Egypt, France and the Solar System: books read

THE HAUNTING OF TRAM CAR 015 by P. Djeli Clark shows why libraries are wonderful: at $15 for a paperback novella, I’d never have bought it for myself, and so I’d have missed a first-rate story.

The setting is 20th century Egypt in an alternate history triggered when an Islamic mystic opened a gateway and let magic and the djinn back into the world. While Egypt isn’t the only nation affected, Cairo was ground zero, giving Egypt a head start; the nation threw off Western imperialism and is now one of the world’s great powers.The protagonists are detectives working for the government body dealing with supernatural threats; when one of the city’s elevated tram cars becomes possessed, they have to figure out by what, and how to get rid of it. Which proves, of course, more complicated than expected.

Clark has a great setting with lots of convincing detail (at least to someone who doesn’t know Egypt well) and he tells a good story. As he apparently has other novellas out, I look forward to when they all come out in an anthology down the road (it’ll be a lot more cost-effective to buy this one then).

ELEANOR AND THE EGRET: Taking Flight by John Layman and Sam Kieth is a really oddball France-set graphic novel. Eleanor is an artist, mysteriously blocked in her painting, working with a talking egret to steal paintings by the celebrated Anastasia Rue. Which the egret then feeds on. Det. Belanger is the cop on the case, trying to figure out the who and the why behind the thefts and finding himself quite charmed by this young lady, Eleanor, that he’s met. Rue, however, is not at all delighted … Goofy and charming, I really liked this one (a lot more than Layman’s Chew).

Rereading NORTHWEST SMITH by C.L. Moore was a frustrating experience, and not just because it omits Moore’s crossover between space mercenary Smith and her sword-and-sorcery warrior Jirel (my Jirel of Joiry collection doesn’t have it either). The stories are solidly in that pulp style I love so much, but read collectively, they’re too much alike — almost half of them follow the structure of the first, Shambleau, in having Smith deal with some exotically alien Bad Girl who wants to suck out his soul.  Smith himself is surprisingly ineffective as a protagonist; while Moore reminds us he’s tough, he’s usually helpless in the grip of paranormal forces so someone else, such as his sidekick Yarol, has to save the day. He’s also a lot nastier than I remember — he grumbles a lot about working for slavers in one story, but money’s tight so he goes ahead and does it. The stories still work, but in hindsight I’d have enjoyed them better if I’d slowed down the reading to maybe one story every couple of days, interspersed with other things.

#SFWApro. Cover by Stephen Martiniere, all rights to image remain with current holder.

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