Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate, Ted Chiang

Opening: O Mighty Caliph and Commander of the Faithful, I am humbled to be in the splendor of your presence; a man can hope for no greater blessing as long as he lives. The story I have to tell is truly a strange one, and were the entirety to be tattooed at the corner of one's eye, the marvel of its presentation would not exceed that of the events recounted, for it is a warning to those who would be warned and a lesson to those who would learn.

My name is Fuwaad ibn Abbas, and I was born here in Baghdad, City of Peace. My father was a grain merchant, but for much of my life I have worked as a purveyor of fine fabrics, trading in silk from Damascus and linen from Egypt and scarves from Morocco that are embroidered with gold. I was prosperous, but my heart was troubled, and neither the purchase of luxuries nor the giving of alms was able to soothe it. Now I stand before you without a single dirham in my purse, but I am at peace. Read more...

Capsule: What a wondrous arabesque of a time-travel tale! I won't say much more than that, except to point out that the causality loops (inspired by Kip Thorne's work, according to Chiang's notes in the hard-printed version of this story) are couched in sumptuous period detail and characterization, and that the "lesson" learned by the teller of the tale is a fine one indeed.

This piece is currently a 2008 Hugo award nominee in the "Best Novelette" category.
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