Literature / The Case of the Toxic Spell Dump

The Case of the Toxic Spell Dump is a fantasy novel by Harry Turtledove.

The setting is a version of 20th-century America where technology is based on magic. Computing devices are run by micro-imps instead of microchips. The air pollution problem in the biggest cities isn't automobile exhaust, it's lint shed by flying carpets. The Environmental Perfection Agency's jurisdiction includes illegally-imported leprechauns and legendary creatures dying out from lack of belief. Also, it's a World of Pun.

EPA agent David Fisher's investigation into possible leakage from the eponymous industrial waste storage site starts out as a routine day at the office and ends up leading to a major conspiracy.

This novel contains examples of:

  • Book Ends: The novel begins with the narrator receiving a call from his boss in the middle of the night (and the boss blaming time zones). It ends with the narrator deliberately calling the boss at the same hour.
  • The Case Of: The title is The Case of the Toxic Spell Dump, which tells you this is going to be a detective story.
  • Chalk Outline: Justified because the chalk is a mystical substance that's intended to preserve the integrity of psychic evidence. Likewise, crime-scene tape is enchanted to ward off tamperers or the curious from the site of an investigation.
  • Fantastic Nuke: A "megasalamander" which can melt a whole city to slag.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Appliance: Clocks and telephones are all demon-powered, as is the "simularity", which is a form of radio. Hollywood produces "light and magic shows", the main character packs a rod instead of a gun, and cars are replaced by magic carpets.
  • Fantasy Gun Control: Mundane firearms (called "mechanicals", to distinguish them from wands) do exist, but in a far more primitive state. It's explained that wild elemental spirits are evidently attracted to explosives, and would cause the weapon to blow up if a gun used powder of greater than medieval-era purity.
  • Gods Need Prayer Badly: This has become the province of bureaucracy; the EPA is responsible for creating artificial cults to sustain "endangered gods". In this setting, it's especially clear that only worship will sustain a god: merely being acknowledged to exist doesn't suffice to keep them around. Thus, a pantheon of Chumash native deities can be dying out from lack of sincere prayers directed towards them, even though plenty of non-worshipers in the EPA are aware of their existence and concerned for their welfare as "endangered gods".
  • Gunship Rescue: Angel City is saved by the timely appearance of the Garuda bird, which qualifies as a ship because in this timeline the mighty Garuda is being outfitted for space travel by the setting's analog of NASA.
  • Hello, Nurse!: All succubi have this quality. When a bunch of them gather to picket city hall in protest over Angel City's new anti-vice laws, they don't bother to bring signs, because their "arguments" are self-evident.
  • Horny Devils: Succubi and incubi form picket-lines to protest Angel City's vice laws.
  • Istanbul Not Constantinople: The novel is set in Angels City, on the coast of the Peaceful Ocean, and just north of the Barony of Orange. On the East Coast of the Confederated Provinces are the District of St. Columba and the city of New Jorvik. Mention is also made of the nations Alemania and Persia, as well as a Hanese restaurant.
  • Magic Carpet: Everybody drives flying carpets instead of cars. Angel City still has a major air pollution problem, though, caused by stray fibres shed by thousands of carpets.
  • Magitek: The setting is a fantasy version of Los Angeles with magitek equivalents of 20th-century technology.
  • Mayincatec: Mesoamerican religion and the role of Human Sacrifice therein is a plot point.
  • Minor Crime Reveals Major Plot: A routine EPA investigation into a potential leak at an industrial waste dump uncovers a conspiracy to revive a God of Evil.
  • Modern Mayincatec Empire: Spain didn't colonize America until considerably later than in our world, so there's an Aztec empire (with a thin veneer of Spanishness) in the place of Mexico.
  • Never Was This Universe: There's no clear point of divergence from our history, only an implication that magic and supernatural creatures have always been around.
  • Our Souls Are Different: Exposure to arcane contamination can cause infants to be born without a soul and apparently simply stop existing after death—no afterlife, no nothing. It is seen as horrendously tragic. The condition is called "apsychia", and is considered a birth defect; the protagonist meets a medical researcher who is working on an experimental procedure in which tiny pieces of many souls are fused into, essentially, a synthetic soul which can then be implanted in the apsychic child. Whether this will actually work is still unclear.
  • Our Vampires Are Different: On encountering a vampire, lurking and attacking like some cross between a mugger and a stray dog, the Jewish protagonist tosses a Kabbalistic amulet at it to force it into wolf form, whereupon it runs away. Two interesting comments from the narrator:
    • The Star of David is useless for this, since it's not actually a holy symbol.
    • Under better circumstances, the vampire might have been able to enthrall him while he froze in fear... but after the day he's already had, a vampire attack is an anticlimax, and in his already-stunned condition he did the right thing on autopilot.
  • Raising the Steaks: A seamstress removes a fresh bloodstain from a piece of cloth by having her pet vampster lick it clean. Yes, that's a vampire hamster.
  • Religion Is Magic: All magic is ultimately based on applying to a relevant deity, which is one reason the EPA is so concerned about the keeping the divine ecosystem healthy. (If Hermes ever went, he'd take most of their telecommunications technology with him.)
  • Richard Nixon the Used Car Salesman: There is a brief appearance by a stern, impressively bearded US judge of Islamic origins named Ruhollah. It's mentioned that he left Persia when the secularist government was formed.
  • The Soulless: Exposure to arcane contamination can cause infants to be born without a soul; this is treated as a medical condition, called "apsychia", and a such a person doesn't inherently become evil or amoral, although there have been a few famous cases of people going off the rails after realizing that for them there will be no judgment in the next world.
  • Sufficiently Analyzed Magic
  • World of Pun: From Demon Strations (succubi protesting their zone restriction) and Spell Checkers (to check the quality of potions, of course) to Virtuous Reality and Djinnetic Engineering.