger story. It’s like shattered stories, and we watch them being glued together to make itself known and understood in the grander scheme of things.
Anima is a non-binary human with non-human abilities who watches over Ora’s citizens. But when a visitor comes, ær brought into a world of storytelling, all traumas and hopes. With each object, there is an entire story and person behind it. From scales, we see a story of mermaids and survival hood. We see stories of trans people hoping for a better life. A deck of tarot cards unfolds a story with such interesting and fascinating characters.
Everything feels like a blend of technology and folktales, bringing the myth into the rawness of real-life—anything from trans identities, generational trauma, corruption of power, environmentalism, and family. S. Qiouyi Lu has a gift for transforming the expected and surprising the reader into an unexpected tale.
I loved this beautifully weird story. I highly recommend reading this and many other TorDotCom novellas when you need something to get you out of a slump.