The Case of the Toxic Spell Dump Rating
Harry Turtledove
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David Fisher works for the Environmental Perfection Agency. (Yes, you read correctly.) His job is usually to determine the impact of importing such things as leprechauns to a new environment, or trying to figure out if a set of gods have lost enough of the human belief structure that sustains them to go extinct. But this time he is sent to investigate a more human problem. One of the toxic spell dumps in the area - those lots where remnants of conjurations with Beelzebub and other demons, among other nasties, are buried - seems to be leaking. He has to find out what is leaking and how. Of course, things are never that simple.

The book starts out... not fast, not slow, but actually kind of herky-jerky. The plot moves forward a little, then we get a paragraph or two of thoughts and exposition. Then it repeats. The first thirty or forty pages are like that. But at last things start moving along, the exposition gets wider spaced. Fisher's world is more or less like our own, but nearly everything is done magically; the setting has clear parallels with Anderson's Operation Chaos. And the world is full of puns; magic detectors are called "spellcheckers," and "jinn splicing" and "virtuous reality" are at the forefronts of progress. By and large, they're not bad puns, eliciting the mandatory groan. They don't usually come too fast to overwhelm the reader, though people who dislike the art will probably be seriously turned off fairly quickly. It never reaches a Xanth-level of obnoxiousness, though.

The one major fault I could find was that the virtuous reality I mentioned is... odd. It seems to operate very illogically to me, even considering this is in a high-magic world. If I think about it too long, I just end up thinking that it could not possibly have worked that way. The solution is not to think about it much. Still...

On the good side, the mystery of just what is going on is good. And even though the book is slow in some places, it certainly speeds up in the last quarter or so! The climax is very, very nice. If you liked Operation Chaos, and you can stand the puns, you'll like this.

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