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The alchemist by Paolo Bacigalupi

The alchemist (original 2011; edition 2010)

by Paolo Bacigalupi, J. K. Drummond

Series: Khaim (1)

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2391748,266 (3.63)10
Title:The alchemist
Authors:Paolo Bacigalupi
Other authors:J. K. Drummond
Info:Burton, MI : Subterranean Press, 2011, c2010.
Collections:Your library, Read by J
Tags:chapbook, fantasy

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The Alchemist by Paolo Bacigalupi (2011)



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English (16)  French (1)  All (17)
Showing 1-5 of 16 (next | show all)
I *really* liked this one. A few things off the top of my head:

1. I don't usually like first-person storytelling. If there are any problems, inconsistencies, or unlikeable characteristics about the main character, a first-person POV makes them a lot more noticeable. Sometimes this is just a little distracting, and sometimes it gets to the point where I don't want to continue with the story if I have to see it from inside this person's head. But I didn't mind being inside the Alchemist's head at all.

2. Even though the story was very short (95 pages in the pdf I downloaded from the Humble Bundle website) it feels bigger. Like there's a fully-developed universe that we're just seeing a little bit of. There was another story in the Humble Bundle that appears to be in the same universe ("The Executioness") so I assume that the authors have more where this came from.

3. The magic and alchemy reminded me of the thaumaturgy and steampunk technology in "Perdido Street Station", which I also enjoyed. ( )
  MercuryChaos | Mar 22, 2016 |
An alchemist has been working desperately to discover a solution to the fast-growing bramble that is engulfing his nation. He's bankrupted his family in pursuit of his research - but finally, he may be on the verge of a breakthrough.

The poisonous bramble is fed by magic - every time someone casts a spell, the dangerous plant grows a bit more. And everyone uses magic, even though it's illegal. Even the alchemist uses spells - without them, his beloved young daughter would die of her tubercular illness.

Like most (all?) of Bacigalupi's work, this story is a cautionary tale. The metaphor is clear: this is about environmentalism, and the seductiveness of doing the small, easy things that in conglomeration are destroying the planet. It's also about politics, and the reluctance to take any action out of altruism, even when the benefits to all are starkly obvious.

While it's got a pessimistic view of human nature as a whole; many of the individuals involved, while they may not be admirable, are treated with understanding and empathy.

Apparently, there's a companion piece to this, 'The Executioness' by Buckell. I haven't read that one yet, but I may - this world is fascinating. However, I'm really just hugely a fan of Bacigalupi's writing.

( )
  AltheaAnn | Feb 9, 2016 |
I've loved all the stories that I've read by Bacigalupi and this is no exception. His work, while always telling a good story, also has a unique depth, social insight, and symbolism that reminds one of the best parables or the most resonant myths. In this case--a world where practicing magic exacts a horrible (environmental) price in the form of uncontrollable, ever-spreading "bramble"--one cannot help making the connection with the present-day "magic" of technology exacting its own environmental price in our world. And how the powers that be respond to a creation that will actually halt the spread of bramble--well, read it for yourself. You may be a little scared of the implications, but you won't be sorry for the time spend reading the work of a really good writer. I'm going to read all the Bacigalupi I can (Ship Breaker, The Windup Girl, The Drowned Cities). ( )
  bibleblaster | Jan 23, 2016 |
This novella takes place in the same world as The Executioness by Tobias S. Buckell. It is a world where the use of magic has had dire consequences. Whenever someone uses magic, a deadly, unstoppable, invincible plant called the bramble feeds off the magic and begins to grow. Not only is bramble taking over the world, but it is also deadly. The plants are covered with sticky filaments that contain a deadly venom that is absorbed into the skin when touched. The poison quickly results in a coma that often leads to death. Since there is no way to stop the bramble once it takes hold, magic has been outlawed with the penalty of death, but still the bramble spreads as people secretly do little magics for what they consider very good reasons (such as healing a dying child).

This story is told from the point of view of an alchemist who has spent years of his life, and all of his money, trying to find a way to destroy bramble. After is young daughter falls into the bramble sleep, he uses his experimental machine to try to save her life. It turns out that his invention is a success, he found a way to destroy the deadly plant. He rejoices because now people can use magic again and have a means to control the bramble that results from it. However, when he takes his invention to the mayor, things to do not go as he hoped.

Although the characters were not as compelling as those in The Executioness, this novella also raised a lot of interesting questions about our society. It dealt with science and technology and how break throughs that seemingly offer great value to the world, can be twisted to unintended purposes by those in power. It reminds me of a computer science class in college where the professor devoted an entire lecture to ethics and the consequences of your work. Just because you can do something, should you? Can you envision a way your work can be taken and used in a way that you have not anticipated? As technology advances, it is a great question to consider. ( )
  Cora-R | Jan 13, 2016 |
I liked the authors writing style. It's an observation of his surroundings, his mental state, and his reactions to everything. I felt I could relate to the characters. since this is a novella I guess the characters aren't that deep but I would really like to read more about their world and a bigger plot of this story if possible.

The story was thrilling and entertaining. It's not really a page turner but it's still good nevertheless. ( )
  MugenHere | Jul 12, 2015 |
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Book description
An alchemist determined to heal his sick daughter and save his town from a weed-like plant that feeds off magic invents a device that destroys the plant, but things start to go wrong after he shows the device to the town's mayor.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 159606353X, Hardcover)

Magic has a price. But someone else will pay. Every time a spell is cast, a bit of bramble sprouts, sending up tangling vines, bloody thorns, and threatening a poisonous sleep. It sprouts in tilled fields and in neighbors' roof beams, thrusts up from between street cobbles, and bursts forth from sacks of powdered spice. A bit of magic, and bramble follows. A little at first, and then more--until whole cities are dragged down under tangling vines and empires lie dead, ruins choked by bramble forest. Monuments to people who loved magic too much.

In paired novellas, award-winning authors Tobias Buckell and Paolo Bacigalupi explore a shared world where magic is forbidden and its use is rewarded with the axe. A world of glittering memories and a desperate present, where everyone uses a little magic, and someone else always pays the price.

In the beleageured city of Khaim, a lone alchemist seeks a solution to a deadly threat. The bramble, a plant that feeds upon magic, now presses upon Khaim, nourished by the furtive spellcasting of its inhabitants and
threatening to strangle the city under poisonous vines. Driven by desperation and genius, the alchemist constructs a device that transcends magic, unlocking the mysteries of bramble s essential nature. But the power of his newly-built balanthast is even greater than he dreamed. Where he sought to save a city
and its people, the balanthast has the potential to save the world entire--if it doesn t destroy him and his family first.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:19 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

"In the beleaguered city of Khaim, a lone alchemist seeks a solution to a deadly threat....Every time a spell is cast, a bit of bramble sprouts, sending up tangling vines, bloody thorns, and threatening a poisonous sleep"--From publisher's description on jacket flap.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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