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The book starts with an introduction by the author, S.P. Somtow (aka Somtow Sucharitkul), titled 'A Word...'. It tells his story, and the swings in focus from music, to literature, back to music, and to now, where he attempts to do both (and more) in what he terms the Third Act of his existence.
It also is a dedication to whoever it was who left these English-language SF classics in the library in the Bangkok Patana school, which set all of what we see here in motion.

Alien Heresies is a retrospective collection of 16 stories, from the first short story he sold (77's Sunsteps) to 2007's An Alien Heresy, with the in-between in roughly chronological order. We don't get a publication history (I presume all of them were), or any background to the stories (which usually really adds to such retrospectives), just the stories. 
My review is base on the limited-edition Hardback (2/100), but the book is of course also available as paperback, or Kindle edition etc. And I shall not mention any of the typos or transcription errors I spotted, as I gather these have been amended since – Somtow essentially works as a one-man band, and proof-reading one's own words is hard.

The book is illustrated (including hardback cover and dust jacket) by Mikey Jiraros, a promising and hugely talented young Thai artists who lived a life as varied, multi-faceted, and fascinating as the art he left us. Mikey decided this spring to leave this plane of existence, and, wherever he went, we hope that he is happier there. The loss is ours, and palpable, even at a remove.

Below are capsule reviews of the individual stories – if this spoils your enjoyment then stop here, and leave with my recommendation to go buy the book; this is essential and grand storytelling and could serve as a good entry point to Somtow's writing; by no means for completists only!

Sunsteps
Apparently Somtow's first published story, and rather fully formed if that! It's definitely something I have come across before in some form. It is set in a strange, high-tech Aztec world, which is fast running out of humans to sacrifice to keep the sun from going out; it follows a scientist who is losing his mind, and is volunteering to be sacrificed, amidst an Alien intervention.  A story as odd as it is disturbing.

Cruise Eternity
A simple story, really – a man meets the love of his life, and takes her on a cruise. Not so simple – the cruise means amniotic sleep, and coming out once per century to do the touristy things; streaking into the future. But what do the Aliens have to do with the arrangement? In their real or projected human form, or as wearable 'dreamstones'? Never mind the one called 'Lyndon Baines Johnson'...
Delicious fun.

I Wake from a Dream of a Drowned Star City
From the silly to the sublime. Poetic. Cruel. A flooded world, post-civilisation breakdown, with Kingdoms in the higher reaches of tall buildings, using old tech/magic. And Aliens, again. And a tie-in with Cruise Eternity, which is also present. I have this somewhere as a Chapbook, and still feel this should be a full size story!

The Last Line of the Haiku
The story that turned into Starship and Haiku (and me into a Somtow fan) – post-nuclear war world, in decline. Now a Japanese girl is contacted by one of the surviving whales – Aliens – forefathers of the Japanese race. This gravest of sins revealed – Patricide! - Ultimate loss of face! - is a boon to the already flourishing end-of-world suicide cult. But now with a ray of hope, too.
Fascinating, poetic story even in its inchoate form.

The Thirteenth Utopia
Another inchoate larger work – the first look into what became the Inquestor Trilogy (now 4 books, and still growing). As with the previous one – the full range of beauty, cruelness, and poetry is not present yet in the version at hand, but it already makes for a fascinating take on something which became even bigger and better down the line.

Aquila
I have to admit that I never read the series of books which came form this initial short. This is a farce, set in a world with Roman world (and New World) dominance; pitting the rather unimaginative Roman General Titus agains the Lacotian Chief Aquila. Delightful. All in the name of saving Emperor Domitian's her of Sacred Auerochs  (saving them for the Circus, of course).

Absent Thee from Felicity Awhile
This is, as you might well have spotted, a Hamlet quote. Because – this is the play the protagonist is performing when the Aliens arrive. And now Earth is re-running that day, every day, for the next 6 million years. For a school project, apparently. 
Classic Groundhog day scenario, with a few hints of more under the surface.

Comets and Kings
A re-telling of the life of Alexander – with added Aliens. Not that they change the story as it is known – or, as Hephaistion puts it at one point: 'What is not in the records does not constitute history. Truth does not enter into it.'

Coaster Time
Riding Rollercoasters, big ones, as a Galactic Religion, with the Coaster Trail a path to Nirvana. What we are, and the fact that we have Coasters is a result of (religiously motivated) uplifting.
I'm not religious, and not a believer, but it sounds at least as sensible as some of the other things being pushed!

ResurrecTech
Another farce, this time concerning the re-animation of deceased people using embalming and technology. It escalates absolutely and consequently like a Greek Tragedy. Not my favourite story here, by a distance, but I appreciate the sheer determinedness of taking the setting to the limit...

Last Time I Died in Venice
Difficult and convoluted, full of the love of Bangkok, Oedipal desires, semi-autobiographical background, Immersive VR and many things in-between. It puts me in a mindset of a story by another writer – and I cannot put my finger on who – which bothers me more than it has any right to. Grand!

Dear Caressa, or, This Towering Torment
A classic/Golden Era SF pastiche, set between an Alien feeding on emotions, serial romance novels, trans-dimensional interfaces, and academic friendship and an unhappy marriage.
Cute.

Avoiding Close Encounters
This is a fascinating setting – a group of Roman Christians, saved from the Circus (or worse) by an 'Angel' and transported to Mars; given equipment and a protected environment. And now the rovers, and eventually humans, keep on coming – clearly looking for them.
All the more pertinent with Perseverance's and Zhurong's recent landings on Mars, of course – who knows that they (and Perseverance's Helicopter Ingenuity) will find there?

Fiddling for Waterbuffaloes
This is the title story of a separate collection – this one me howl out loud first time I read it, and the amusement sustains on re-read. A tour-de-force through a Thai family from a hick backwater, making a living from selling counterfeit antiques to tourists and by live-dubbing films. Add in family politics (sexual and others), an American Anthropologist, and Alien trapped in the wrong body due to a malfunctioning Tachyon calibrator hidden in an antique Ming Spittoon...
Delightful, and delightfully bonkers.

Tagging the Moon
The story of a tagging legend (long past it at 24 years of age) and his protegé, and of how tagging is very much like seeding a planet (encoding some kind of 'I woz ere' in the DNA?) and how humanity was made in their image, and thus that taggers are the most exciting humans to observe.
You couldn't make it up!

An Alien Heresy
And we end on a harrowing High Note...
Ludovic was a scribe at the infamous Gilled de Rais (aka Bluebeard) trial – who now, as an Inquisitor himself, is returning to these scenes, to face not only an Extraterrestrial (try to find that concept in the Papal guidance) but also his own failings in the shape of the child he fathered 11 years ago (very Name of the Rose, that bit).
Not edifying towards the church, or towards all the human Ludovic.
Yes, there is a Monster in the story.


More S.P. Somtow

Title: Alien Heresies
Author: S.P. Somtow
Illustrator: Mikey Jiraros
Reviewer: Markus
Reviewer URL: http://thierstein.net
Publisher:  Diplodocus Press
Publisher URL: https://www.somtow.com/diplodocus/
Publication Date: 2020
Review Date: 210504
ISBN: 9781940999340
Price: UKP 
Pages: 546
Format: HP
Topic: Short Stories
Topic: Aliens

 

 

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Charles Stross - The Atrocity Archives

 

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