Thursday, December 23, 2010
The Case of the Toxic Spell Dump by Harry S. Turtledove
I'd been searching the used book stores here in town, trying to find the next book in the Videssos Cycle, by Turtledove, and had little success. Actually, none whatsoever. So, when I saw a standalone novel by Turtledove that I figured I could read without feeling too guilty, I grabbed it.
The Case of the Toxic Spell Dump is just pure fun. If you like puns and figuring out twisted references in a slightly skewed reality, this book is for you. The underlying assumption of this novel is that magic has taken the place of technology in the world from the very beginning, in an astonishing case of societal and political parallel evolution.
There are telephones that are powered by an imp at each end, sending their messages through the Other Side. There are flyways (freeways) in A.C. (Angel City, the analog of Los Angeles) clogged with magic carpets at rush hour. All medicine is performed by magic potions and healing spirits. Water elementals keep A.C. green via acqueducts from the mountains, Poseidon handles wastewater processing, and most of the gods, demons and other mythological creatures are alive and well.
I think it was Clarke's Law that stated that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable in its effects from magic. Well, Turtledove's corollary to that law would seem to be that sufficiently advanced magic is indistinguishable from technology in its effects, both good and bad. In The Case of the Toxic Spell Dump, we get to learn quite a lot about the side effects of powerful spells used in advanced magical technology.
Inspector Fisher of the EPA (Environmental Perfection Agency) gets a tip from a friend in high places that there may be something dangerous leaking from a containment facility in the Saint Ferdinand Valley north of A.C. During the course of his investigation, things begin to heat up rapidly.
This is a pretty good yarn, especially if you're into deciphering subtle - and sometimes unsubtle - plays upon words.