Paolo Bacigalupi. The Alchemist. (Subterranean Press, 2011).

I took this gorgeous little hardback with me up on the train to London today, and read it with short breaks on the Blackberry for answering emails, and tweeting that I was reading the book.

On the BBC News website today was a story reporting Amazon’s announcement that for the first time e-books had outsold paperbacks in the USA. The article was entitled ‘Is this the end of the book?’

Hopefully not. I was reading e-books and e-magazines several years ago, and to my chagrin my bookshelves have gaps in the magazine collections where I read and reviewed e-versions on an early Cassiopeia PDA, or one of the Palm PDAs, or even a Franklin ebookreader. The hardware is long gone, and whilst I have the magazines in files in various formats on my hard disk, and could probably resurrect them to read onscreen, it simply isn’t the same as having the physical magazine.

And this book is a case in point. It’s a gorgeous little hardback with a dustjacket, lovely typography inside, and interal illustrations complementing the story. The physical entity just adds so much to the reading of the story.

And the story is a good one as well. It’s part of a pair of novellas, with Tobias S. Buckell’s ‘The Executioness’ being the complementary story. Each author writes an introduction to the partner book, which gives added value.

The fantasy setting is a world in which there is magic, but its use is outlawed as the use of magic gives strength to a pernicious bramble that is slowly taking over the land. The bramble is a threat to life, as well as encroaching on the land, and the titular Alchemist has been working on a device to destroy the bramble.

His single-minded obsession has led what remains of his family to reduced circumstances, but when he makes the breakthrough, rather than delivering his family and his community from the threat of the bramble, there are darker, more dangerous consequences.

There are some lovely touches in the story, how about this piece of writing : “The dynamic between us was as taut as the strings on a violin. Each of those would pluck at those strings, seeking gain, testing the other’s boundaries, trying the tenor of the note, the question of its strain”.

So, onto ‘The Executioness’, and to find a place on the straining Best SF shelves for the pair of books.

Book : amazon.com | amazon.co.uk

Audible : amazon.com | amazon.co.uk

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