THE ALCHEMIST by Paolo Bacigalupi

the-alchemistInteresting premise of this fantasy/fable.   It is a world where magical actions on the part of the populace affect the ummmmm ether, I guess, and create vicious fast growing thorn bushes.   And since everyone likes magic, (I mean, really, why do the dishes yourself when you can magic them clean, and of course then there is the whole destruction of the health industry what with all the DIY cures being done), the thorn bushes are just taking over the world.  Think Kudzu without the sweet tea.

Magic is now of course, strictly forbidden, but still….. there are always that selfish handful who believe that the rules don’t apply to them, right?, doing the little magical odd job, so the thorn bushes are continuing to encroach on the city, in spite of its best attempts to constantly cut them back.  Think legions of guys in the jungle with machetes constantly hacking and thwacking.

The alchemist thinks he can develop a machine which will actually kill the encroaching buses, not just reduce the above ground  creep, but actually kill the roots, etc.   But meanwhile, his daughter is dying of something involving coughing…. TB?  Maybe.  So, you know I don’t have to tell you this…. he does a few teeny weeny little magics to keep the daughter alive.  But now you can see the prob …. one guy here with his teeny weeny magic, one gal there with her teeny weeny magics, and it all adds up to more encroaching thorn bushes.

But just as all seems lost, and the city is about to be engulfed, he succeeds!   He takes his machine to the king and demonstrates.  He is immediately imprisoned and forced to create more and better machines.  And you will be surprised why.   His new version of his machine reveals a blue glow around people who have been using magic.  So the king uses the machines to ferret out the magic makers and destroy them.  Whoa, diddly!

This is an allegory about unintended consequences.  The alchemist thought he was creating a machine to destroy the bushes.  But the king understood that by killing the bushes, pushing back the encroachment,  it would simply enable more and more people to do magic, thus making more and more bushes to be pushed back.   His strategy was to get rid of the magic makers, and instill a great fear in all, thereby finally eradicating the need to deal with the bushes, because there would be no more bushes eventually to deal with.

The alchemists was horrified by the use the king put his machine to…. it wasn’t what he had in mind at all.

This little novella is about the damage we unthinking citizens of the earth do to our planet in our selfish endeavors.  It was an interesting read, if a bit heavy handed with the symbolism.  I tend to prefer my fables to hide their main premise a bit deeper, but it was good nonetheless.

Paolo Bacigalupi is probably best known for his dark cyberpunk sci fi book, The Windup Girl.


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