Review: The Alchemist and The Executioness

Paired novellas set in a shared fantasy world, The Alchemist by Paolo Bacigalupi and The Executioness by Tobias S. Buckell take place in a land where the incautious and casual use of magic has brought about the collapse of a once-great civilization. A poisonous bramble, a plant that feeds upon magic, has infested the country, ruining farmland and dragging whole towns and villages to ruin beneath its tangling vines. And in the place of a prosperous empire now exists a despotic regime that punishes with death even the most trivial use of magic. Originally published as an audiobook on, the two novellas have seen been published as illustrated books by Subterranean Press.

The Alchemist

The Alchemist
Paolo Bacigalupi
Subterranean Press, 2010

The alchemist Jeoz has spent a good portion of his life and nearly all of his fortune pursuing the mad notion of a weapon against the poisonous bramble, one that uses natural principles rather than the magic that only serves to feed the deadly weed. The device he creates, the “balanthast,” destroys the brambles down to the seed, and promises to restore the dying city of Khaim back to its former glory of flying carpets and floating cities. But for Jeoz, the potential to restore the free use of magic means also hope for his ill daughter, whom he has kept alive only by the furtive use of magic, an offense that could mean his execution should he be caught in the act.

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Review: Crocheting Adventures With Hyperbolic Planes

Crocheting Adventures With Crocheting AdventuresHyperbolic Planes
Daina Taimina
A K Peters, Ltd., 2009

The other day, I read a recent article on this year’s Diagram Prize for oddest book title, and as fascinating as this year’s winner may be, I don’t personally have much use for dental-practice management tips inspired by a thirteenth-century Mongol warlord. I imagine that’s quite a niche audience.

I was intrigued, however, by an allusion to last year’s winner, Crocheting Adventures with Hyperbolic Planes and immediately place a hold on our library’s copy. The author, Daina Taimina, is a Cornell professor of mathematics who uses crocheted models to illustrate various concepts of non-Euclidean geometry. The weirdness factor alone was enough to pique my interest, but since I also do a bit of knitting and crocheting myself, the idea struck me as extra full of win.

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