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The Alchemist (Khaim Novella's)

3.71 of 5 stars 3.71  ·  rating details  ·  1,276 ratings  ·  175 reviews
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 firs...more
Hardcover, Deluxe Trade Edition, 95 pages
Published January 31st 2011 by Subterranean Press
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The Windup Girl by Paolo BacigalupiDreams Unleashed by Linda HawleyGuardian of Time by Linda HawleyLegacy by Jesikah SundinThe City, Not Long After by Pat Murphy
Ecopunk Fiction
37th out of 46 books — 61 voters
Silent Spring by Rachel CarsonA Sand County Almanac with Other Essays on Conservation from ... by Aldo LeopoldThe Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael PollanThe Lorax by Dr. SeussDesert Solitaire by Edward Abbey
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Community Reviews

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Chances are good that you checked this book out of the library accidentally, and you actually wanted The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. I mean, it is understandable: slim novellas of the same name by two dudes with similar Italian-sounding names (Paolo/Paulo! What are the odds?). Count yourself lucky -- you got the good one. The other one is full of bullshit, no matter what that lady at work keeps telling you.

Paolo Bacigalupi loves to remind you how much people suck. Indeed, that could have been the...more
3.0 to 3.5 stars. Paolo Bacigalupi is one of my favorite SF writers working today and his first novel, The Windup Girl, is on my list of “All Time Favorite” books. So when I heard he was going to write a fantasy story, I was like:
Add to that wonderful piece of news that Paolo was going to team up and create a shared fantasy world with another of my favorite authors, Tobias Buckell, and all I could think of was…
Well in the first of these shared world stories, Mr. Bacigalupi introduce...more
I didn't expect to like The Alchemist more than The Executioness, since I didn't like Paolo Bacigalupi's work when I last encountered it, but actually I preferred it by quite a bit. It has a male main character whose life revolves around taking care of his daughter, so in this case I actually enjoyed the protective parent trope. The whole world felt more real to me, too -- I caught on to the ideas quicker. It probably doesn't help that apparently this one is meant to be read first and I did it t...more
Okay, that's it, I'm offically a fan-girl for Paolo. The Alchemist is one of a pair of novellas (the other by Tobias Buckell,) set in the same fantasy world, where magic is destroying the Kingdoms by fueling the growth of a magical and deadly bramble.

The titular character devotes his life to finding a way to defeat the bramble and restore the ability and right for all to use magic. Unfortunately, he runs afoul of those in power who use the threat to carry out their own bloody agenda.

It all fol...more
Olga Godim
I loved this short novella, my first book by Bacigalupi. Written in the expressive, lyrical language, it depicts a world rich in detail and traditions that have a slightly Eastern flavor. Although the plotline is rather uninspiring, the magical system is original, the pacing fast, and the protagonist as real as my neighbors.
Vulnerable and weak, naïve as a dreamer and definitely not a hero, the main character in this story cares mainly for his six-year-old sick daughter. He would do anything for...more
Paolo Bacigalupi's quick little novella tells the story of a world trapped in the midst of a rather difficult quandary: while magic is possible (accessible, even), it has a price. Every time it's used, it spurs on the growth of a deadly bramble that has already destroyed a good part of the world and continue to threaten to overrun the city of Khaim. Magic has consequently been outlawed, but it's use is still widespread and justifications abound. The Alchemist tells the story of Jeoz, the titular...more
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. (Alt...more
Althea Ann
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 il...more
Joel Neff
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
J.j. Metsavana
Mulle meeldivad fantasy zanrist kõige rohkem jutud, kus leitud maagiale ka tasakaalustav punkt. Mingi konks, mis ei lase süüdimatult lõputus kogustes spellida vaid asjal on taga ka omalaadne konks või tagasilöök. Siin jutustuses oli olemas nii nutikas tagasilöök, kui ka samavõrra lahe idee selle neutaliseermiseks. Kõik see lahedas tumedates toonides kirja pandud ja tõlgitud Tartu ulmekirjutamise töötoa veterani Martin Kirotari poolt.
Jul 24, 2012 Tatiana marked it as abandoned
Rather flat and lifeless. I expected more from Bacigalupi. Actually, EVERY short story of his is better than this, IMO.
I've wanted to read one of Paolo Bacigalupi's books for a while, but the high-concept, dense writing I heard about really intimidated me. This, a bite-size, shared-world novella, went down easily, and convinced me I want to read more by this author.

The world, shared between Bacigalupi and Tobias Buckell, is one where magic produces a nasty invasive vine that is slowly choking out the entire world. The hero of The Alchemist was once wealthy and much sought after in his life as a craftsman, but no...more
This was far too short, and might be called a parable more than a story.

Bacigalupi has once again found a new way to create a dystopia on the back of too much societal reliance on taking easy solutions. In this case, magic replaces technology, but this allows him to tell a parable more truthfully than he might have been able to do had he directly said oil/electricity/technology.

The Alchemist is the story of a father determined to use science to save his society from from an encroaching death th...more
I *really* liked this one. A few things off the top of my head:

1. It was first-person, and I don't usually like first-person stories because you're stuck looking at the story from just one person's perspective, and if that person is annoying/boring/unlikeable for some reason, it makes the whole story less enjoyable. The narrator in this story (who is just "the alchemist" - I don't think he ever tells us his name) is not any of these things - he's likable and sympathetic, and exactly flawed enoug...more
J.D. Camorlinga
Paolo likes to write about humans destroying the world. This is a central theme in Windup Girl, Ship Breaker as well as Alchemist. We get it Paolo... That being said, what a great read!

Memorable moment:
"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."
Apr 21, 2011 Flissy rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: ?
Shelves: 2011
In spite of the fact that I didn't particularly enjoy this book, I feel like I should give Bacigalupi another chance. This little novella had potential in presenting a philosophical dilemma, but it just ended up feeling a little too quaint and contrived.
The Alchemist is a very charming novella about an alchemist and an empire in ruin. In a world plagued by Bramble--a poisonous, constantly growing, self-propagating weed that is drawn inexorably toward magic, an alchemist toils in the gutted emptiness of his mansion, trying to find a way to destroy it.

This is a very straightforward fantasy novella about the price that society pays when everyone wants just a little magic for all the right reasons. It's extremely simple story. There are no big surp...more
It had potential and some good writing but the ending... was disappointing and somewhat anti-climactic and most of the action felt too rushed and told rather than experienced or described. I liked the ideas, but the execution was a disappointment.

The author developed a clever world and interesting plot twists. But at times it felt like a fable... like it was a short punchy tale meant to teach a lesson rather than a story. The characters weren't adequately developed and there wasn't enough action...more
Actual rating: 2.5 stars.

I rated other Paolo Bacigalupi novels at 4 and 4.5 stars. The Alchemist is a lesser work, and I was disappointed in it. The writing is up to snuff, but the story itself if very short (I read it in an evening) and I kept feeling there should be more. Bacigalupi's other novels are based on solid environmental science and present believable future societies and worlds. This one is a fantasy, an Arabian Nights tale about a world where magic (literally, flying carpets and clo...more
The "Alchemist," is the story of a kingdom besieged by the unending and erratic growth of brambles whenever someone decides to use magic. The bigger the spell the worst the growth of brambles as they engulf everything from houses, to land and even food. You see, brambles are attracted to magic, and thrive on it's use, spreading their pods when they are cut or burned; their needless will even kill those who are pricked by them. As a result, the evil mayor of Khaim has banned magic use of any kind...more
Andy Gavin
Having recently read Baciqalupi's excellent Ship Breaker I thought I'd breeze through his fantasy novella— and breeze I did. Written in first person, yet with a bit of almost Arabian Nightsallegoricalstyle, this is a story about a world where all magic has consequences, specifically in that it feeds deadly bramble vines, causing them to choke and strangle the city. As usual forBaciqalupi the world building and the writing is first rate. This a very contained story with a small character count an...more
After finishing this short story, my first thought was "this would have made a fantastic novel"! As it is, it made for an enjoyable read, but one not worth the price of admission. Subterranean Press issued two companion novels, this and The Executioness by Tobias Buckell, set in the same fantasy world. Each hardcover of about 96 pages is $20 retail. That is way too much for what you get. Why not combine them in one hardcover?

Magic has a price; whenever it is used, a bit of deadly bramble pops up...more
Michael S.
Very cool novella. It's a short, quick read at 133 pages, but the idea behind the story is sheer literary genius!
I have always preferred fantasy fiction stories with a magic system in which the use of magic has a cost or consequence. It's just not very interesting if someone can simply wave their hand, perform some huge unearthly feat that changes or manipulates the normal laws of nature---and it doesn't even cost them anything; no real expenditure of energy, no physical reaction, no danger.
Allan Dyen-shapiro
I like reading fantasy written by authors who usually write science fiction. First of all, they lack the compulsion to write in flowery, obscure language. This one is straight, serviceable prose. The feel is very much like a China Miéville novel--a fusion of magic/fantasy with historical/scientific (in Miéville's case, steampunk, here, more middle ages/Central Asian but the main character is a scientist and his inventions drive the plot).

In this novella, Bacigalupi addresses similar themes to hi...more
What if magic existed, but the cost of using it was that it was slowly destroying the world? This might be an allegory about energy use, or it might be just a cool story.
An alchemist has devoted his life to finding a solution to the problem, which is that every use of magic spreads a terrible plague of plant growth, one that is slowly smothering the land. The magic-eating plants are toxic, sort of like poisonous spiny kudzu. After fifteen years of research and the loss of his wife, he finally fi...more
The book succeeds in avoiding a number of traps that riddle the fantasy genre, but unfortunately fails to avoid them all.

The book is wonderfully short, I can easily see the story been drawn out into a trilogy or even more thick volumes. The backstory is told as a well known tale of recent history, with the characters' current situation as a result of these events, thereby focusing the story in the now with all it's pressures and uncertainties.
I also like the mirroring of the problems we face (p...more
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Patrick W
This review was originally posted on my review blog (Stomping on Yeti) at A Few Words: The Alchemist and The Executioness showcase two rising stars in the the genre but aren't completely successful in fully realizing the inherent potential in their shared fantasy world.[return][return]Pros: [return]1) Fast, fun stories that work both in print and audio formats[return]2) The Alchemist is a fantasy version of pitch perfect Bacigalupian exposition[return]3)...more
Shazza Maddog
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
The Alchemist is definitely not my favorite of Bacigalupi's books, but that's probably because it's so short, it left me wanting more. Also, Bacigalupi is playing in someone else's world instead of creating his own. And, finally, it's aimed at a young adult audience, which I have not been a part of for some time now.

The titular character lives in a world that is slowly being consumed by poisonous bramble. Every time someone uses magic, more bramble grows. Touch a thorn on it, and you die. For th...more
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Paolo Bacigalupi’s writing has appeared in High Country News,, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine. It has been anthologized in various “Year’s Best” collections of short science fiction and fantasy, nominated for three Nebula and five Hugo Awards, and won the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award for best sf short story of the year.

His debut nov...more
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