The Haunting of Tram Car 015by P. Djèlí Clark Published 19 Feb 2019
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The Haunting of Tram Car 015 returns to the alternate Cairo of Clark’s short fiction, where humans live and work alongside otherworldly beings; the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities handles the issues that can arise between the magical and the mundane. Senior Agent Hamed al-Nasr shows his new partner Agent Onsi the ropes of investigation when they are called to subdue a dangerous, possessed tram car. What starts off as a simple matter of exorcism, however, becomes more complicated as the origins of the demon inside are revealed.
"The Haunting of Tram Car 015" Reviews
Listened to the audio version and I found the story so good! I only wish it had been longer.
Absolutely terrific. A fantasy-detective novella set in an alternate early 20th century Cairo, where the emergence of djinn a few decades ago have turned Egypt into the main global power. Our heroes are from the supernatural department of the police, attempting to deal with what looks like a routine haunting of an aerial tram car, which rapidly lurches out of control. Brilliant world building, which manages to be super vivid and detailed without ever feeling overloaded or slowing the story, and indeed creates a more convincing world in 144pp than most fantasy novels manage in 600. Fantastic flavour of time and place too. Very highly recommended. May there be a lot more stories set in this world.
Actual rating: 4.25
Great worldbuilding in such a short book. I hope the author writes more stories in this universe.
Set in 1912 in the same alt-history story universe as the author’s A Dead Djinn in Cairo, The Haunting of Tram Car 015 excels on multiple fronts: as a [magical] detective yarn, as a chilling, classically structured haunted house story, and as a vehicle for historian Clark’s speculative re-imagining of modern Egyptian civilization. The story follows Hamed Nasr, an agent for the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities, and his eager but inexperienced new partner Onsi and they investigate the titular event. The intricate detail imbued in the story’s setting is the star of the show—I would be happy to get lost wandering the streets of Clark’s Cairo—but that takes nothing away from the wonderful cast of characters and sublime plot execution. The climax is a true nail-biter, with a resolution that resonates. Extra points for a protagonist who can wax anthropological about folklore.
A monster-of-the-week story set in a well worn, beautifully expansive world. It is unique, charming, and deeply magical in a way that only asks for more stories to be told.
“Wait, your tram is haunted?” The superintendent answered with a dour nod that made his moustache droop. “Tram 015, that runs the line down to the Old City. It’s one of the newer models that came out in 1910. Only two years in service, and we’re already having these troubles. God protect us!” “I didn’t know trams could be haunted,” Onsi murmured, plopping another sudjukh in his mouth."
This is a bizarre and harrowing fast ride on an urban elevated tram system in an “alternate” Cairo, Egypt of a hundred years ago.
"The city was growing by the day, from the cramped downtown to the south, to the mansions and well-tended gardens in wealthy Gezira. And that was just on the ground. Because up here was another world entirely. The pointed steel turrets atop Ramses Station that mimicked golden minarets served as mooring masts for airships. Most of these ships were lightweight dirigibles that shuttled between Cairo and the main port of Alexandria by the hour, discharging passengers from across the Mediterranean and beyond. Some medium-sized crafts sat among them, heading south to Luxor and Aswan and as far as Khartoum. One giant vessel dwarfed the others, hovering impossibly like a small blue oval moon: a six-propeller heavy class that could make uninterrupted trips east to Bengal, down to Capetown, or even across the Atlantic. Most of Cairo, however, got around by less extravagant means."
Hamed and Onsi are two of the agents of the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments, and Supernatural Entities. Hamed is the veteran who has just been given recent graduate Onsi as his partner.
“What’s the next step for first encounters with an unknown supernatural entity, Agent Onsi?” Hamed quizzed, keeping his eyes on the thing. “Perform a standard greeting to ascertain its level of sentience,” the man answered on cue. It took a brief awkward silence for him to comprehend that Hamed meant him to perform the task. His mouth made a perfect “Oh!” as he hastily drew out a folded document. Opening it revealed a sepia-toned photo of his beaming face above a blue and gold Ministry seal. “Good morning, unknown being,” he said in loud slow words, holding up his identification. “I am Agent Onsi and this is Agent Hamed of the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments, and Supernatural Entities. We hereby inform you that you are in breach of several regulations governing paranormal persons and sentient creatures, beginning with Article 273 of the criminal code which forbids trespass and inhabitation of public property owned by the State, Article 275 on acts of terrifying and intimidation of citizens . . .” Hamed listened stupefied as the man rattled off a series of violations. He wasn’t even certain when some of those had been put on the books. “ . . . and given the aforementioned charges,” Onsi continued, “you are hereby instructed to vacate these premises and return to your place of origin, or, barring that, to accompany us to the Ministry for further questioning.” Finishing, he turned with a satisfied nod. Rookies, Hamed grumbled quietly."
This is a world where djinn have a place, but women are second-class at best. But not for long, because there is legislation that will give women greater rights being considered as this story unfolds. This is also a world where golem and/or robots are used in daily life. Are they becoming sentient? If so, do they have rights?
“Thinking beings, whether wrought by God or man, should not be bound to serve but have the right of choosing their lot. In the People’s Republic, all forms of bondage have been done away with. No man or woman may hold another as property. Neither do we allow sentient tram cars or machine-men made in our likeness to toil to our whims while we profit from their labor. Al-Jahiz himself, as you know, was a slave soldier to one of your pashas. He spoke often on the harm that enslavement does to the souls of those bound by the chain, and the souls of those who wield it. Many djinn would tell you as much, for they abhor slavery perhaps greater than all other earthly vice.” Hamed was somewhat familiar with that history. Slavery had been abolished with the birth of an independent Egypt back in ’83. In Soudan, however, the early Mahdist movement had sought to revive the practice—until a djinn converted its leadership to Revolutionary Sufism."
P. Djèlí Clark packs a great deal into this novella, but that isn’t new for this author. It’s a good fast excursion into this world also seen in A Dead Djinn in Cairo https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...
My GR compatriots, Carol and Geoff, seem to be as enthusiastic as I am about this author. How about you?