Tom Holt,
Only Human
(Orbit, 1999)

When God and his son Jay pack up their tackle boxes and head off on their first holiday in 2,000 years, the lesser-known progeny, 18-year-old Kevin Christ, known as "Our Kid," discovers freedom for the first time. Despite his dad's warnings not to touch anything, young Kev logs onto Mainframe, the deities' recently installed computer system, presses a couple of keys and inadvertently commences soul switching between humans and objects or -- in the case of the Prime Minister -- between a human and a lemming.

The resulting silliness is Only Human, Tom Holt's opportunity to spoof multi-national technology corporations, religious officials and even fans who rudely inform authors that their earlier work was so much better than more recent efforts. I won't make the same uncouth complaint; Only Human is Holt in fine form -- observant, insightful and quite funny.

Two characters who revel in the complexities of being human are Leonardo, a dexterous and resourceful mechanic, who was formerly a bored milling machine, and Maria, the subject of a 15th-century painting, who trades bodies with an accountant. The Prime Minister-lemming connection is the most hilarious, especially the little critter's quest for a telephone and his subsequent realization regarding true leadership in the burrow.

The most human of the newly minted humans is Artofel, the Duke of Hell wage's clerk involuntarily transferred to the body of a vicar, who takes on the church, the stock market and a renegade band of other "Flipside" dukes who are set on capitalizing from Kevin's little eclipse error.

And, of course, the alien visitor Zxprxp coincidentally observes all of these amusingly human achievements and foibles.

Only Human does have a theological message, although it's never preachy -- except maybe for Uncle Ghost's addiction to watching snooker on the telly -- but you'll want to read it because it's lots of fun!

[ by Julie Bowerman ]

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