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The first foray into fantasy from Hugo winner Bacigalupi (The Windup Girl) is one of two novellas (the other by Tobias S. Buckell) set in a world where using magic has terrible consequences. Jeoz is a destitute alchemist living in Khaim, a city literally being strangled to death by bramble, a "wormy malevolence" that expands its thorny vines every time someone uses magic. The bramble's hairs are poisonous, and the forest of vines has already destroyed entire empires. The genius alchemist, obsessed with finding a way to destroy the bramble--and desperately motivated by his sickly six-year-old daughter--invents a device that he believes will rid the region of the thorny pestilence forever. But when he unveils his potentially realm-saving creation to Khaim's mayor, Jeoz realizes his benevolent work has darker applications. This bite-sized tale is charming, lyrically written, and thematically rich. (Jan.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Paolo Bacigalupi is a Hugo, Nebula, and Michael L. Printz Award Winner, as well as a National Book Award Finalist. He is also a winner of the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award, the John W. Campbell Award, and a three-time winner of the Locus Award. His short fiction has appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, and High Country News. He lives in Western Colorado with his wife and son, where he is working on a new novel.
I've reviewed both The Alchemist by Paolo Bacigalupi and The Executioness by Tobias Buckell here since they are being published together as novellas set in the same world. The audio version contains both stories. Please note that these are short novels.
Paolo Bacigalupi and Tobias Buckell offering linked fantasy novellas that take place in a shared world? What could be more promising?
In this shared world, the use of magic causes the growth of bramble, a fast-growing, pervasive, and deadly plant that has taken over cities, making them uninhabitable. Crews of workers must fight back the bramble daily, burning it and collecting its seeds. Magic is forbidden and those who are found using it are executed, yet some citizens are willing to risk their lives if a bit of magic might help them. Who cares if a patch of bramble sprouts in a stranger's garden if a magic spell might heal their only child?
The Alchemist is about a metal and glass worker who has given up all of his riches and is building an instrument which he hopes will destroy the bramble, restore his fortune, and give him the license to use magic to cure his daughter's wasting cough. When he presents his invention to the city government, things start to go wrong.
I liked Bacigalupi's characters -- the focused scientist who's so task-oriented that he misses important social cues and the strong woman whose support is crucial but mostly goes unnoticed -- and I enjoyed the laboratory setting because it reminded me of my own frustrating days at "the bench.Read more ›
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Having read the The Windup Girl written by this author I was intrigued. And this short story didn't disappoint me.
The history of the city of Khaim, about to be invaded of the inhabitants of Lesser Khaim, is also the story of him, the minor magician but also handyman and alchemist that only wants to stop the Bramble to progress.
Bramble - a plant that is feeded by the use of MAGIC. The Elder Ones lived with magic - and condemned their world to a life always more and more constrained by that Bramble...
Jeoz the Alchemist has constructed a Balanthast - an apparatus able to burn the bramble and its evil roots. But the Merry Mayor with the help of Scacz the Magician will find a wholly new use for this invention. Our Alchemist will held prisoner, daughter and girlfried in the hands of the mighty ones. Until ...
Yes - that You will have to disvover ...
I enjoyed the story very much - together with the "twin story" The Executioness written by Tobias S. Buckell, placed on the same world and likewise a fantastic read!
Try something new sometimes - It's worth it...
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After finishing this short story, my first thought was "this would have made a fantastic novel"! As it is, it made for an enjoyable read, but one not worth the price of admission. Subterranean Press issued two companion novels, this and The Executioness, set in the same fantasy world. Each hardcover of about 96 pages is $20 retail. That is way too much for what you get. Why not combine them in one hardcover?
Magic has a price; whenever it is used, a bit of deadly bramble pops up somewhere. Eventually, bramble brought down an entire empire and is creeping upon those few cities left. This story had an interesting undertone about personal and collective responsibility. Jeoz is one of those people who uses a bit of magic, only to stop his daughter's terrible illness. Other people surely have their own important reasons for using a bit of magic. But, those bits are destroying their society. Quite a moral dilemma. When Jeoz develops a machine that destroys bramble, he expects the leaders of his city to reward and praise him. He couldn't be more wrong.
Though I enjoyed this story, I think the idea was short-changed. Time is rushed and the ending is fade-to-black without knowing the future of the characters, let alone their world. This would have made a brilliant novel and I hope the author considers expanding it someday. It is definitely worth reading, and I will read the companion story. But, I recommend borrowing it from the library if you can find it, or get the audible version which is only $9.95 for BOTH stories (The Alchemist and the Executioness).
Like its sister novella "The Executioness" (by Tobias Buckell), "The Alchemist" takes place in a strange world, one in which magic is illegal as a result of its deadly side-effect. Unlike that novella, which mostly distanced itself from any actual use of magic, "The Alchemist" places the use of magic - and the question of what qualifies as justification for use of magic - at its centre. This makes for a complex and curious read.
"The Alchemist" revolves around the story of a father, an alchemist, who driven by his own desperate need to see magic used once more. Unlike "The Executioness" which delves little into the inner workings of the magic-vs.-bramble world, "The Alchemist" goes into much depth, despite the short number of pages. Using only a few words, Paolo Bacigalupi successfully brings the reader into a new and bizarre world. The reader never fully understands the backstory (indeed, neither Bacigalupi nor Buckell go into much depth regarding the history of their world...) but enough is made clear. More important to Bacigalupi are the messages and morals he inserts into his story, well-written and wonderfully thought-provoking.
Bacigalupi's writing is brisk and concise, wasting little time on unnecessary descriptions and overwriting. The characters are introduced right away and though I didn't feel that all came out of the story necessarily fully fleshed (Jiala, for example, remains something of a childish cliche through the end, possibly due to the fact that the majority of her screen-time is seen through her father's eyes...), I felt an immediate connection. These are not perfect people - Bacigalupi's world is neither black nor white, but firmly in the grey.Read more ›
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