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Aug02 Contents
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Columns:
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Events/Cons:
CanVention 22 and the Aurora Awards
If It's Tuesday, this must be TOR

Feature Interview:
Ken Macleod

Feature Review: Cosmonaut Keep by Ken Macleod

BBook Reviews
The Alchemists Door
by Lisa Goldstein
Alternate Generals II
ed by Harry Turtledove
Argonaut by Stanley Schmidt
Fire Logic by Laurie J. Marks
The Iron Grail by John Woodstock
The Sacred Pool by L. Warren Douglas
The Sky So Big And Black by John Barnes
Spaceland by Rudy Rucker
Straw Men by
Michael Marshall Smith
Sisters of the Raven by Barbara Hambly
To Trade The Stars by Julie E. Czerneda
The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror
, Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling
Graphic Novel:
Murder Mysteries. Original short story and radio play by Neil Gaiman. Graphic story script and art by P. Craig Russell
Zine: The Journal of Pulse Pounding Narratives

SFMedia:
Film:
Austin Powers: GoldMember

Metropolis (2002) Restoration
& Metropolis Essay
PowerPuff Girls
Reign of Fire
Signs
Simone

 

Alchemist's Door, The by Lisa Goldstein
Forge Hardcover: ISBN 0765301504 August 2002
Review by Victoria McManus
356 pages List price $23.95  Purchase this book at Amazon.com

Lisa Goldstein is perhaps best known for her 1982 novel The Red Magician, for which she won the American Book Award.  In The Alchemist's Door, Goldstein once again essays a tale structured around the mythology of Eastern European Jews, this time in 16th century Prague.  Historical fact provides a skeleton which she dresses in layer after layer of fantastical garb.  She has English alchemist John Dee team up, like a crossover superhero comic, with Rabbi Judah Loew.  Their goal is to protect Prague from demons and the Jewish Quarter from Mad Emperor Rudolf and, ultimately, to save the world.   Their method involves alchemical research and the creation of a golem, an intelligent manlike creature constructed from mud and given life through words of power.

In deceptively simple prose, Goldstein tells the parallel stories of a Christian and a Jew.  Her point is strengthened by the two men's similarities more than their surface differences of language and religion.  Both are family men, both are lovers of knowledge, and both accomplish more than they can comfortably handle.  This theme becomes more visible as the book goes on, until it is finally stated outright near the end, revealing Golstein's carefully built and complex structure like whisking a curtain from a statue; two men with vast cultural differences united as if they were the legendary perfect opposites that would supposedly yield the Philosopher's Stone.  Goldstein's use of Prague serves to underline the idea of cultural crossroads yielding great strength.

And throughout, there are the women.  The book is ostensibly about two men, but without the women their story would have been very different.  Dee's wife, Jane, warns him against his traitor assistant, Kelley, long before Dee has any suspicion, and she repeatedly serves as support for him in extremely trying circumstances.  Loew's wife, Pearl, voices her misgivings about the golem long before Loew can admit anything of the kind.  Magdalena, who becomes more significant with each appearance, challenges the ideas and assumptions of not just Loew and Dee but of their entire belief structure.  An underlying theme shows the consequences of denying knowledge to women in this time period:  Magdalena must find her magic education in bits and pieces, always hiding her true self to be safe from men in the physical world; villain Elizabeth Bathory uses her necromancy to stay young, gaining power in both the magical and physical worlds.  Neither Magdalena nor Elizabeth have children, perhaps contrasting them with Jane and Pearl, but not devaluing either choice.

A third set of comparisons relating to family may be made between Izak, who is unable to marry because of his illegitimate birth, and Yossel, the golem, who asks when he will be able to pray and marry like the rest of the people in the Jewish Quarter.  Izak, whose father is a mystery for most of the book, is sketched fairly simply, and is more acted upon than acting.  His counterpart Yossel is perhaps the most intriguing character in the novel.  Yossel was built from river mud by Dee and Loew.  The golem calls Loew his creator as God is man's creator, and obeys Loew more unwillingly and ironically as the story goes on; however, he does continue to obey, for the most part.  Like an android that has developed Artificial Intelligence in a science fiction story, Yossel ponders his responsbility to and duty towards his creator, and the choices available to him.  Yossel asks the questions that all humans must ask, and like us, he does not, cannot, receive complete answers.

Aficionados of historical fantasy or simply of strong prose will love this fast-moving and entertaining novel.

 

Victoria McManus lives in Philadelphia, where she writes genre fiction with mad abandon. Her latest story, “Rite of Passage,” appears in "The Official Collector's Guide to Mage Knight, Volume 2,” due out at GenCon 2002. She also serves as a reviewer for ZENtertainment.com.