cover image In the Watchful City

In the Watchful City

S. Qiouyi Lu. Tordotcom, $14.99 trade paper (208p) ISBN 978-1-250-79298-3

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 æ/ær, is a “node” in the city-state of Ora, tasked with protecting—and surveilling—the citizens using ær 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 ær question ær 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. (Aug.)