It's been a long time since I read any of Turtledove's work and this one (along with a few others) has been sitting in my reading pile for years. A reorganisation of the large pile into several neat stacks (thereby allowing me to enjoy the illusion of progress) happened to bring this book to the top of one stack, so I finally picked it up in the hope of enjoying some light entertainment. I was not disappointed.
David Fisher works for the Californian branch of the Environmental Perfection Agency in a very different world: one in which magic, sorcery, demons, gods and other manifestations of the Other Side are thriving on This Side, and deliver many of the services that technology does for us. For instance, travel is by magic carpet, and telephones and the ethernet work by using cloned imps transmitting information between themselves. Fisher's job involves making sure that none of these manifestations cause trouble by getting out of hand or reacting with each other.
His work is mostly routine until he is given the task of checking out a local toxic spell dump – where the nasty residues of magic are securely stored – to follow up reports of leakages from the dump affecting the local population. What he discovers sparks off a major investigation that gradually spreads to include native American gods, and threatens the very existence of the Judeo-Christian Western Civilisation.
There is a lot of humour in the tale, mostly resulting from the juxtaposition of the familiar with the strange, and it is liberally spiced with puns of all kinds; for instance jinnetic engineering and virtuous reality. The Department of Defense is based in the Pentagram, the CIA really does employ spooks, a spellchecker is something entirely different and there's a groan-inducing joke about the San Andreas Fault.
Although published in 1993, the book first struck me as reading very much like a fantasy spoof from the 1960s, except for the sexual activity between Fisher and his girlfriend that wouldn't have featured then. Later in the story, as Fisher desperately tries to keep on top of his growing list of things to do while being constantly diverted from the task he thinks is most important, I was reminded of the humour of Connie Willis. This kind of story won't be to everyone's taste, but I enjoyed it.
I started Equations of Life by Simon Morden, the first of a favourably reviewed series set in a decidedly different, future London, but I didn't get very far, and gave up after three attempts. The setting is dystopian, the principal character unsympathetic, and the plot rather grim, none of which appeals to me. I have too many other things to read…