WEEK 8: Sedia’s “The Alchemy of Stone” (I)

This is an open thread on the first 50 pages or so of Ekaterina Sedia’s The Alchemy of Stone (2008). This thread will remain open until 9pm on Wednesday, November 2.

That’s right — Wednesday! Since we won’t be discussing the book until next Thursday’s class, I’ve decided to give you an extra two days to respond to this week’s thread. Enjoy them!

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28 thoughts on “WEEK 8: Sedia’s “The Alchemy of Stone” (I)

  1. Who are the Mechanics? Who are the Alchemists? What is their relationship to the Court — and where do the gargoyles fit in? This week, we’ll be looking at a steampunk text less “Victorian” than anything we’ve seen so far, so let’s begin our conversation by trying to understand how Ayona’s political system operates. Which roles appear to be played by each of these factions, and why might it be significant that Sedia has chosen to divide the novel’s society along these fault lines and not others?

    As always, feel free to share your fully-formed thoughts in this thread, as well as your first impressions.

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    1. Magic, or in this case Alchemy, versus Machines, is a common theme that I actually see throughout a lot of video games nowadays. In particular, I’m thinking of the Final Fantasy video game series, in which there always seems to be some version of this recurring theme.

      In Sedia’s The Alchemy of Stone, there are two opposing factions– the Alchemists and the Mechanics. There is a fine balance between the two governing factions, and although one might have more power than the other, they both always have the ability to topple the other one way or another. I believe that Sedia uses this simplistic political scheme, rather than a more complicated one in need of detailed background explanations, because it is an easy theme for readers to grasp and understand without being bogged down with unnecessary explication that would take away from the story at hand.

      This theme is particularly popular, I think, because it can be compared to our current lives as economy-fueled science advances, and we leave the natural world behind in disarray and disrepair (sorry, I’m also taking an eco-criticism course…). We leave the magic of nature behind us, and close ourselves inside of city walls with machines that spew gas emissions, and cover the ground in concrete that only the most persistent (or in some cases, ornamental) plants (for gardens and such) can grow in. This nature/wonder versus city theme can right parallel to the theme of magic versus technology.

      As a result, not only can Sedia set the stage for a more relevant and exciting story without confusing the reader with a complicated political plot and backstory. But she can also make a point about parallels in our own society today.

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    2. Samantha Hamilton

      The Alchemy of Stone caught me by surpise because of the way Sedia created this fantasy world with political parities consisting of anamatons, alchemists, gargolyles, mechanics, and even six-legged lizards. This combination of characters seemed almost hard to grasp at first however, as the plot develops the reader begins to become entwined with the politics of the book. From my interpretation of the text, the mechanics and alchemists are engaged in a power struggle but it is the Duke, supported by the Gargoyles who is in power and because of this, no war has occurred (42). The significance of Sedia doing this is that the reader cannot go in with any preconceived notions of this world. Thus, you must trust the narrartor and even take in to account the opinion of the gargolyles as they oversee Mattie, and the plot unfold. Overall I am excited to see how this story develops, and what the cause of the mysterious explosions have been.

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    3. Frohar Ali Bik

      In the first 50 pages of “The Alchemy of Stone” by Ekaterina Sedia, we learn that there are two opposing political parties in Sedia’s fictional society. One of which is the mechanics and the other one being the alchemists. The mechanics are skillful in making decisions about the society’s development and production and are supposed to be the industrial powerhouse. The Alchemists on the other hand are a little more magical. While the mechanics have won the majority and have come in power, I believe that it is the gargoyles who hold true power in their society. This is because gargoyles are a historical specie that have been around for a long time. They know more than everyone else as they sit high above everyone while watching and listening to them. The gargoyles also don’t believe in the books written about them (Sedia 54) meaning no matter how hard people of this society study about gargoyles, they still will never figure out everything they want to know about these mysterious gargoyles. Furthermore, the significance of gargoyles become more apparent when we notice that both the alchemists and mechanics are very interested in gargoyles and are trying to study and understand gargoyles. This could be because they fear the unknown, which automatically gives the gargoyles more power than both the fractions.

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    4. Daryl Patalinghug

      The Mechanics are the ruling party of Ayona, and the Alchemists are the opposing party fighting for power. Mattie is the resulting duality of these two factions – she is an Alchemist, but is an automaton made by Loharri, a Mechanic.

      The Mechanics are the walking manifestations of the current state of Ayona. As evidenced by the health condition of some of the Mechanics, Loharri is often described as being pale – possibly ill and in poor health(in the introduction, Mattie delivers him a potion because he is ailing [10]), and she provides another description of a man that is rotund, one has gout [43], etc.
      Dividing the citizens into these main factions allows us to understand the two major expressions of interest in Ayona – with what we know so far, we can surmise that one is concerned with mechanical, destructive and perhaps meaningless contributions, and the other with utilizing their abilities to make specialized concoctions for possibly the greater good, such as healing.

      “Ever since the mechanics won a majority, the renovations in this city acquired a feverish pace, and the streets themselves seemed to shift daily, and the streets themselves seemed to shift daily, accommodating new roads and more and more factories belched smoke and steam and manufactured new and frightening machines” [15].
      This “feverish pace” tells us that they are not improving upon quality of life, and the Alchemists’ role is the opposite, they seem more concerned about the people, finding cures to water-borne diseases like typhoid [41]. The city is heavily polluted, likely caused by the actions of the Mechanics and their inclination to fix non-existent problems [46], only furthering the disruption and degradation of the environment.

      The gargoyles are the creators of the city; they are the stones from which the city is created from. They are known to be the third and unifying faction of the court – Bergen says that without which the government would be unstable. There are only a few gargoyles left, and as the unifying element of the government, they are in a desperate fight against time to change their fate – which seemingly foreshadows the eventual disintegration of that “unity” and rising tension between the two parties. Intertwined with it all, we see the relationship between the creators and the creations (Mattie to Loharri, and the city to the gargoyles) unraveling all of its flaws.

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    5. Mark Taylor

      In the first 50 pages of The Alchemy of Stone, we learn that the political system of Ayona is split into three different legs: the Alchemists, the Mechanics, and the court ruled by the Duke. Only the Alchemists and Mechanics seem to hold any real sway in the decision making process, however, as the court is seen as almost irrelevant, a form of government kept for traditional purposes only. Currently, the Mechanics have a majority and are able to enact the changes they see fit (15), but their hold seems to be tenacious at best. They gained this power though some form of election, and it is said that there are two routes through which this can be won: the gratitude (and support) of the populace at large, or the “traditional” route of cozying up with the Duke’s courtiers (41). In this way, then, it seems as though the court holds some higher function to the other two branches, and this might be because of their close ties with the Gargoyles. The Duke and his branch of the government are closely connected with the Gargoyles, ancient figures who are cemented in the city’s history and superstition (42).

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    6. Chrystiana W

      Sedia’s “The Alchemy of Stone” is very different compared to the other steampunk novels we have previously read. It does not glorify the Victorian Era or the arrival of great big machines, instead the inhabitants of Ayona live a traditional village type of lifestyle, while slowly embracing technological advances in very specific forms.

      The political scene in Ayona has a lot of tension and even within the first few pages, you can sense that a political clash is bound to happen.The Mechanics are on top of the totem pole, they are a majority and seem to have the most political influence in Ayona. The Alchemists are the rival groups of the Mechanics, and contrary to the Mechanics, they value organic material and do not interact much with metal or anything that is not plant-based. This dynamic, magic vs. technology is a trope often seen in cartoons and comic books, and it is usually portrayed as being an epic violent war, so it will be interesting to see how this plays out in a steampunk novel.

      The gargoyles, however, have an ambiguous place in Ayona, they are creatures with magical powers but do not seem to have much political power. When city councilors mention the gargoyles, they speak of them as if they were the ancestors of a great art form or society that has gone the way of the dinosaurs. The firs example I could link them to was the Royal family in England: powerful figureheads in the past, and merely symbols of power in the present. And although the gargoyles seem inactive, they are very much alive and closely observe Mattie and the overall city. They are mysterious and I’m eager to find out more about them, particularly their relationship with Mattie.

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    7. The government of Ayona has three main components; the court headed by the Duke, the mechanics and the alchemists. The alchemists seem to use magic on some level at least, though maybe not to the same extent as the soul-smoker or gargoyles, and operate as the basis for Ayona’s healthcare system, evident by Mattie providing/offering alchemical tonics and remedies when she sees a need. The mechanics are engineers responsible for the creation of automatons like Mattie and mechanical aspects of Ayona’s society, such as the transportation system. The court seems to be a predominantly political, semi-religious party, drawing power from their relationship with the gargoyles, Ayona’s founders, and the overt superstious beliefs held by many in Ayona, such as the belief that proximity to the soul-smoker will result in the theft of one’s soul, and their subsequent death. Though Ayona isnot the traditional Victorian setting of steampunk texts, there is a prominant theme of industrial progression and increased value of science over tradition, clockwork mechanics replacing wondrous magic in this case, that seems to be common in steampunk literature.

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  2. Caitlyn Bennett

    The Mechanics currently hold the role of majority government, so they are now in charge of building or construction decisions as they feel fit. (15) Regardless of the fact that Loharri refers to the Gargoyles as, “Our gray overlords,” (12) they affect the politics of the city very little they are “figureheads outwardly respected, but inconsequential.” (36) It seems the two political factions are the Mechanics, and Alchemists. Because the Alchemists are not currently in political power, they continue contributing to society by doing their jobs. The duke holds territory (38) that the mechanics don’t update, out of respect. The Duke and Gargoyles form a third leg of government, which helps to stabilize the relationship between the Alchemists and Mechanics.

    I think this political landscape is the easiest way to set up political conflict without chapters of backstory, political context or conversely, a rushed and confusing political plot. By also setting up a dichotomy between the Alchemists and Mechanics, it helps substantiate our emotional investment in the two main characters (so far), Loharri and Mattie who belong to separate factions.

    The big question moving forward, as we haven’t got to a the main conflict yet, or seen the real reach of the Gargolyes, would be if this two tiered faction system degrades the integrity of the story’s political plot? Similarly, do the addition of the Gargoyles, or the council dilute the relationship of the tension between the Alchemists and Mechanics?

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  3. Stacey Haviland-Janzen

    In Alchemy of Stone, the Mechanics and the Alchemists are two political groups. The Mechanics are in power, having won the majority (15), and since they have been in control they have been renovating their city at “a feverish pace” (15), introducing “new roads and more and more factories that belched smoke and steam and manufactured new and frightening machines” (15). The main protagonist, the automaton Mattie, also believes that the members of the Mechanics party are also mechanical and slightly cold in nature: “[The Mechanics] paid Mattie little mind, and no wonder—regular humans were mere clockworks to them, to be examined and figured out and, if necessary, taken apart; the automatons passed beneath notice” (40). However, the Mechanics, or at least Loharri, Mattie’s Mechanic creator, seems to be afraid of the opposing Alchemist party and its members, shown when Mattie recounts Loharri’s fear when he visits the alchemist Mistress Ogdela (28). The Duke’s court seems to function as an intermediary between these two parties—a member of the Mechanics, Bergen, claims that without the Court, “[it would] be nothing but [the Mechanics’] squabbling with the alchemists” (42).

    The other group in the book is the gargoyles. The gargoyles seem to be creatures that are turning into stone, a problem that they are trying to find a solution for. They are slightly more mysterious than the other two political parties, and they are described in a number of ways. Loharri calls them “[their] gray overlords” (12), while Mattie disagrees with this and claims that “the city owed its existence to the gargoyles, and they had been nothing but benefactors to the people “ (15). The gargoyles seem to offer some support to the Court (42), and Bergen calls the gargoyles the city’s “history” (42), and implies that the gargoyles offer a sort of “spiritual guidance” (42).

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  4. Monique D

    At the beginning of ‘The Alchemy of Stone’ we learn that the Mechanics make of the government that governs the city. We learn that the Alchemists are a political party that seems to be in competition for gaining political power, they are “rallying for the next election” (41). This political unrest seems to worry the Mechanics and sets the premise for the storyline that it will develop from this search for political influence and power. The storyline in regards to the gargoyles is still fairly mysterious however it seems that their prescence in the story is of utmost importance. We are told that the Gargoyles act like a “Spiritual guidance” (42) and that the “city is proud of its gargoyles.” (42). The mechanics rely on the leadership of the Duke to keep the peace of the city – “Bergin said. I for one do not think a civil war is such a good idea, and without the Duke we might have just that.” (42) The gargoyles act like another political party and are considered to be the “third leg” (42) of government and are important for keeping the peace in the city. At this point it seems like the Mechanics are fearful of the Alchemists and that the Alchemists are unhappy with the way the Mechanics are running things in a way that “the mechanics never tired of improving upon what was not broken” (44). It is interesting to note that the Automans act as the catalyst to change that has occurred which similarly reflects an industrial revolution. The novel seems to be leading around the complexities of advancing technologies to take over roles that have been previously acted upon by humans. What is even more interesting to note is the potential of the Automans, like Mattie, to be able to act like humans in very similar ways or conversely, not, but that choice is being made by the Mechanics (like Loharri).

    Mattie has the potential to tell this story through multiply perspectives because of how she is made “people talked like they would if she weren’t there” (28). She has connects to the Alchemists (as she is one now) and to the Mechanics through her creator and she has invested interest in the gargoyles.

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  5. Kelsey MacQueen

    SPOILER WARNING up to Chapter 7

    Early in the novel, The Alchemy of Stone, we learn that the Alchemists and the Mechanics are two political parties. Since “the mechanics won the majority” over the Alchemists, they have increased the pace of industrialization and city-wide “renovations” (15). We also learn that the power over laws, construction, and commerce resides with the elected parties, not the Duke (33).

    The gargoyles, called the “gray overlords” by Loharri (12), represent a third element of society. The gargoyles are not explicitly involved in politics, they are considered “figureheads, outwardly respected but inconsequential” by many (36). Others would suggests that the gargoyles are necessary pillars of society and “without the third leg, this government will not be stable” and there would be a chance of “civil war” (42). Thus, the political situation is quite fragile and is still somewhat dependent on traditional “figureheads” to maintain balance.
    We learn that “the city owed its existence to the gargoyles, and they had been nothing but benefactors to the people” (15). The history of the gargoyles is revealed in chapter 4, where we learn that the gargoyles created buildings, including Ducal palace, for the people that gave rise to the dynasty of the Dukes (55). The gargoyles “watched over the city as one would after a child” (55).

    Mattie explains to Niobe that “the Dukes had always insisted that both alchemists and mechanics are represented in the government” because they “represent two aspects of creation – command of the spiritual and magical, and the mastery of the physical” (69). This excerpt explains why Mattie is so important for the story, she has elements of the mechanics, the alchemists, and the gargoyles. Given that she is an automaton, Mattie embodies the “mastery of the physical”, which typifies the Mechanics. As an alchemist, Mattie can appreciate and manipulate the “spiritual and magical”, though not as a member of the party. Lastly, Mattie is inhuman like the Gargoyles, “like the mechanical girl, we have no souls” (32). While it is explain that the gargoyles “never got involved in human disputes” (63), they chose to intervene at the end of Chapter 6. Did the gargoyles intervene because of their sympathy for Mattie? Or was it because she is a means to their potential salvation?

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  6. Sergey Pismarkin

    The Mechanics and the Alchemists, both powerful groups in the political and everyday occurrences in the world of “The Alchemy of Stone”. A bit of a theme begins to form in the first 50 or so pages of the book, this idea of the natural versus the created(as though created by man,or automaton, Alchemy uses natural ingredients). Each side seems to want to stay on top, as while at present time in the book the mechanics hold a majority in the parliament but the alchemists wish to change this through either winning people over through popularity or tradition. Going with the traditional route involves getting involved with a man called “The Duke”, a man who is seen as nothing but a figurehead, that seemingly also keeps the gargoyles in check as those who only watch and do not get involved. In a way the gargoyles are seen then as the overseers and those that keep the peace through use of The Duke and the court. Going so far as to say without them there would be civil war between the mechanics and the alchemists. The natural vs. the created.

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  7. Mykayla Bergie

    The Mechanics and the Alchemists are political parties in Sedia’s novel The Alchemy of Stone. We learn early in the novel that the Mechanics are the ruling party, and are responsible for the infrastructure in Ayona.

    It is significant that the author has decided to define politics along this specific spectrum concerned with magic and mechanics, because the idea of creation (through both magic and mechanics) is essential to understanding the characters within the novel. Mattie is a creation of both magic and mechanics, where Loharri is a mechanic. The political context serves to create a seemingly insurmountable distance, as well as an incredible similarity between the two main characters.

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  8. Lorenzo Marcil

    Since this is the first text in the course we are studying that primarily revolves around a female character, I’m interested in talking about some gender politics in the novel.

    So many steampunk texts, and indeed texts in general, focus on male characters and in some cases completely disregard female perspectives. Why do you think the protagonist of the novel is a female? What sort of unique perspective about technology and society can Mattie provide? What are some potential commentaries could the book be setting up?

    Also, I’m interested in hearing about people’s opinions on two specific scenes. The first one is when Iolanda meets Mattie to ask for her assistance in Chapter 1. Iolanda asks of Mattie “do you consider yourself a woman? Because you were created as one?” and Mattie uncomfortably responds and cites her clothes as evidence (Sedia 18). What do you make of this scene? I can tell it’s important but I can’t quite grasp it’s meaning. Also, when we compare this to when the gargoyles meet Mattie they acknowledge her gender before they mention she is an automaton. Why would Iolanda, and perhaps humans in general, be more skeptical of Mattie and have to ask her uncomfortable questions?

    The other scene I’m interested in is when Mattie accompanies Loharri to the gathering of mechanics. The mechanics “paid Mattie little mind” (Sedia 40) and she played “the role of the obedient automaton” (Sedia 41). Mattie is able to blend in and learn potential political secrets, and this sort of blending reminds me of how women (specifically wives) in 50’s and 60’s gatherings are represented in media. How does this event show how equitable this world, or maybe the just the Mechanic Party, is?

    Also, what do you make of all the servitude that shows up in this chapter? There are the automaton servers, there is Mattie remembering “the dark sense of injustice when she was little but a maid” (Sedia 43), and there is that uncomfortable power dynamic between Mattie and Loharri regarding the key to Mattie’s heart. Would that power dynamic exist if Loharri had made a male or gender neutral automaton? Is it too far to suggest that maybe this is analogous to slavery? Can the automatons without a conscience even be subject to slavey?

    As you can tell, I have a lot on my mind so far. If someone can answer just one of these questions I’d be appreciative.

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    1. Jian Zhang

      I am also quite interested in the questions you pose as well. In relation to gender politics, I have some ideas for discussion about the significance of the scene between Iolanda and Mattie. Iolanda asks of Mattie “do you consider yourself a woman? Because you were created as one?” and Mattie uncomfortably responds and cites her clothes as evidence (Sedia 18)
      My opinion on gender is related to this novel strictly and what i believe to be the goals of the author. I believe the significance lies in emphasizing Victorian perception of gender. They had a sharp divide between binary men and woman roles. A “woman” , a group which would consist of wives, daughters and sisters would fall into the social norm of overseeing “domestic” household duties. So when Mattie, an automaton, or robot in our present context of terms, is questioned about her “gender”, she is uncomfortable because the author may be trying to place her in the traditional masculine or feminine constraints of the time period. Mattie uncomfortably cites her clothes, perhaps because it may be the only link to help her identity as such, in an attempt to place herself in the feminine society of that era.

      I say this because in Victorian era, it seems that they did not highlight distinction between gender and sex, and seemingly blended the 2 terms interchangeably. Perhaps the author is trying to highlight this fact through the use of Mattie as an automaton, which grants confusion to the humans of that time period, humans which were more likely to uphold Victorian beliefs. We can contrast this with the Gargoyles, the author may have intended the Gargoyles to be a dwindling race, with different beliefs of gender from the Victorian era. Perhaps this is the reason why the humans had to be more skeptical of Mattie the automaton, namely an author’s attempt to highlight the era of the time.

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    2. Jeremy Lehn

      As a writer myself, I am the sort of person who likes to look at things from an objective and somewhat contrary point of view, and sometimes that means being the voice that disrupts the echo chamber, particularly when it comes to gender politics. Frankly, I found it hard to stomach the novel as a whole, not because of anything explicitly stated, but because I recognized that its subtext had so much potential to be used as fodder. Fascinatingly enough, in the modern era of so-called “social justice”, my own voice is often silenced, due to the mistaken belief that heterosexual white men are incapable of providing any sort of original commentary on political issues because they supposedly “can’t be” oppressed. I personally find this distasteful and offensive, since if someone know what it’s like to be disregarded, they should also be aware that doing the same to others is an act of hypocrisy.

      In regards to your questions, however, I am of the opinion that Mattie is female because, in addition to evoking the image of Victorian women, it makes her relationship with Loharri feel more intimate, and highlights the possibility of sexual tension between them, as well as making it more obvious when that expectation is ignored. That tension could not have been achieved even if the genders of both Mattie and Loharri were switched, due to literary double standards. While I’m at it, it’s not too far to suggest slavery with the automatons – in fact, I’m certain this is exactly what was meant to be portrayed, but on a further level, it comes across to me as more of a metaphor for how ideological rebels tend to view those who do not choose to rebel with them as soulless “enablers”. The catch here is that, as you said, they do not have free and conscious thought, and so they are not capable of feeling dissatisfaction as Mattie did. She only believes that they might be able to because of her own experience, and therefore, we cannot entirely trust her perspective, even though she is the eyes from which we view the book’s world. I might even go so far as to suggest that the reason humans are skeptical of Mattie is because, since there is no evidence of other automatons in Ayoran society who think and feel as she does, she is therefore an anomaly. (I haven’t read the whole novel yet, so I could be mistaken, but that was my impression from the first 50 pages or so.)

      This is delving a bit into the personal, but bear with me: I find it difficult to truly empathize with Mattie as a character, because in spite of her character being written as different from the other automatons, due both to her cognitive capabilities and her status as protagonist, she is still a member of a political faction, and therefore, a player who has joined a side, which, from what I understand, seeks to topple the current system out of the obstinant belief that the way the Mechanics run the city is inherently flawed, without giving enough thought to the possibility of their own shortcomings. Writers, especially cyberpunk and steampunk writers, appear to be under the assumption that humanity itself and its creations are destined to be at odds with nature rather than capable of integrating and cohabitating with it, and it is in this not-so-subtly villainous way that the Mechanics are depicted, moreso because we see them through Mattie’s perspective, not only as their creation, but their political opponent. Then again, I suppose it’s only natural: If such writers had any faith in humanity, they’d be writing solarpunk instead.

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  9. Brittany Groebmair

    In the Alchemy of Stone, there are two main factions, the Alchemists and the Mechanics. From what I have read thus far, the Mechanics hold the most power and respect within society as they hold the majority, and are able to make decisions within the city of Ayona regarding development and production; however, there is a constant power struggle between the two factions. The mechanics’ role is to be the industrial powerhouse, while the alchemists are significant through their ability to alter while being more in touch with nature than the Mechanics could be. The roles of the Mechanics and the Alchemists in Ayona contrast and as an Alchemist automaton, Mattie is essentially caught between the two faction systems. The Alchemists are those who bring a fantasy-element to the book as they utilize their magical-skills, while the Mechanics (and their developing environment) offer the steam-punk element. The gargoyles are also important to this novel, as they are going extinct but are seen as the spiritual foundation of the society in which they overlook.

    I find the dividing of roles by these factions to be similar to class systems in our society, where there are groups of people who are divided based on their skills/what they contribute to society, and how they rank on a social standing. When considering this as a political system, I think dividing the “classes” of characters in this book allows me to easily understand and decipher the distinction between the factions and their relationship to Ayona on a political front. I think Sedia offered a simplistic explanation of the city’s divide and allows us to make a connection through our experiences with our own political systems as well.

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  10. Emily McKay

    In the Alchemy of Stone, I have found it very interesting to see how Mattie fits in and interacts with the political system present in the novel. In the first 50 pages she seems to be, and even says she is, “invisible” to the mechanics. I think that her use of this invisible trait, as a listener, is what makes her so much smarter then the other automations seem to be. I also find her relationship with Loharri a very good reflection of the political system that is evident in the story. I wonder if he is using her for some kind of gain? I feel that although he has given her the right to be emancipated, he doesn’t truly treat her in that way, still calling her his and keeping her key. I wonder if he has aloud her to become an alchemist to gain insight on the alchemists and their seek for power, yet he seems to have a lot of feeling for her. My main point of interest so far in the book is why Mattie is the way she is? I wonder why Loharri has made her to feel and think while other automations can’t? Is this a way of him not alining with his fellow mechanics? Is he instead alined with the alchemists?

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  11. Zach Morrison

    Within the first three chapters of Sedia’s The Alchemy of Stone there are two separate instances where the stories narration changes from third-person omniscient to the first-person perspective of the gargoyles. In both of these scenes, the gargoyles give accounts of their surveillance of Mattie, and their covert means of spying on the emancipated automaton: “[w]e watch from the secret places of the city–the rooftops and rain-gutters, the awnings of bakeries and scaffoldings rising around new buildings–as the girl and the man walk through the dark streets” (Sedia 31). At this point in the novel, the role and purpose of gargoyles within Ayona is still largely ambiguous, with our only information about the creatures coming from the aforementioned first-person accounts and the conversation between Bergen and the other Mechanics (Sedia 42). Why does Sedia choose to use first-person narration to introduce us to the gargoyles? How do these episodes influence our perception of the still-mysterious race?

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  12. Jane Wishart

    Within the first fifty pages of Ekaterina Sedia’s /The Alchemy of Stone/, it becomes apparent that themes of magic (or fantasy) and mechanical are working together to demonstrate the different functions of power and government. There is something increasingly dizzying about the combination of all the different types of beings of Sedia’s novel. Creating a rift for dominance between the magical alchemists and the pragmatic mechanics.
    It seems that the mechanics hold the most governing power in the city of Ayona. As they make the majority of decisions regarding production and development. The mechanics represent the more steam-science side of steampunk literature. Although the mechanics have control over infrastructure, that does not mean they are uncontested. In order to be “punk”, the novel must oppose more modern technology and Sedia seems to do this with the alchemists. Alchemy, an extremely old variation of science and medicine, further contradicts the rapid development brought on by the industrial revolution. In this way, it opposes even the steam technology we have discussed in class. By putting these two versions of technology at odds within governing power, Sedia emphasizes the combination of art and technology within steampunk literature.

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  13. In Exaterina Sedia’s novel The Alchemy of Stone, the political system is divided into 3 distinct components. The Mechanics seem to be humans, clever and imaginative, that can build exquisite devices such as living moving automatons. The Alchemists on the other hand are potion masters, able to brew elixirs and poultices for seemingly every purpose. Thirdly there is the Duke, who seems to be a monarchy in this system.
    This set up seems to mirror our own constitutional monarchy, albeit with fewer parties. The Mechanics seem to represent industry, the mathematical precision of their creations and their approach to looking at problems both signify a very industrial look. The Alchemists on the other hand seem much less precise. Their craft is mystical, magical, with a lot more hand waving and experimenting.
    It is said that the current set up of government with the Duke residing over the factions is critical or there would be civil war. This seems to be a set up for some conflict between the two parties. Maybe Sedia is saying that without overarching establishments like the Duke and the gargoyle’s, people are just too different and would be at each other’s throats.

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  14. Katie G

    The Alchemy of the Stone diverges from “typical” steampunk literature in the fact that it creates new political parties (factions?), the Mechanics and the Alchemists, as well as introducing a group called the gargoyles. Reading the first fifty or so pages, the story felt more fantasy to me, in the terms of the gargoyles which seem more like a fantasy race to me, or science fiction with Mattie being an automaton. The only Victorian steampunk element is the time period, hinted by Mattie’s clothes: “the shape of them is built into me–I know that you have to wear corsets and hoops and stays to give your clothes a proper shape” (18). I’m curious to know how the political dynamics turn out, and if they are a metaphor for a real life scenario. And I’m also curious to know if the text will reveal more about where this scenario is set up and how it came to be. The Difference Engine is a story set up because the analytical engine was invented earlier, but I’m curious as to how this society presented in the Alchemy of Stone came to be. Or if we’ll even be given this information. It’s interesting how the author uses the concept of alchemy, a concept I would not usually associate with the Victorian period (for their focus more on the sciences), as well as the greater prominence of female characters. The author seems to have taken common ideas that we associate with steampunk and then subvert them.

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  15. Thao Tran

    From the first 50 pages of “The Alchemy of Stone” by Ekaterina Sedia, we learn that the political system of Ayona is divided into two parties,the Mechanics and Alchemists. The Mechanics have currently won the majority in Parliament, and with it, have increased the pace of industrialization and renovations to the city (15). Mechanics focus mainly on inorganic creation, through automatons, infrastructure and constantly “improving upon what was not broken” (44). In contrast, Alchemists use nature and organic materials.

    The third party, the court of The Duke and the Gargoyles act as a figurehead of sorts, and their neutrality acts as a form of stability for the conflicts between the two main factions. The Duke is a traditional representation of society, and those within the two main factions can attain more political power through the “traditional route” with the Duke’s courtiers (41). The Gargoyles are the mysterious figures in this world, with the main character, Mattie, focusing on learning more about them. They’re somehow closely connected to the Duke and his court, and possibly, through understanding more about them, one or both parties could total political control.

    I think it’s interesting how the main political factions are focusing on the natural (Alchemy) versus unnatural (Mechanics) and the civil disagreements that will eventually arise. There is clear civil unrest between which of the two is more superior than the other, and I am as intrigued as Mattie regarding these mysterious Gargoyles and their significance to society.

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  16. Rebecca Scott

    [Spoilers up to page 75]

    The way the political factions are described early in “The Alchemy of Stone”, the author immediately sets up the tension between the opposing sides within Mattie, an automaton built by a Mechanic but trained as an Alchemist. Early on, the Mechanics are characterized as far more prejudiced than the Alchemists, who accept Mattie into their Society rather than viewing automatons as subservient to humans. However, after helping out Niobe, a foreigner, at the Alchemist’s meeting, she admits that “[Alchemists] won’t be rude to you; at least, not to your face.” (74). Despite proclaiming to protect all of the natural world and its magic against the industrial exploitation of the Mechanics, the Alchemists are still distrustful of outsiders and unwilling to accept the kind of knowledge that Niobe brings from her homeland.

    The third faction, which has been steadily declining in power as the city becomes more and more polarized, are the Gargoyles; supernatural creatures that the city regards as benefactors and have been incorporated into large aspects of the city’s culture. Bergen, a Mechanic friend of Loharri, emphasizes their continued importance in the interest of avoiding a civil war with the Alchemists. He perceives the Gargoyles as providing spiritual guidance to the city, which he says “… be it superstition or tradition, is not always a bad thing. Some people need an external compass.” (42). This delicate balance of nature, technology and spirituality in the city has been slipping out of control, which the author reasons can only be solved by the unity of each faction within individual people. Caught between these philosophies and also an outsider as a woman and an AI, Mattie represents the hope to keep the city using these ideologies for progression and evolution rather than division, prejudice and civil war.

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  17. Joshua Simpson

    The Alchemy of Stone provides a fantastic dichotomy between the mechanical, manufactured world and the natural world. By mixing the steampunk aesthetic (the automatons, the engineer party and the Victorian style, the clothes in which Mattie is created) with elements of fantasy (Gargoyles, potions and alchemy, ghosts and Soul-Smokers) Ekaterina Sedia is able to capably display the fear and uncertainty of the natural world that is still felt even in the face of technological aptitude. The Soul-Smoker is met with fear and stereotyping as people think that he will remove their soul if they draw to near, a fear that Mattie seems to think might not be warranted. Additionally the reader is shown that the Soul-Smoker himself is nothing to fear, he is kind and almost shy as he starts at every one of Mattie’s moments of contact. Mattie however, is met with either reverence for being an emancipated automaton or is generally ignored by those with technical aptitude. Thus, the reader is exposed to a notion that what is made and manufactured is almost more natural than nature itself. Furthermore the text seems to place constant emphasis upon colour and scent, primarily, in the area of colour, red and pale. The use of these senses helps to bridge a portion of the gap between the mechanical and the natural as they are important natural senses, sight and smell and the senses that Mattie uses to primarily interact with the world around her.

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  18. I really enjoyed the first 50 pages of the Alchemy of Stone. What stood out to me most is the relationship between Mattie and Loharri. There seems to be this strong father / daughter vibe and yet Mattie is a mechanical creation of Loharri. The ideas surrounding identity, and creation are the most intriguing off the bat and I’m looking forward to the book exploring those more.

    The power dynamics between the mechanics and the alchemists is intriguing as well. It makes me think of this idea of hegemony and how power is constantly shifting throughout the various spheres of society. The dominant players now may not be dominant for long. So it’s interesting to see that balance at play between the alchemists and the mechanics coming to the forefront more and more.

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  19. James.

    I believe that Sedia has chosen to divide her fictional society along these fault-lines because she has decided to use the differential types of power possessed by the various groups of people as a “medium” for the problems that exist in or have existed in, the real world. Notice the word “emancipated ” is used to describe the automotons who are independent and not subject to the will of a master. The word emancipated has been used to describe freed slaves in the real world in the 19th century. The old aristocracy for its part represents the real life societal problem of bygone and useless traditions that no one muster the energy to get rid of.

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