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The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate

4.24  ·  Rating Details ·  1,923 Ratings  ·  216 Reviews
In medieval Baghdad, a penniless man is brought before the most powerful man in the world, the caliph himself, to tell his story. It begins with a walk in the bazaar, but soon grows into a tale unlike any other told in the caliph's empire. It's a story that includes not just buried treasure and a band of thieves, but also men haunted by their past and others trapped by the ...more
Hardcover, 60 pages
Published July 23rd 2007 by Subterranean Press
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Readhead Sharing Apatt's response: I think the PDF is A4 size, so there are more words per page, in a paperback book I think it will take up 50-60 pages.
ABR It's an artful juxtaposition of two genres. If you've ever read and enjoyed the _Arabian Nights_, and you are interested in science fiction, then run…moreIt's an artful juxtaposition of two genres. If you've ever read and enjoyed the _Arabian Nights_, and you are interested in science fiction, then run -- don't walk -- to get a copy. You will love it.(less)

Community Reviews

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Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽
Jan 20, 2017 Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽ rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽ by: Tatiana
Full review, first posted on Fantasy Literature:

Arabian Nights meets time travel in this Hugo and Nebula award-winning novelette, containing a story ― or more precisely, three stories ― within a story. Fuwaad ibn Abbas is brought before the caliph in medieval Baghdad, to whom he tells his story, as “a warning to those who would be warned and a lesson to those who would learn.”

Fuwaad tells the caliph that one day he chanced to enter a shop in the market place that was filled with a wondrous assor
Dec 11, 2016 Apatt rated it it was amazing
Shelves: sci-fi
If this was my first exposure to Ted Chiang I would have thought “Very good storyteller but not sure what the fuss is about”. The best introduction to Ted Chiang is to read the anthology Stories of Your Life and Others, definitely one of the all-time greats. Also, quite a few of his stories are legitimately available for reading online (or download), here is a link to the available stories (some of the links on that page no longer work, sorry).

That opening remark may sound like a criticism, but
Jan 23, 2017 Cecily rated it really liked it

"Coincidence and intention are two sides of a tapestry, my lord. You may find one more agreeable to look at, but you cannot say one is true and the other is false."

Traditional sci-fi writers usually tackle the mechanics and paradoxical consequences of time travel. They often include futuristic space-faring, alien planets, and exotic lifeforms. Ted Chiang takes a theological, philosophical, alchemical approach, and sets it all on Earth, many hundreds of years ago.

Make yourself comfortable and s
Nandakishore Varma
OH MY GOD. This novelette absolutely blew me away. It's very rarely that one finds terrific imagination mixed with high quality narration in an SF story - when it happens, the moment is to be treasured.

The 'story within a story' structure is a very common device in the east. It is present in the The Katha Sarit Sagara and Pancha Tantra - Five Wise Lessons: A Vivid Retelling of India's Most Famous Collection of Fables in India, and as is common knowledge, in The Arabian Nights. The style of the l
Jul 15, 2011 Carol. rated it it was amazing

The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate is made up of four intricately woven stories: the titular story, "The Tale of the Fortunate Rope-Maker," "The Tale of the Weaver Who Stole from Himself," and "The Tale of the Wife and Her Lover." As Fuwaad the fabric merchant wanders the bazaar of Baghdad, he discovers a new merchant with a marvelous assortment of goods. Perhaps impulsively, the merchant Bashaarat decides to show the him one of his more unusual alchemical experiments, a hoop whose sides are
Mar 05, 2011 j rated it really liked it
Let's try this again, Goodreads. Bad gateway. Hmmph.

Though I suppose a bad gateway is apropos for this book, as it is about a gateway through time, and depending on your actions in the past/future, the outcome might be bad. Oh server error, I see what you did there. Next time, though, try not to DELETE MY REVIEW to make a point*.


I wanted to read this very slim book for threefold reasons:

1) It's very short, but if I tag it with "2011," it gets added to my read total just like any other boo
Feb 21, 2017 Pantelis rated it really liked it
La Jetée Arabesque... A fatalistic version of time travel...Don't try this at home...
Jan 28, 2011 Tatiana rated it really liked it
Ted Chiang is such an elegant, concise writer!

This is a fantastic time travel story, and available online for free!

Jun 04, 2016 Jokoloyo rated it it was amazing
The story was written in Arabian night style (stories within story) with a time machine as the magical device. I have no need to spoil more about the stories . For time travel story fans, you could guess the promised interwoven plot twists.

I like the message at the ending of the story. It maybe could help for a little introspection, especially for readers who preparing for the fasting (Yes, I intentionally write this review D-1 before holy month).

The free link of the story is here:
Kevin Ansbro

Fate guides Fuwaad ibn Abbas, a well-travelled purveyor of fine fabrics, to an intriguing shop in the metalsmiths' quarter of Baghdad.
What follows is a delightful Arabian Nights-style succession of short parables, within a parable, that focus on a time-travelling portal that Scheherazade herself would have liked to have discovered.
I loved this! The entire story takes less than half an hour to read and it took me on a magical carpet ride back to my childhood memories of Ali Baba and Sinbad the Sa
Brian Yahn
Jan 07, 2015 Brian Yahn rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
In short, this was the best story of 2015 for me.

Ted Chiang somehow creates a version of time travel that's both fun and believable. While as entertaining as Harry Potter, this story touches on everything from happiness to free will and fate. And it does so in a magical voice that transports you back in time and makes you feel like a king listening to a jester's top tale. And make no mistake, The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate is one of the best around!
Althea Ann
Jul 06, 2013 Althea Ann rated it really liked it
Another excellent story by Ted Chiang... actually, it's three stories, set in a framing device.
In the medieval Middle East, an alchemist has developed a kind of time machine. When a potential customer walks in, the inventor offers him the chance to go through his gateway and through time - but first he tells the stories of three other people who took such a journey, and what befell them.
Like a tale of the Arabian Nights, the story has a fairy-tale feel to it, told simply and briefly, but with
May 01, 2011 Eh?Eh! rated it really liked it
Shelves: babble-added
A very short book set in medieval Baghdad. A poor man is brought before the Caliph. It's revealed that his circumstances and journey are extraordinary. The format is probably inspired by Scheherazade, but Chiang cuts to the heart with 3 or 4 tales. Again, amazing, how thoughts of life and living are spread before the reader in such a feast of words.
Mar 19, 2016 Jaro rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Wonderful story/stories.
Faiza Ali Sattar
Mar 08, 2017 Faiza Ali Sattar rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites, 2017
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
A novelette set in ancient Baghdad and Cairo, as a merchant tells us – and the Caliph – nested tales of time travel.

Okay, the reason I love Ted Chiang is that he consistently has gotten me simultaneously in the geeky intellectual sweet spot of shinykeen science, and the unreasoned emotional response. And here he did neither, particularly.

It's a pretty story, with a perfect tempo and all the charm and style you'd expect from framing time travel in a 1001 Nights homage, with extra ancient Islam fo
Nov 29, 2011 Daniel rated it really liked it
Shelves: ebook
I have finally read Ted Chiang, whose name kept popping up next to those of other writers that I respect. This story is proof positive that Chiang's reputation is well-deserved. I was impressed by how much emotional resonance he achieves in a short span of pages; since finishing the story, it has stuck with me, and I feel like I can visit the feelings that it inspired by returning to any remembered detail from the story. I also liked Chiang's writing, and the voice that he gives the narrator. Bu ...more
Apr 11, 2013 Shaun rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2013
Though sold as a book, this is really a long short-story of about 60 plus pages. A medieval tale about a man who travels back in time and ultimately learns that neither the past nor the future can be changed but only more fully understood, The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate offers some interesting ideas about fate/destiny.

Unfortunately, I did not enjoy this as much as his collection of short stories, Stories of Your Life and Others, so if you've heard about Chiang and are interested in readin
Nov 20, 2008 rivka rated it it was amazing
Excellent! I liked this best (so far; I haven't read everything else of his) of what I've read of his work. And not just because Kip Thorne's wormhole work is some of my favorite theoretical physics.

Unlike some of Chiang's other stories, the science here is handled with a very light touch; it is peripheral to the story, not central. (And putting modern theoretical physics in the language of the medieval was very well done.) The characters, especially the two main characters, are better realized
Feb 16, 2011 Louise rated it it was amazing
Another wonderful short story from Ted Chiang. I was hesitant to read it because it involves time travel and I hate reading things about time travel because there's usually so many bad plot holes but I needn't have worried! Ted Chiang does it again -- a mind-bending short story about history, the future, the present, and life, all without being too preachy. Like his other short stories, this is life-changing.

What I really love about Ted Chiang's writing is that it's simple, yet effective. He's l
Akemi G
Oct 29, 2015 Akemi G rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-fiction
This was a pleasant and interesting read. A man retelling the stories he heard from a mysterious merchant/alchemist to the caliph of Bagdad, then moving on to his own story. It's a time travel story, written in the style of beloved classic The Arabian Nights. It successfully fulfills the rule that a short story like this must have a good twist at the ending.
“Past and future are the same, and we cannot change either, only know them more fully. My journey to the past had changed nothing, but what I had learned had changed everything, and I understood that it could not have been otherwise. If our lives are tales that Allah tells, then we are the audience as well as the players, and it is by living these tales that we receive their lessons.”

Audio Book :
Gustavo Muñoz (Akito)
Apr 10, 2015 Gustavo Muñoz (Akito) rated it really liked it
Shelves: fantasy
Short stories are always hard to review. How do you sell such a short book to someone without spoiling too much? It's always a fun little challenge, and it's particularly hard on The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate, a story in which discovering all these little twists and turns by yourself plays such a huge role.

And what's this about a gate, you ask? Well, that's a portal. To the past. and to the future. You just walk in. And back. You can even bring things with you! And maybe even people, too
Sep 21, 2011 Simeon rated it really liked it
Absolutely amazing. Enough said.

A wonderful audio edition can be heard here.
Mark Tallen
Jan 23, 2017 Mark Tallen rated it liked it
I enjoyed this novelette by Ted Chiang which happens to be the only story of his that I've read to date. It is an intriguing tale and I hope to eventually read more stories by the author. I would like to recommend the stories by Saladin Ahmed and Howard Andrew Jones to readers who enjoyed this story by Ted Chiang.
Algirdas Brukštus
Mar 19, 2017 Algirdas Brukštus rated it it was amazing
Puikūs laiko viražai, o ir alchemija aukščiausios rūšies.
Feb 26, 2015 John rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Clever, lapidary set of time travel tales, nested and partially but not completely interwoven, set in traditional Cairo/Baghdad. The author bases his story on the proposition that even when the future is known it cannot be changed, and he sidesteps the obvious objection to that by not giving his characters opportunity or inclination to test it. Still, he does a bang-up job with its twists and turns, and closes with an upbeat ending. A.
Jan 03, 2016 Melora rated it really liked it
An Arabian Nights style time travel tale ("tales," but it really is one story), this very short work is neat and elegant. A pleasure. My thanks to Carol at book reviews forevermore for leading me to this one!

Scribble Orca
Aug 20, 2012 Scribble Orca rated it it was amazing
Tatiana recommended this and I'm grateful she did.

Succinct and easy writing style with a couple of intertwined ideas that cement the central theme of linear time, chance and fate.

Sci-fi lite but fun nevertheless.
Edward Rathke
Aug 05, 2013 Edward Rathke rated it it was amazing
Another brilliant story by Ted Chiang. It's interesting to read science fiction set in the past, and this is a topic oddly close to my heart.

I don't know if there's a short story writer out there better than Ted Chiang.
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Ted Chiang (born 1967) is an American speculative fiction writer. His Chinese name is Chiang Feng-nan. He was born in Port Jefferson, New York and graduated from Brown University with a Computer Science degree. He currently works as a technical writer in the software industry and resides in Bellevue, near Seattle, Washington. He is a graduate of the noted Clarion Writers Workshop (1989).

Although n
More about Ted Chiang...

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“Nothing erases the past. There is repentance, there is atonement, and there is forgiveness. That is all, but that is enough.” 75 likes
“Four things do not come back: the spoken word, the sped arrow, the past life, and the neglected opportunity.” 44 likes
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