Tom Holt, Djinn Rummy (Orbit, 1995)

The wish-fulfillment motif has been popular through the ages. Aladdin found his genie in a lamp. Barbara Eden portrayed one and launched a generation of boys yearning to be astronauts. Rarely though has a genie been as well-developed and intriguing as Kayaguchiya Integrated Circuits III, also known by his acronym as Kiss.

In Tom Holt's Djinn Rummy, the blatantly honest Kiss, a force 12 genie with an attitude, reveals many of the nuances of genie life. Underworked genies now turn to more mundane careers such as lift operation, holiday gift delivery and film special effects. (Did you think a mere mortal could create the Star Wars epic?) Yes, it's required to say "Your wish is my command," and "wealth beyond dreams of avarice" is the standard first request.

Insights aside, Djinn Rummy is as funny a book as one could wish for. When the drab and depressed Jane decides to kill herself, she purchases an antiquated brown bottle of aspirin. After settling into the train station waiting room, she turns the lid and, instead of little white pills, she releases the large and forceful Kiss from his glass prison. After a bit of bartering, he's indentured to her for life since, according to the owner's manual, it is legal to wish for more wishes!

Unfortunately for Kiss, Jane's a bit more than even one of the eight most powerful genies on earth can handle, especially when she's bent on establishing world peace and avoiding housework: "Kiss, save the world. Kiss, thwart the diabolical plans of that crazed megalomaniac wizard over there. Kiss, empty the ashtrays and do the washing up."

In fulfilling Jane's wishes and saving the planet, Kiss battles the equally powerful and entirely evil Philadelphia Machinery and Tool Corporation the Ninth (Philly Nine). The challenges begin with killer pansies created by warped environmentalists, progress through plagues following a very funny druids and frog segment, and literally end with missiles flying. Cupid, the only practicing force 13 supernatural power, and Sinbad the sailor even get involved.

Throughout it all, Djinn Rummy zips from scene to scene, offering tongue-in-check commentary on corporate sponsorship, nuclear war, insurance sales techniques, pop psychology, bachelor parties and love. The differing perceptions between males and females, whether they're humans or flying rugs, are deftly drafted and humorously anchored in reality. With a supersonic pace integrating numerous genies and a few resourceful mortals, the plot is as clever as the writing.

Djinn Rummy is subtitled "A work of comic genies," and I'll have to agree.

[ by Julie Bowerman ]