Wednesday, 29 November 2000

Tom Holt: Only Human (1999)

Edition: Orbit, 1999
Review number: 694

After the rather downbeat Wish You Were Here, Tom Holt has returned to farcical humour for his next novel. It starts with a fairly standard idea in this sort of fiction, when Kevin, disregarded younger son of the Supreme Being (jealous of his successful older brother Jay), accesses his father's computer while he's out fishing. He manages to make some changes to the universe, but can't undo them - the manual is very thin, being designed for use by the omniscient and omnipotent.

What he has actually managed to do is to swap souls around - not one human to another, but non-human and human:- a machine and its operator, an accountant and a painting, a lemming and the British Prime Minister, and so on. Each finds it difficult to fit in to his/her new environment, but things turn more serious when a group of demons starts trying to exploit the situation for their own ends.

Familiar territory this may be, but it is something Holt does better than most; Only Human is consistently funny. Some of the jokes might be a bit Anglocentric for American readers, but it is a return to form.

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