"This masterful work positions Lu among the vanguard of contemporary futurism and speculative fiction."—Publishers Weekly, starred review
In the tradition of Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities, debut author S. Qiouyi Lu has written a multifaceted story of borders, power, diaspora, and transformation with In the Watchful City.
The city of Ora is watching.
Anima is an extrasensory human tasked with surveilling and protecting Ora’s citizens via a complex living network called the Gleaming. 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 harm.
When a mysterious outsider enters the city carrying a cabinet of curiosities from around with the world with a story attached to each item, Anima’s world expands beyond the borders of Ora to places—and possibilities—æ never before imagined to exist. But such knowledge leaves Anima with a question that throws into doubt ær entire purpose: What good is a city if it can’t protect its people?
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Lu's full-length debut (after the collection Inhalations) combines beautiful prose, a complex structure, and well-wrought Asian-influenced worldbuilding into a powerful, futurist work. Anima, who uses the pronouns / r, is a "node" in the city-state of Ora, tasked with protecting and surveilling the citizens using r connection to the Gleaming, a dreamlike consciousness that flows through all beings, though few can access it directly. The Gleaming enables Anima to body hop into animal forms to patrol the city and serves as an archive of experiences in Ora. When a peculiar visitor named Vessel arrives in Ora to exhibit a collection of objects, the novel breaks off into a plurality of tales as Vessel tells Anima the history attached to each item, among them a marionette, a bundle of letters, and a fish scale. With each story, Anima's narrow understanding of the world further expands, making r question r role in Ora. Anima's own life story, when it comes, is conveyed in experimental verse format, setting it apart from the other chapters. A subplot about suicide may trigger sensitive readers, but the matter is well handled and Lu provides a content warning at the start of the novel. This masterful work positions Lu among the vanguard of contemporary futurism and speculative fiction. \n