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Somtow Sucharitkul – Fire from the Wine Dark SeaSomtow Sucharitkul (also writing as S. P. Somtow, a pseudonym for those thought unable to pronounce Sucharitkul...) is a Thai writer and composer/conductor writing SF, YA Fantasy, Horror and Vampire stories, and of course music. He has, at one point or another, been nominated for most awards covering the above genres, and has won most of them, too. Currently he focuses predominantly on his music.

Fire from the Wine Dark Sea is not a current book, though. It is a collection of his early writing, and was published shortly after his two first novels (Mallworld, and The Light on The Sound). It is fair to say (and I'm sure he would agree) that topic, content, style, but also quality vary greatly throughout this book. As a fan, knowing a lot of his oevre, created after these stories, I found this a highly interesting, and in parts (including, but not limited to the interviews) a very entertaining volume.

Here's a quick run through the contents, to give you an idea of what the book contains:

Fire from the Wine Dark Sea – the title story is, like its name, a Homer allusion, which left me rather indifferent...

The Thirteenth Utopia – a story from the Inquestor Universe/Series, telling the original story of Davaryush on Shtoma. This is not part of the series, not entirely canon, and is reflected in later segments in the series. Nevertheless – in my opinion this alone is worth getting the book for!

A Child of Earth and Starry Heaven – a family story, playing in parallel universes, with references to Greek Mythology and Euripides' Admentos. Strong echoes (er, premonintions?) of Riverrun, here... Intense and captivating.

1979 Interview by Darrell Schweitzer – in Somtow's usual boisterous and highly entertaining style. Plus his very first published poem...

Sunsteps – an alternate history, and his very first story ever printed; displaying a modern day Aztec High-Civilisation world, running out of people to sacrifice to continue making the sun come up in the morning; and an Alien intervention. Interesting, if not fully formed, I felt.

Aquila the God – Romans In America! Ways more fun than something like this ought to be – it looks like I'll have to dig up the Aquiliad series, which sprung fom this effort. It's full of SF in-jokes, tropes, and allusions (the Romans read “scientiae fictiones”, FFS). This was nominated for a Hugo, too.

Comets and Kings – Alexander the Great spoof, written from he perspective of Hephaistion. There is an Alien visitation, by someone describing himself as an Observer, Watcher – the story makes it clear that he rather is a Meddler, against the rules!

Angel's Wings – story of a hyperspace being giving birth to 'her young' after a 1 million year pregnancy – using our sun. Humanity has to stop all EM emanatons for 40 days to avoid killing these baby 'light creatures'. Very AC Clarke, in topic, approach, and resolution (although the latter might be as much Ben Bova as ACC)

Meeting in Milan – Cathedral Poetry, written as Adolescent. Terribly pretentious, bordering on terrible...

Dear Caressa or This Towering Torment – a disfuntional family, and otherworldy/alien power holding a friend hostage and threatening the family, adventures in a parallel dimension to save the family and the world... classic Somtow Sucharitkul tropes.

Absent Thee from Felicity Awhile – a Hamlet quote for a story of Alien High Civilisation visitation story – they give us immortality, but at the price of 7 million years of Groundhog Day of reliving the 1st contact day...   The story comes in 2 parts, the 2nd of which was added per request of an Editor who in the end didn't buy the story anyway – which is better without it, I thought. Another Hugo nominee.

The What March – by request George Scithers Somtow wrote the Isaac Asimov Science Fiction Magazine March. There are some ruminations on SF music, especially from movies, plus the sheet music of his own attempt, as requested. No idea how it sounds yet.

Darktouch – this is the initial version of a story spread over the end of the Inquestor saga. Fascinating, but, in this inchoate version, not really part of the canon.

Coaster Time – this sets Roller Coasters as a universe-wiede path to Nirvana, and thus a reason for an advanced group of Alient cultures to uplift premising planets/cultures to allow them to build Rollercoasters, so they can be included in the 'Trail'. Fun, leftfield. Nearly Golden Age SF, with traces of other Sucharitkul stories like Mallworld present.

The Four Dragons and the Dying King – Long poem on the 3 dragons in Mahjongg, plus the one not contained/constrained by the tiles. Better than the earlier effort, but nevertheless a demonstration of why Somtow is so much better when writing short, constrained, formal poetry (like Haikus).

The Last Line of the Haiku – this short story is the basis Starship & Haiku was developed from. A good part of the outline of the eventual Novel is here, and it works in short story form. The setting displays the love of death (and suicide) in a post-apocalyptic Japan, after collectively losing face when learning that the whales they used to kill were their forefathers. Great stuff, but the full novel is more complete, more polished.

Somtow Sucharitkul: Interview by Bob Halliday – this focuses on his strong opinions re music, and not on his SF as the first interview does.

Afterword, In Defense of Ozymandias – Somtow stating that he knows his place, and is content. Funny for that reason alone...

Overall a book for fans and completists I would think; if you want to start on Sucharitkul then get Starship & Haiku instead, or start the Inquestor series (never mind the horific covers)

More Somtow Sucharitkul

Title: Fire from the Wine Dark Sea
Author: Somtow Sucharitkul
Reviewer: Markus
Reviewer URL:
Publisher:  Donning Company, Starblaze Editions
Publication Date: 1983
Review Date: 120414
ISBN: 0898652529
Price: USD 6.5
Pages: 301
Format: Large format Paperback
Topic: Short Stories
Topic: SF


Peter Watts - Blindsight


Charles Stross - The Atrocity Archives


Thomas Pynchon - Slow Learner


Somtow Sucharitul – Starship & Haiku


Peter Watts – Maelstrom


Tricia Sullivan – Occupy Me


Doris Lessing - Shikasta


Somtow Sucharitkul - The Throne of Madness


Sydney Padua - The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage

Andy Weir - The Martian


Aliette de Bodard – In the Vanishers’ Palace


Iain Sinclair - Radon Daughters


Ian Sales – Adrift on the Sea of Rains


Thomas Pynchon – Gravity’s Rainbow


Doris Lessing – The Sirian Experiments, Powered by Mambo!; free resources by SiteGround