the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘alchemy

Epic: Legends of Fantasy, edited by John Joseph Adams

published November 2012

where I got it: Received ARC from the publisher

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Epic Fantasy requires the story to be bigger, the dragons be faster, the warriors be stronger, and everything generally be more. And Epic: Legends of Fantasy offers up just that – more mythos,  higher stakes, more of simply everything.

Many of the entries are part of the author’s larger work, taking place in an epic fantasy world that the author has already written hundreds and sometimes thousands of pages about. Randomly, the stories I read first happened to be part of larger works, and at first, the lack of stand alone works bothered me, but I quickly came to appreciate it, and to learn the collection had plenty of stand alone stories as well. An anthology like this is a brilliant method of introducing readers to these larger fantasy worlds created by famous authors such as Robin Hobb, George R R Martin, Michael Moorcock, Melanie Rawn, Tad Williams, and many others, and serves as an excellent introduction to the writings of newer authors  as well.

Some works were fairly new, but others were older than I am. the Moorcock for example was originally written in 1961. A pure classic sword and sorcery, complete with sexualized and helpless female, it might be offensive to today’s readers, but I’m happy Adams included it, as what’s the point of talking about Epic Fantasy if we’re not going to touch on the journey the genre has taken?

Clocking in at over 600 pages, Epic: Legends of Fantasy is itself a bit of a doorstopper.  We eat clunksters like this for breakfast, so I was surprised at how long it took me to plow through it. ahh, but spending 600+ pages in one fantasy world is one thing. Try spending that quantity of pages in over a dozen fantasy worlds. More often than not, my brain needed a little break in between.   This isn’t the kind of anthology to gorge on, this is the kind you savor, over many winter evenings.

Here’s my thoughts a handful of the entries:

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I don’t always read manga, but when I do, it’s usually Fullmetal Alchemist by Hiromu Arakawa. I got my first taste of this way back in the early 2000’s, and I’ve been following it ever since.

Ten years and 27 volumes later, two anime series, a movie and more t-shirts and fake tattoos than I want to think about, my journey with the Elric Brothers has come to an end.  Nearly my entire adult life, a small part of my mind has constantly been revolving around this series: waiting for the next issue, getting frustrated when the story moved too fast or too slow, masochistically smiling when every issue ended in a cliffhanger and I had to wait 6 months (at least!) for the next one, my shifting character crushes, losing my squeamishness towards prosthetics and amputation, etc. And unlike the jerk at the grocery store who insisted on telling me what happens at the end even though I asked him not to, this post has no spoilers. Just lots and lots of background.

More than you ever wanted to know about:

The Story

Once upon a time, there were two brothers, the elder named Edward and the younger named Alphonse. They lived with their mother and were happy. Sometimes she got this sad look on her face, especially when she thought about their father, who had abandoned them. The two brothers would do anything to make their mother smile. They studied the alchemy book their father left behind, using their new found science based magic to fix things around the house, make new toys, and make their mother smile. Alchemical transmutation was so easy, all you needed was the parts of the whole – a broken toy, a bowl of sand, a lump of metal, and you could make anything of equal element and mass – a fixed toy, a piece of glass, a new frying pan.

And then she got sick. And when she died, the brothers blamed her illness on their absent father. If only he had been there, they could have afforded a better doctor. If only he had been there, her sadness and loneliness wouldn’t have led to illness.  In the alchemy books of their father was the secret and dangerous answer. Human transmutation: take all the elements and pieces of a human body, salt and carbon and phosphorus and blood and water and everything else, and transmute the pieces into the whole. Bring their mother back, see her smile again.

But there is a reason human transmutation is forbidden, a reason it is hidden in code words and secret symbols in the alchemy texts.  Edward and Alphonse were too naive to realize why it should never be attempted. I won’t go into the details of the disaster, but the alchemical accident left Edward missing an arm and a leg, and left Alphonse as nothing but a soul attached by blood rune to a suit of armor.

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Just joining us?  Welcome!  learn about the world of Fullmetal Alchemist and read about Volume one here.

In volumes two, three, and four of Fullmetal Alchemist, Edward is certainly the main character, but mangaka Hiromu Arakawa takes the opportunity to introduce us to a ton of supporting characters. Via dialogue and a little bit of comedy relief, she imbues everyone with their own unique personality. There are no red-shirts here.

One after another, Ed and Al meet rogue alchemists who can help them, and hurt them. The boys seek information on the philosopher’s stone and how they can get their original bodies back, but some secrets are best left undiscovered.

Interested in bio-alchemy, Colonel Roy Mustang introduces them to Shou Tucker, the Sewing-Life Alchemist. Tucker is famous for having created a chimera that could talk. The pressure is on for him to product another alchemical creation, and he does. But his daughter and pet dog have gone missing. When Ed discovers the truth, he accuses Tucker of acting against everything alchemists believe in. Tucker’s response is that Edward did the same thing when he attempted human transmutation.

Before Tucker can be brought to trial, he is murdered by Scar. Scar is a mysterious terrorist, who specifically goes after state alchemists. He believes he is a divine instrument, cleansing the world of the work of the devil. It comes to light that Scar is an Ishbalan (spelled Ishvarlan in earlier printings), a member of the ethnic group that is still recovering from it’s war with Amestris. Ishbalans living in Amestris are marginalized, usually forced to live in ghettos and not allowed to practice their religion. Of course, Edward and Alphonse go after Scar, who uses his deconstruction alchemy to obliterate Ed’s automail arm and nearly tear Alphonse’s suit of armor in half. One handed, Ed can’t do alchemy. He can’t put his brother’s suit of armor back together. Without his prosthetic arm, Ed is just one more useless kid. Scar seems unstoppable, and his goal is to destroy the State Alchemists of Amestris.

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New to Manga? Check out Manga 101: Let’s talk about Manga and Manga 102.

Fullmetal Alchemist is one of my favorite manga series, definitely my favorite shonen series. Fullmetal Alchemist wa redhead san no ichiban shonen!

Hiromu Arakawa’s Fullmetal Alchemist is contemporary shonen, with plenty of action and comedy, and just a teensy bit of romance. The science the steampunk-lite country of Amestris is alchemy. A trained alchemist takes the materials at hand, draws a transmutation circle and can create something else of similar mass and volume. Alchemy has one, and only one rule, a rule that can not be broken – the law of equal exchange: to obtain something, something of equal value must be given. The idea that everything costs something, that you can’t take without giving, that everything must be in balance, these are concepts that have resonated with me for a long time. A lot of what I read in Fullmetal Alchemist, a lot of the philosophy, I took to heart. I have been reading this series for nearly 10 years, and yes, I’ve got the t-shirt to prove it. Two, in fact.

Fullmetal Alchemist is the story of Edward and Alphonse Elric, two talented brothers who got in over their heads and have been paying the price ever since. Forbidden in the practice of alchemy, the grief stricken young brothers had attempted to resurrect their dead mother. Even human transmutation must follow the law of equal exchange. But what is equal to a life? To a soul? What did it cost them?

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About this redhead, etc.

Redhead is a snarky, non-politically correct 30-something who reviews mostly science fiction and fantasy and talks about all sorts of other fun scifi and fantasy geekery. She once wrote a haiku that included the word triskaidekaphobia.

This blog contains adult language and strong opinions. The best way to contact her outside of this blog is twitter, where she is @redhead5318 .

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