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The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate Hardcover – July 23, 2007

4.3 out of 5 stars 28 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This curious time-travel novella from Hugo-winner Chiang (Stories of Your Life and Others) is a gracefully told lesson about accepting fate—or, as better suits this medieval Arabian setting, the will of Allah. A Baghdad merchant discovers an alchemical device that can send a traveler back in time 20 years. Despite the alchemist's warning that "what is made cannot be unmade," and three illustrative tales about others' attempts to alter the past, the merchant is determined to return to an earlier time to save his long-dead wife. Half lyrical Arabian Nights legend and half old school cautionary SF tale, this skillfully written story and its theme of insurmountable fate may comfort as many readers as it makes uncomfortable. (July)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

In the manner of the Arabian Nights, Chiang wraps stories within a story, and all of them interrelate to argue that "the past and the future are the same." Not that past and future are identical, but that they stay the same and cannot be altered, even if one could journey back to the former or forward to the latter to change it. In medieval Baghdad, a merchant obtains an audience with the caliph to apprise him of a merchant-alchemist who has created doors between past and future. He relays the tales the door maker told him about a rope maker and a weaver who each ventured through a 20-year-spanning door more than once, and then the tale of the well-to-do man's wife who did the same—all before he imparts his own time-hopping adventure. Eventually, interconnections between the four stories surface, and they boggle the mind, more so, perhaps, than any of the tales of similar effect in Chiang's dazzling Stories of Your Life and Others (2002). Could fantasy be more intelligently exquisite and, ultimately and surprisingly, morally sound than this? Olson, Ray
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 62 pages
  • Publisher: Subterranean Press; First Edition edition (July 23, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1596061006
  • ISBN-13: 978-1596061002
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.7 x 0.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,282,154 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Time travel is not a subject to be undertaken lightly. It has been handled badly by many, but Chiang is more than up to the task. The paradoxes and moral dilemmas involved in this kind of story are explored with sensitivity and depth, and Chiang's characteristic rigor about the science and logic of his stories is in evidence all the way through. This in fact is what sets Chiang's writing apart -- depth of character combined with carefully considered and constructed hard science.

As a book, I think it's quite attractive. Those familiar with book art will recognize and appreciate the quality of the paper and the binding; check out the embossed sun motif on the front cover (under the dust jacket). And the illustrations are nothing short of stunning. Largely atmospheric -- a good thing, in my mind -- they nevertheless manage on occasion to refer to specific details in a subtle way that opens up the story for me and reverberates with it in pleasant and unexpected ways.

It's regrettable that some have mistaken this book for more than it is -- a single, very good story in a limited print run book from a small press interested in books as objects of art.

Finally, I am somewhat mystified by those who criticize Chiang for his output. Given how carefully crafted and well thought out his work is, I am quite content to accept the gift of his writing in a quantity and at a pace that works for him. As if I had any other choice!
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By K. Falls on August 26, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I saw the many complaints and I had to put my piece in about Chiang. I read the story in the Magazine Fantasy and Science Fiction (September 2007) issue and I loved it. I had my Wife read it and she loved it also. Because of this I am now a FAN and have purchased Mr. Chaing's Stories of your life. Mr. Chaing is a very complex writer that I have never, one heard of before and two experienced writing such as his. His stories deserve every award he has received to date. The depth of this story and the "Story of your life" are incredible. Give this author a chance and you will not be sorry.
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Format: Hardcover
Ted Chiang has done it again. His novelette, The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate is another spark of brilliance from a writer whose name is becoming synonymous with "year's best."

This story is time travel meets Arabian Nights. It's a story with a moral imperative about changing the past or affecting the future. The narrator, Fuwaad ibn Abbas, tells the Caliph of Baghdad the story of his own involvement with the Alchemist's Gate by telling him the stories of other people who have gone through that same gate. Each story contributes to the overall narrative, each adds to the beautiful Arabian scenery, from Baghdad to Cairo, and each reveals more capabilities of the gate itself.

In my experience with Chiang's writing, he explores the idea of fatalism from two perspectives: Can one change his fate? and Can one accept his fate? Some of the nested story's protaganists can accept, some cannot, yet the narrator realizes the most important thing about time travel is knowledge not deed. It is that essential truth that is the theme of the story.

I can't recommend it enough.

- CV Rick, April 2008
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I have loved everything I've read by this author! This fairly short book was no exception. He takes interesting and fresh ideas and combines them with very human characters to build stories that contain Truth.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I really enjoyed this noodly time-travel causality story. If it had been written with a more sci-fi setting, it still would have been good, but less fantastical. As it is, the middle-eastern, arabian-nights style setting adds an extra layer of interest.

The future has always been altered.

Read if: You like noodly paradox stories.

Skip if: You have an allergy to the exoticization of the near East.

Also read: Among Others for a similar feeling about time and cause.
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Format: Hardcover
This story woven within stories within an over-arching story is perhaps the most beautiful and moving that I have ever encountered. The tales are both entertaining and profound. It gave me a different perspective on the past and our relationship to it. With a book such as this, we do not pay for words by the pound, but purchase a gateway into a magical world - the world that is our own, but seen through the lens of wisdom. This is especially suited for reading aloud, in the voice of a medieval storyteller.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
It's a wonderful story. Very well-written and enchanting. My problem was that I'm pretty sure that I've read it before in an anthology or something, though I don't remember what the anthology was, and I wish this had been clearer so that I would have known that I had already read the story before I bought it. Not that it isn't worth rereading. It's a great story.
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Format: Hardcover
The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate, by Ted Chiang, illustrations by Jacob McMurray (64 pgs., 2007). The artwork is brilliant. They seem to be woodcut reproductions and are quite intricate & evocative of the chapters they illustrate. This very short novella or long short story is a modern fable meant to teach us lessons of faith & humility. The story takes place in Cairo & Baghdad. An Alchemist has devoted his talents to creating a gateway through which one can walk either 20 years into the future or 20 years into the past. Through various tales we learn certain truths. Such as; "Four things do not come back: the spoken words, the sped arrow, the past life, and the neglected opportunity."
The author adds, "Nothing erases the past. There is repentance, there is atonement, and there is forgiveness. That is all, but that is enough."
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