The Secret City

by Carol Emshwiller

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.


“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 […] A simple yet vivid parable on the value of cherishing the home one knows best.”


“Highly recommended.”

Midwest Book Review

“Emshwiller has been writing occasionally for 50 years, and a new work is a treat.”

The Denver Post

“A sweet and involving story. Its attitude toward humans and aliens is refreshing […] THE SECRET CITY is yet another strong late work from one of our treasures.”

SF Site, featured review

“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

“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

Awards & Accolades