Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Novella Files: In the Watchful City by S. Qiouyi Lu

Subject: S. Qiouyi Lu. In The Watchful City [ Publishing, 2021]

Accolades: N/A

Genre: Science-fiction fantasy

Executive Summary: 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? (From Goodreads)

In the Watchful City has the protagonist use a widespread network called the Gleaming to monitor ær cities inhabitants. The Gleaming's scope is expansive, its powers are mighty, and mechanics are ineffable. Not so different from this novella. It's suitable that the network is called The Gleaming, because this story also gleams with a scope unrivaled from any novella I've read, along with a literary prowess that is extremely mighty, and a structure that bends and breaks conventions. In a way, it throws everything but the kitchen sink, but it all comes together not in a jumbled mess, but glistening order, forming a sort of impressive city of its own.

This novella contains stories within stories which all hit deeply. And the foundation of it all is a twisty narrative that adeptly sets up a world through lyrical descriptions and characterization. Even though the story is uniquely constructed, S. Qiouyi Lu is able to comfortably and fluidly slide in information within the action, without you even realizing it. Never once did I feel frustrated from confusion. The ending is the final punch to quite a punchy story that left me satisfied.

In the Watchful City is a story that I could see described as "not for everyone",  but I think its readership is much broader than seems at first glance. By having the story burst with readability, endless ambition and experimentation, Lu has managed to craft a tale with depth and enchantment of high order. In the Watchful City is impossible to categorize. It's an island on its own, but one that's inviting. When I entered it, I found a sort of city unlike any other, structured in a way that made me so glad I found it.

Score: 8/10

POSTED BY: Sean Dowie - Screenwriter, editor, lover of all books that make him nod his head and say, "Neat!”