Bingo 14: Machinery
The Haunting of Tramcar 015 takes place in the same world as many of the author’s other works, a steampunk alternative history version of Cairo. The titular tramcar is a major part of the setting, the plot, and we even get some attention to the technical specs on how the tech is supposed to work; thus I would argue this novella/novelette qualifies for the technology focus square. The other reason for the label is that there’s a pretty detailed discussion of whether or not certain kinds of machines can be sentient enough to warrant autonomy in this world. The hero/main character is the Ministry Agent Hamed, who prefers to work alone but has been partnered with a newbie Agent, Onsi, and about halfway through the story they find themselves negotiating with someone who might be able to help them do an exorcism but the woman is reluctant to help at least at first in part because she’s unsure she wants to potentially violate the tramcar’s possible rights.
The plot is suggested by the title; the reason Hamed and Onsi get involved is that the local Superintendent of Tram Safety and Maintenance has had some incidents with the tram in questions leading him to believe it may be haunted. This is the main mystery, and the solution is actually enough of a twist that it’s both interesting and a good conclusion but it’s also a little bit silly.
The characters are a little bit recognizable to anyone who’s read stories in this world before or knows most any buddy cop type of tale, but the side characters and side not really plots but more like side themes really keep things interesting. Abda/Siti shows up to provide some assistance, and agent Fatma makes a brief appearance as well. You don’t really need to know any of the other stories for their presence to work, but it makes these short bits more interesting; for example, what would Hamed or Onsi say if they knew the connection between Siti and Fatma?
The major side theme is female suffrage since the women of Cairo are campaigning before a parliamentary vote to allow women to vote; this part is mostly world building except towards the end when it happens to intersect with the final confrontation with the “ghost”. There are also some hints about Hamed wanting some professional recognition which he sort of gets, but it’s in how he gets it and who realizes that that makes things entertaining.
I really appreciate the thought-provoking possibilities about gender, technology, and other things suggested by this story, especially since the story also works on a narrative and language craft level quite well. It’s a good and entertaining read, and those two things don’t always come together.