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...
Brimstone and Salt
(nominated for the Bram Stoker award by the International Horror Guild)
This is a re-telling of the story of Sodom and Gomorrah (what did they do in Gomorrah? Sodom is clear enough...), cast as an incest/abuse tale, featuring Lot and his daughter Shoshana. It is fun, if slightly over-egged. Very Somtow, then...
A Different Eden
Qabalah story, from an anthology which was never published, first time publication in English. “I guess now it upsets a few more people”, the author states in his introduction. It has Maria re-tell mysteries of Jesus' youth to Paul, who is starting up a new religion, and will edit these stories to fit/support/underpin his new creed. Very, very cynical, as you might gather.
This being a family story containing a mystical road trip it has more than a passing resemblance to parts of Riverrun.
Joshua barJoseph, Jesus to his Greek friends, was very very Jewish: no pork, no graven images, and no buggery. Told as a confession of a vampire to the pope?/church elders?/inquisition?. Essentially Jesus was a Gay Vampire – this should be as good a line as God is a DJ, surely? With more sex appeal? Blood, Sex, and Death, of course... and some strong opinions/comments re how religions come about/are started.
Hunting the Lion
A story of a Gumshoe in Rome. Christianity is considered New Age Nonsense. And it contains Zombies. No, really – think resurrection...
It's a farce. And a charade. And even if it slightly overstays its welcome it is obvious that Somtow had ways too much fun writing this!
An Alien Heresy
An Inquisitor faces an Alien emissary? scout? back in the place of his most horrific case, where he faces his own demons, and his failings in the shape of his son.
This is gripping, and uncomfortable. There isn't much in this that could be considered edifying. Especially not the religious skew on the mindsets.
A Voodoo/Zombie story set during the American Civil War, following the son of a travelling preacher, who has just deserted the (confederated) army, or what is left of it. Beautiful, haunting – no wonder that this story did not let him go (this was apparently developed into a novel at another point), after the short story which was written for a civil war collection called 'Confederacy of the Dead'. It has been, in its various guises, nominated for several awards, too.
Another farce, this time featuring technologically re-surrected dead. Sorry, CEC - computer enhanced cadavers. Techno-zombies, really. And the Morticians Union, and Native Indians, neither of which seem to be very taken with this, for some reason. I have, somewhere in the mists of time, read a variant of this, but cannot recall when and where... Totally over-drawn. Totally fun. And nominated for a Bram Stoker award.
Avoiding Close Encounters
This, in contrast, is a first publication. It focuses on a group of Christians, taken away/saved from persecution in Rome, and place in a hidden settlement on Mars. Cynical, in some way. And, I found, the most engaging, touching, and overall humanist story in the book.
A Thief in the Night
“It's tough to be the Antichrist. Nobody ever feels for the villain.” This is an unusual take on the war between good and bad, following the antichrist as he tracks down and eliminates yet another messiah – that the latest messiah is a rollerblading dood in California made me chuckle ... Oh, and this is a Unicorn story, too.
This story (and only this one) is tragically badly edited for some reason. Amazingly enough so that I wonder what happened...
This is followed by a fairly current Biography (there are loads of completely out of date ones around for Somtow), and a loooong Bibiliography!
What else to say besides what I said above? Well worth reading!
More S.P. Somtow
More Somtow Sucharitkul
Title: Bible Stories for Secular Humanists
Author: S.P. Somtow aka Somtow Sucharitkul
Reviewer URL: http://thierstein.net
Publisher: Diplodocus Press
Publication Date: Oct 2013
Review Date: 150706
Price: UKP 11.69
Format: Trade Paperback