cover image The Alchemist

The Alchemist

Paolo Bacigalupi, Subterranean (, $20 (96p) ISBN 978-1-59606-353-2

The first foray into fantasy from Hugo winner Bacigalupi (The Windup Girl) is one of two novellas (the other by Tobias S. Buckell) set in a world where using magic has terrible consequences. Jeoz is a destitute alchemist living in Khaim, a city literally being strangled to death by bramble, a "wormy malevolence" that expands its thorny vines every time someone uses magic. The bramble's hairs are poisonous, and the forest of vines has already destroyed entire empires. The genius alchemist, obsessed with finding a way to destroy the bramble—and desperately motivated by his sickly six-year-old daughter—invents a device that he believes will rid the region of the thorny pestilence forever. But when he unveils his potentially realm-saving creation to Khaim's mayor, Jeoz realizes his benevolent work has darker applications. This bite-sized tale is charming, lyrically written, and thematically rich. (Jan.)