DAW, $4.99, ISBN 0-88677-545-0
If Mike Resnick’s name has a familiar ring to it, that’s because he’s the father of Laura Resnick, the fantasy author who also writes romances under the name Laura Leone. Laura Resnick also contributes a novella here and it’s one of the more bittersweet romantic stories of the lot. Aladdin: Master of the Lamp is an anthology that is all about wishes and desires. No, it’s not just about Aladdin, it’s also about what happens to people when they get a chance to have their wishes come true once or three times over, depending on which author is doing the writing. It’s about the genies or djinns who, in between granting wishes to foolish mortals that make a mess out of everything, must somehow wish that they too could be free or be loved for themselves.
Forty-three authors, including notable names of the genre in the 1990s like Katherine Kerr, Jane Yolen, and Pat Cardigan, are invited to offer their own interpretations on the wish business. Aladdin need not feature in every novellas and sometimes the authors even offer their own interpretation of the original genie canon. The result is a varied and eminently enjoyable anthology. Instead of me detailing my thoughts on every story, I’ll just point out the ones that I find particularly memorable.
There are farces involving humorous antics of Aladdin or his family after the happily-ever-after of the original folk tale. Jane Yolen’s The Tale of the Seventeenth Eunuch is a hilarious story of what happens when Aladdin’s widow stumbles on the magic lamp and insists that the cowed djinns restore her husband back to life. It can’t be done, of course, as Aladdin’s mouldy maggot food by then. Brian M Thomsen’s A Guy Named Al is farce with a capital F, a parody of Sam Spade stories, as a Mustafa “Mouse” Chandler, a PI in those days, accepts a job from his new client, the Forty Thieves Gang, to investigate an “Ali”, only to somehow confuse Ali Baba with Aladdin. The result is one big headache, not to mention broken bones, bruises, and a dead body.
Other authors offer their own brand of comedy. David Gerrold must be exorcising his ill-feelings for lawyers when he writes A Wish for Smish, where the most repulsive Hollywood lawyer in existence tries to create the most iron-clad wish contract so that a genie will not find any opportunity to break the contract or use a loophole to make life difficult for Smish. As these things tend to be, he overlooks one obvious loophole in his final contract. Josepha Sherman may be another fantasy author who looks at the romance genre with a degree of scorn, but her overworked curator heroine in Stacked ends up becoming a successful historical romance author with the aid of a neat, downsized, and disenfranchised genie.
There are predictable cautionary tales of what happens when people misuse their wishes. John Betancourt’s In Their Cups at Slab’s is a more imaginative novella of this sort, with three thieves being granted their wishes by a ghost in a tavern. One wishes to have his hand back, the other wishes to have a nickname that he can live up to, and the third one wishes to be rich beyond human imagination. Guess which one meets a bad end. The Three Thieves by Lois Tilton is a amusing cautionary tale written in the style of Arabian Nights, where three thieves fight over themselves for a chance to have their three wishes granted, only to pay dearly for their temerity. Jack C Haldeman’s Dirt Track Demon is a somewhat unimaginative, straightforward tale of a cocky dirt-track racer who goes too far when he discovers a wish-granting genie in a carburetor.
But comedy or action-packed tales aside, I tend to gravitate towards stories that emphasize more on the philosophical or emotional aspects of the genie-human dynamics and there are plenty of such stories here for me to enjoy. Laura Resnick’s Yasmine tells the story of a female djinn who falls in love with a man that releases her from her bottle, but in the end, they always choose the third wish over her love.
Some authors decide to be more philosophical than others. Pat Cadigan’s New Life for Old is a poignant story of a seventy-year old woman who decides to be twenty again for a day, but after living out that day, she realizes that she may had the best day of her life, but there are bittersweet lessons to be learned at the end of the day. Barry N Malzberg’s On the Heath has Aladdin becoming King Lear (well, perhaps he wished for immortality and then moved to Europe … never mind). Furious at his daughters Regan and Goneril, he wishes for a daughter who loves him (Cordelia), but this wish is not enough to keep the foolish Aladdin/King Lear from letting his pride and hubris get in the way and allowing to happen the subsequent tragedy as per Shakespeare’s play. Derek in Martha Soukup’s Last Wish ponders over one wish that he can make to make him really happy and in the end realizes that it’s best that he makes things happen instead of waiting for opportunities to come to him. But a little genie magic never hurts, of course.
Meanwhile in If Wishes Were Genie’s, authors Terry McGarry and Austin Dridge has a genie who doesn’t hesitate to bend the rules to get someone to wish this genie his freedom. Three subsequent couples wish for wealth, power, and youth (they aren’t very imaginative people) but with this genie around, they probably should’ve just wished for a new genie. A power couple find themselves twenty-one again and wealthy beyond their dreams, but the trouble is, at twenty-one these two are still left-wing activists at heart and their money fail to bring them happiness at all. No, giving the money away does, much to their dismay! The other two couples fare no better.
Karen Haber’s The Genie of P.S. #32 is a straightforward comedy drama about a husband and wife who make a living traveling around playing Aladdin and the Magic Lamp to children in schools or other kiddie venues. They don’t make much, but they’re happy, in love, and content. When their lamp is stolen and they end up with a new lamp that makes their wishes come true (without them knowing it), their life changes, although it may not be for the better. Still, there’s a happy ending and this story is as close to a conventional romance story as one can get, with love being one of the lessons to be learned by our main characters.
My favorite is Michelle Sagara’s Gifted. It’s probably too sentimental for some readers, but I really like it. In this novella, genies die after granting three wishes to mortals that they are beholden to. Over the centuries, these genies try to hide or find ways to make sure that the wishes they grant would somehow leave behind a lasting impact in the world. None could, however, and now, only one genie remains in existence. But even then, he can’t resist his calling when he comes to the aid of a dying old woman. An unlikely friendship develops and for a long time, the genie nearly forgets that he owes her two more wishes and once these wishes are granted, he will be no more. The inevitable has to happen and when it happens, I get choked up a little. There’s a happy ending but it’s one that leaves me teary-eyed nonetheless. Ms Sagara, in such a short story, nonetheless manages to create a sympathetic lonely genie who finds the courage to sacrifice himself for someone he loves.
The best anthologies are those that offer a variety of stories that cater to all sorts of moods. Aladdin: Master of the Lamp has dark comedy, farce, light comedy, romance, action, and drama presented in a variety of forms and styles. There is no shortage of variety in this instance. And when there is hardly any clunker in this bunch, when many of the shortest works feel like stories in their own right rather than fillers, the result is one happy reader.