Review: The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate

The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate

The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate
Ted Chiang
Subterranean Press, 2007

A frame narrative in the tradition of One Thousand and One Nights, Ted Chiang’s Hugo and Nebula Award winning novelette The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate is narrated by the prosperous fabric merchant Fuwaad ibn Abbas, who, while searching through the markets of Baghdad for a gift for a business associate, stumbles upon a shop of curious instruments and ingenious mechanical devices.

The shop is owned by the alchemist Bashaarat, who introduces Fuwaad to his most prized invention: a great gate of polished black metal that allows an individual to step twenty years into the future. The bulk of Chiang’s novelette is a series of stories told by the alchemist concerning past clients who have used the gate to visit their own future selves. Eventually, the narrative reveals that the alchemist owns a second gate in Cairo that allows one to journey not only into the future, but also twenty years into the past. The novelette’s final tale concerns Fuwaad’s own journey through the gate in an attempt to correct a past mistake.

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Review: The Alchemy of Stone

The Alchemy of Stone

The Alchemy of Stone
Ekaterina Sedia
Prime Books, 2008

Mattie, the protagonist of Ekaterina Sedia’s The Alchemy of Stone, is a sentient automaton and a student of alchemy. Her creator, however, is a Mechanic, and as the rivalry between the Alchemist and Mechanic factions begins to grow into overt conflict, Mattie finds herself having to navigate the political complexities of a city on the brink of civil war, even as she struggles to understand her own place as a mechanical being in a very human world.

Although Mattie is nominally emancipated, liberated from the drudgery of her non-sentient mechanical counterparts, she is far from truly free: her mechanical heart requires winding and her creator alone holds the key. Only by obtaining the key for herself can Mattie truly achieve independence. Her quest to obtain the key, however, uncovers unexpected secrets and simmering conflicts, and ultimately reveals Mattie’s own central part in their resolution.

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Review: Sweet Tooth Vol. 1: Out of the Woods

Sweet Tooth

Sweet Tooth Vol. 1: Out of the Woods
Jeff Lemire
Vertigo, 2010

Described by the USA Today as “Mad Max with antlers,” Jeff Lemire’s new series of post-apocalyptic graphic novels departs from the quiet domestic tales of his previous works into territory more reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.

Gus is a hybrid, a child raised in the wake of a mysterious plague that has decimated mankind and bearing strange, animal-like attributes. Hybrids also possess a curious immunity to the lingering sickness that threatens the few adult survivors that remain, an immunity that also makes them a valuable commodity for those who would find a cure.

Gus’s father does what he can to protect his son from poachers, but when the father himself  succumbs to the sickness, Gus must break his father’s rules and venture outside the secluded wood where he had been sheltered all his life. With the help of a violent but seemingly benevolent drifter named Jepperd, Gus sets out for “The Preserve,” a place rumored to provide sanctuary for hybrid children. Along the way, the pair encounter the worst of the human remnant, desperate individuals who do whatever they can to survive amid the ruins of civilization.

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