Carol Emshwiller

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Hidden high in a mountain range, the Secret City is a worn citadel protecting a lost culture. It harbors a handful of aliens stranded on Earth, waiting for rescue and running out of time. The sudden arrival of ill-prepared rescuers touches off divided loyalties, violent displacement, and star-crossed love.


by Carol Emshwiller

ISBN: 9781892391445

Published: 2007

Available Format(s): Trade Paperback and eBooks

The Secret City is a proud enclave carved in stone. Hidden high in a mountain range, it is a worn citadel protecting a lost culture. It harbors a handful of aliens stranded on Earth, waiting for rescue and running out of time. Over years of increasing poverty, an exodus to the human world has become their only chance for survival. The aliens are gradually assimilating not as a discrete culture but as a source of cheap labor.

But the sudden arrival of ill-prepared rescuers will touch off divided loyalties, violent displacement, and star-crossed love. As unlikely human allies are pitted against xenophobic aliens, the stage is set for a final standoff at the Secret City.

Carol Emshwiller is a key figure in science fiction’s new-wave movement and the author of Carmen Dog, The Mount, Mr. Boots, and The Secret City. She is a recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts grant and a Pushcart Prize as well as the Philip K. Dick and Gallun awards. In 2005, she received the World Fantasy Award for lifetime achievement and the Nebula Award for “I Live With You,” the title story of her short-story collection. 

Praise for Carol Emshwiller 

“Ms. Emshwiller is so gifted.”
New York Times Book Review

“First and foremost, Emshwiller is a poet—with a poet’s sensibility, precision, and magic. She revels in the sheer taste and sound of words, she infuses them with an extraordinary vitality and sense of life.”

“Emshwiller’s readers know her to be a major fabulist, a marvelous magical realist, one of the strongest, most complex, most consistently feminist voices in fiction.”
—Ursula K. Le Guin

“The most inventive mind in science fiction.”
—Karen Joy Fowler, author of The Jane Austen Book Club

“Carol’s stories turn the corner into another dimension.”
—Harlan Ellison, author of Shatterday

“The woman is a genius, period.”
—Gwenda Bond, Shaken & Stirred

“Emshwiller consistently pokes holes through the fabrications of our lives and reminds me of the power literature has to change the way we think.”
—Pam Harcourt, Books to Watch Out For

“Lord what a thankless thing it must be to produce such exquisiteness.”
—James Tiptree, Jr., author of Her Smoke Rose Up Forever

“Emshwiller’s sentences are transparent and elegant at the same time. Her vocabulary, though rich and flexible, is never arcane.”
The Women’s Review of Books

“Carol Emshwiller…has a dedicated cult following and has been an influence on a number of today’s top writers…. It is very easy to fall into the rhythm of Emshwiller’s poetic and smooth sentences.”
Review of Contemporary Fiction

“…damn near perfect…touchingly and complexingly so.”
Asimov’s Science Fiction

 Praise for I Live With You

“A collection that manages to remind us of great writers like George Saunders, Grace Paley, and Harlan Ellison all at once, though Emshwiller is a unique and wonderful writer in her own right.”
Time Out Chicago, a Top Ten Book of 2005

“Compassion and a sly sense of humor shape the insight-filled fiction…. Lyrical and resonant….”
Publishers Weekly

“Her eye for detail and ear for poetry allow her to create compact fables that resonate beyond their immediate settings.”
San Francisco Chronicle

“Emshwiller’s strange, often sad, and beautiful stories linger, unfolding long after reading them.”

Visit the Carol Emshwiller website.

“…a sweet and involving story. Its attitude toward humans and aliens is refreshing—humans are neither markedly inferior nor markedly superior to the aliens. Both species have problems, particularly severe class differences. What is ultimately important is personal connections—people who learn to love each other. The story is told through the points of view of Lorpas and Allush, and both are good but naïve sorts, giving the novel a pellucid sort of voice. (The viewpoint characters of Emshwiller’s other recent novels, Mister Boots and The Mount, are similarly naïve, as are the narrators of many of her stories. Her strategy often seems to be to show disturbing situations, and nasty characters, through the eyes of innocents—an effective approach.) The Secret City is yet another strong late work from one of our treasures.”
SF Site, featured review

“But all these past instances aside, no one has yet approached the trope with the finesse and grace of Emshwiller. She’s a writer of such slantwise sensibilities and such deep perceptions that she conveys the exotic weirdness of such a setup—and the almost unfathomable otherness of the Betashan mentality—with uncommon vividness and startling jolts of creepiness.”
Sci Fi Weekly (Grade: A)

“Highly recommended.”
Midwest Book Review

 “Emshwiller’s latest displays her incredible talent for writing naturalistic prose about unnatural situations as well as her ability to create a compact level of intensity.”
The Agony Column

“This carefully crafted, ambivalent story depicts alien and human alike struggling just to get by.”
Publishers Weekly

“During an award-filled, 30-year career, Emshwiller has delighted readers and fellow writers with her unique brand of exquisitely rendered magic realism. The city of the title of her latest haunting book is a mountainous retreat, concealed by vines and tree roots, where alien tourists now stranded on Earth may assuage nostalgia for their home world, Betasha. It is to this now largely abandoned hideout that one particular alien, Lorpas, goes to seek fellowship after being arrested for vagrancy and escaping to the hills. There he meets and falls for Allush, a female Betashan who, like Lorpas, was born on Earth and has blended in so well that rescue is no longer appealing. Emshwiller alternates between Lorpas’s account of his growing friendship with a bumbling rescuer whom he overpowers and Allush’s tale of return to Betasha as the two meet, separate, and finally reunite to establish Earth as their new home world. A simple yet vivid parable on the value of cherishing the home one knows best.”