I have two stories to read to close out the Hugo ballot short story category. This one was published by Tor.com on September 28, 2016.

A young, homeless graffiti artist in New York City meets a man named Paolo who gives him money sometimes or buys him breakfast. He thinks Paolo wants something from him, but it doesn’t seem to be sex. Instead, the man asks him to listen to the city. It’s big and old, and it’s going to be born into new life, but it needs someone to protect it from ancient evil during its birth. Can the boy provide what it needs?

As seems usual with her stories, Jemisin is working with a very resonant idea here—a sentient, living city in the process of birth. Some of the details are excellent, too, glimpses of how people see Paolo, and how they look at the narrator. But her execution doesn’t quite come off. I can’t accept that this narration is the voice of a NYC street kid, and the battle slides off into metaphor as the boy becomes one with the city to fight against its ancient enemy. I ended up suspecting this is message fiction meant to attack the NYC police. Not only does the boy imagine that he’s being shot or tortured whenever he sees police, but the ancient evil is a cop who morphs into a monstrous beast. Are police the evil he has to defeat? Hm.

Three and a half stars.