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The alchemist by Paolo Bacigalupi
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The alchemist (original 2011; edition 2010)

by Paolo Bacigalupi, J. K. Drummond

Series: Khaim (1)

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2171553,683 (3.61)8
Member:anglemark
Title:The alchemist
Authors:Paolo Bacigalupi
Other authors:J. K. Drummond
Info:Burton, MI : Subterranean Press, 2011, c2010.
Collections:Your library, Read by J
Rating:***
Tags:chapbook, fantasy

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The Alchemist by Paolo Bacigalupi (2011)

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English (14)  French (1)  All languages (15)
Showing 1-5 of 14 (next | show all)
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 |
The Alchemist and The Executioness caught my eye as soon as it went up at Audible.com. (Both novellas are now available in print from Subterranean Press.) Paolo Bacigalupi and Tobias Buckell offering linked fantasy novellas that take place in a shared world? Bacigalupi's story read by Jonathan Davis? What could be more promising? (It turns out that had I been familiar with Katherine Kellgren, who read Buckell's story, I would have been even more excited about this one!)

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 ... Read More: http://www.fantasyliterature.com/reviews/the-alchemist-and-the-executioness/ ( )
  Kat_Hooper | Apr 6, 2014 |
In all my reading, I do my best not to compare books unless they are written by the same author. Despite mentally bludgeoning my brain with punches, I couldn’t help it. The fact that I took to reading this book within minutes after finishing a novel that left me disappointed, Bacigalupi’s The Alchemist unexpectedly lifted my mood. I was charmed by the contrast in plot, characters, and writing style—so much so that I might suggest you consider the influence this has over my four-star rating. (Although I assert indifference, I secretly harbor waves of emotion that occasionally reach the surface. Ergo: If I go on a date with a man whose bad behavior tops Charlie Sheen (i.e., the disappointing novel), I just might mistake my next date for Ewan McGregor (because no one can break my McGregor love) when he’s really just another, though not-as-bad, Sheen (i.e., The Alchemist). In other words: do I honestly think this is a good book, or am I on a high because my previous read left me flirting with the idea of breaking its spine?)

So I read it a second time.

And then I read it a third time, at which point I decided, "Yes. This is good."

Truthfully, I did not expect much from a book only 95 pages long. That said, I’m impressed by what Bacigalupi’s writing manages to accomplish in such short length. Through the entirety of this story, not only can I solidly grasp the characters—their relationships, emotions, behaviors, surroundings—but there are quite a few passages that I find impressionable. The story begins:

It's difficult to sell your last bed to a neighbor. More difficult still when your only child clings like a spider monkey to its frame, and screams as if you were chopping off her arms with an axe every time you try to remove her.

And just a couple more examples:

It's easy to fail yourself, but failing before another, one who has watched you wager so much and so mightily on an uncertain future—well, that is too much shame to bear.

I held up my torch, staring. Even at the perimeter of the balanthast's destruction, the bramble growth hung limp like rags. I stepped forward, cautious. Struck a damaged plant with a gloved hand. Its vines sizzled with escaping sap, and collapsed.

While I read, I pictured everything vividly (minus the device used to kill bramble, I’ll admit) like a movie playing out in my head. There are parts that I feel occur almost too suddenly, such as how the relationship between Jeoz and Pila strides onto a new level within a mere sentence or two. This is, however, a short, short story—not a novel that spends time elaborating and exploring its characters. (I won’t deny that I did enjoy imagining this as film, picturing various character relationships and events play out as the plot trots along, unfolding.) Although brief, Bacigalupi provides you with enough detail to visualize and understand without scarring the story with poor or choppy execution.

The Alchemist was recommended to me over the summer, yet it took five months to get around to the part in which I actually read it. This is a shame, really, only because I could have taken delight in experiencing this book—which I describe as captivating and equally engaging—sooner. All in all, I am rapt by lure of this book. If your local library has it, check it out; if your favorite bookstore has it, buy it. You shouldn’t feel disappointed. I'm rather picky about which books I purchase, and I would not mind this little gem sitting on my shelf.

For a more concise, short review on what this story is about (without divulging too much), I direct you here.
( )
  the_airtwit | May 19, 2013 |
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It's difficult to sell your last bed to a neighbor.
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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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