Subterranean Press: 2007
This small, limited edition, 60 page hardcover from Ted Chiang is a gem and a treat.
In medieval Baghdad, a penniless man is brought before the most powerful man in the world, the caliph himself, to tell his story. It begins with a walk in the bazaar, but soon grows into a tale unlike any other told in the caliph's empire. It's a story that includes not just buried treasure and a band of thieves, but also men haunted by their past and others trapped by their future; it includes not just a beloved wife and a veiled seductress, but also long journeys taken by caravan and even longer ones taken with a single step. Above all, it's a story about recognizing the will of Allah and accepting it, no matter what form it takes.
I'm not sure I could give a better and more enticing description than the one on Subterranean Press's listing for this novella. It is a brief story broken into even shorter segments as the penniless man recounts his tale. It is one complete story involving a non intrusive form of time travel and really, it's just a delight to read. If The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate is representative of the sort of short fiction Ted Chiang writes then I have some great reading ahead of me with his short story collection.
For the size of this volume the price tag may be a little steep, but Subterranean puts out suburb volumes of fiction and they truly are limited editions. The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate may only be sixty pages, but they are 60 exquisite pages with quality illustrations throughout the text and a well put together volume of fiction. Really, the description of the story is just about everything you need to know. Chiang tells the story with a smooth and easy style and one which you won't want to stop turning the pages until you've discovered where Chiang takes us next. The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate is a journey, a discovery, and a trip well worth taking.