by Paolo Bacigalupi
Cover Artist: J.K. Drummond
Review by Gayle Surrette
Subterranean Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9781596063532
Date: 31 January 2011 List Price $20.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
In this world everyone is capable of doing magic. Sounds like life would be perfect, some might be better at magic than others, but you'd be able to get by and live comfortably. However, magic has a price. Brambles grow whenever magic is used. Magic acts as super-fertilizer and the brambles can sprout anywhere and the more magic used, the thicker and quicker the brambles grow, covering the land and invading cities, squeezing people out of the places to grow food or to live. Adding to the problem, brambles are covered with small hairs that when touched cling and inject a chemical that causes sleep, coma, or death depending on the amount of contact.
The solution seems simple -- stop doing magic. But that's not so easy for a people used to solving their problems with a spell. In fact, for our main character, the healing spell that he casts on his daughter is all that is keeping her alive. It's the only magic he still casts. But he has a plan to eradicate brambles, thus allowing everyone to again do magic.
You'd think that a non-magical machine to destroy brambles would be the ideal solution since people haven't stopped casting spells. However, politics and politicians are not always interested in what's best for the people but what's best for themselves.
Throughout history it seems that what the inventors intend for the good of humanity could be twisted to cause harm, or be used as a weapon. Will the invention of our Alchemist be used for the general good or for political gain?
Bacigalupi manages in a novella to give us a page turning story that will keep you on the edge of your seat until the final page. There's a lot to think about in this story. Is the ending satisfying? That is for you to decide after reading The Alchemist. I can tell you that you will want to read this story in one sitting, but that the story will stay with you long after you finish the final sentence.
Next month, Subterrainean Press releases the second story in this world, The Executioness by Tobias S. Buckell. This world is rich with possibilities and it will be interesting to read what happens next.