S.P. Somtow (a pseudonym for Somtow Sucharitkul) is one of Thailand's most fascinating and prolific exports – after distinguished careers abroad in music, then literature (he is an award-winning SF, Fantasy, and Horror author) he is now back in Thailand, writing and staging operas (his latest project is a 10-Opera cycle based on the 10 lives of the Buddha) in-between touring the world with his Siam Sinfonetta youth orchestra. Oh, and writing books again, too, like the one here. He has published 53 books (his count) and 6 libretti (these are 2013 figures. I'm sure he has added to that since...).
Bible Stories for Secular Humanists is a topical collection, containing a bunch of religious or religion-based stories, with a rather different interpretation or spin on them. Quite some of them contain horror elements – it seems that religion and horror are easy bedfellows. I leave the argumentation (and this book can lead to endless arguments I daresay!) to the reader...
The collection starts with an essay, nay, a column from Iniquities Magazine, called 'Theology for Secular Humanists' (you see where the inspiration for the title/collection came from); the rest of the book is structured into parts labeled Genesis, Protoevangelion, Passion, Acts, Judgment, Apocalypse, Apocrypha, Genesis. Most of those contain one story, a few contain two. Each story comes with a short introduction by the author, telling us something of the background to it – some of these are tantalising, some are fascinating, and some are little stories of their own... The opening essay develops the idea that horror fiction is deeply religious, besides being about sex and death (er, and most religion is about - ?). It's a mighty triumvirate, that, I reckon.
Below is a run-through of the individual stories – if this bothers you then stop reading here – all I can tell you is that this is entertaining, in large parts thought-provoking, and a great read for everyone with an interest in religion-based fiction, regardless of how religious you are. And if you're the religious type who's looking to be offended then you've come to the right place, too...
I only picked this book up by chance, having thought that I had read all books by Iain M. Banks (the SF writer incarnation of the late writer) – until I saw this copy of Transition. I have meanwhile learned that, in most places, most editions of this book were published under Iain Banks (the mainstream novelist incarnation); except an American PB edition (which is what I have), and, I think, a French edition, too.
I guess you can rate the book as one or the other list – and I don’t think Iain had any problem with that either.
So, depending on how you look at it, either we have here a rather splendid story with secret organisation, working across the many worlds of a multiverse, with political machinations, and surprising twists and turns. Or, alternatively, we have a clever comment on the US, on rendition and forced information extraction, the legality thereof, and, as some people have pointed out, imperialism. Or maybe, if you dare, you have both. Which is rather grand, if you ask me.
Either way, the book begins with someone claiming to be an 'unreliable narrator', giving us a number of beginnings, and an ending (he gets killed), just for good measure. Thereon we follow multiple threads, all told through the eyes of the respective protagonist – some direct action descriptions, but mostly reflective, introspective, plus some confessionals; all of them under the title, er, label of the protagonist in question (Patient 8262, hiding away, biding his time. The Philosopher – ex army and police 'interrogator', now working for the Concern. The Transitioner – adept at travelling between the different worlds, and mostly working as an interdimensional assassin now. Plus some more, some of them named).
I have no idea how this short piece by Douglas R. Hofstadter, one of my heroes (as much as he does my head in at times), managed to pass me by for such a long time. I blame my friends and fellow bloggers for failing to point this out to me ...
Douglas uses an analogy which as simple as it is shocking - he talks about our uses of sexist language, and on his struggle to change his own usage, by writing an analogy in the language of racism, which for most of us (there's sadly some Neatherthals left, still) is an absolute no-no.
Of course, this being Hofstadter, this is not a straight switch, but with some clever observations of language as well as invented by very believable parables thrown in, and a brief afterword talking about his motivations for the piece as well as his own struggles with the topic.
Yes, I've spoiled your surprise, now; but not your enjoyment of Hofstadter's fine writing. Go read it, and then pass it on.
Tricia Sullivan is a US-born novelist now living in the UK. ISFDB lists 12 books for her (some were written under a pseudonym), she herself lists 8 of them as SF on her site. She has won the Arthur C. Clarke Award, and has been nominated for a number of others (and twice more for the Clarke), but, according to her blog, this critical success has not always translated into sales figures. I would hope that her latest offering, Occupy Me, can change this. Yes, the market is fickle, but the book tells a cracking tale that's hard to pigeonhole, told in a convincing and absorbing manner. I find it genuinely hard to classify this story, and have to say that, in this case, this is A Good Thing.
Occupy Me contains an Angel called Pearl, with wings hidden in another dimension, working as a stewardess – Angels have empathic abilities, and can thus affect humans and animals; and Pearl is a pathological sucker for fixing things and smoothing over issues. It features a doctor, Kisi Sorle, saved from death as boy by the oil company killing his homeland and its inhabitants, who now looks after the dying former CEO of said oil company. Who he skimmed from whilst Austen Stevens skimmed from his company. And Kisi has an evil twin, a Hyde to his Dr Jekyll, so to say – who can inhabit him (ok, ok, occupy him) and do things mild-mannered Kisi would never do. Pearl is missing part of herself (her 'launcher' she calls it) and is thus stranded in this odd corner of space-time, and is generally unclear of what she is or what she should be doing: “There's so much I haven't figured out yet, and most of it is myself”
Alternate Gerrolds is a collection of short stories by David Gerrold, subtitled “An Assortment of Fictitious Lives”, with an Introduction by Mike Resnick (a good number of the stories here were written for his Alternate Presidents/ Kennedys/ Warriors/ Outlaws/ etc series) and a back cover endorsement by Orson Scott Card, of all people – I couldn't see this happen these days.
All stories in this collection have been previously published, ie there is no 'new' material here besides the Introduction by Resnick ('10 Reasons why I Hate David Gerrold'), and a piece in response by Gerrold titled 'Skip this Part'. Every story comes with a very brief intro/explanation/quip by the author – despite their brevity they actually manage to provide a further layer, a further dimension to most stories.
Below is a run-through of the stories in the volume – if you feel that this would affect your enjoyment of these, and might contain spoilers (it might indeed) then stop here – this is a book well worth reading and enjoying; it's not David Gerrold's best work (there can only be one of those!), but it's full of interesting thought experiments, weird but wonderful ideas, and stimulating alternative thoughts.
Here's another marvellous short story by Karin Tidbeck, published on Tor.com. Sing talks about being, about becoming, and about belonging; and about the price we pay for those. I'd strongly recommend you give it a go (and her other short stories. And her books, inasmuch as available in English. Unless you read Swedish, of course!)
Tor gives us the following blurb for Sing:
In a village on the distant colony of Kiruna, the outcast Aino has worked hard to created a life for herself. The fragile status quo is upset when the offworlder Petr arrives and insists on becoming a part of her life. But he has no idea what it will cost him, and has cost Aino, to belong to the people who sing with inhuman voices.