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Somtow, S P

Entry updated 16 January 2023. Tagged: Author.

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Working name of Thai composer/conductor and author Somtow Papinian Sucharitkul (1952-    ), who has had a full double career, his first professional appearance as a conductor being at the age of nineteen; he used his actual surname from the beginning of his career to 1985, when he switched to S P Somtow, announcing that any book previously signed Sucharitkul would be signed Somtow on reprinting (although some children's books continued to appear under the earlier form of his name [titles signed Sucharitkul are so indicated in Checklist only]). After university education in the UK and a period in the USA, Somtow began more recently to spend about half his time in Thailand and half in America. His first publication of any genre interest was a poem, "Kith of Infinity", which appeared in the Bangkok Press in 1967 and was assembled – along with early stories like "Sunsteps" (Summer 1977 Unearth) – in Fire from the Wine Dark Sea (coll 1983). He won the John W Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 1981.

His first novel, Starship and Haiku (1981), which won a Locus Award, is typical of much of his work: the tale takes place in a crowded but fluid Asian venue, with culture shocks leading to ornate resolutions; in this case, the citizens of a Ruined Earth version of Japan are committing Suicide, but whales contact survivors (with whom they share a genetic heritage) and the novel closes as a new hybrid species sets off for the stars.

The Inquestor sequence – Light on the Sound (1982; rev vt The Dawning Shadow #1: Light on the Sound 1986), The Throne of Madness (1983; rev vt The Dawning Shadow #2: The Throne of Madness 1986), Utopia Hunters (coll of linked stories 1984) and The Darkling Wind (1985) – again injects whale-like sentients into a complex mix, following the interactions of the mutilated humans who hunt them on instructions from the Inquestors, a Galaxy-spanning race whose Immortality has had an estranging effect, and whose pretensions to moral superiority are harshly examined as the sequence advances. In the end, the Inquestor race dies in cataclysm, leaving a deposit of myth for later races to decipher. Other sf of interest includes the Alternate-History Aquiliad sequence – The Aquiliad (1983; vt The Aquiliad: Aquila in the New World 1988), The Aquiliad #2: Aquila and the Iron Horse (1988) and The Aquiliad #3: Aquila and the Sphinx (1988) – set in a Western Hemisphere dominated by the Roman Empire; a resident time traveller injects a malicious note of imbalance and insecurity, generating a state of fluid near-chaos typical of Somtow at his best; Recursive SF jokes, including the presence of various sf writers, complicate the mix. Sf singletons include Mallworld (1981; exp vt as coll of linked stories The Ultimate Mallworld 2000), in which the eponymous venue doubles as an observation post for Aliens fascinated by the human race; and The Shattered Horse (1986), another alternate-world tale in which the Trojans win.

At about the time he changed his byline he also began to move from sf into fantasy and horror, central examples being the Valentine sequence of Vampire novels – Vampire Junction (1984), Valentine: Return to Vampire Junction (1992) and Vanitas (1995; vt Vanitas: Escape from Vampire Junction 1995) – and Moondance (1989), a powerful Werewolf tale. More recently, he has also turned to Young Adult fantasies like Jasmine Nights (1994) and Ties like Star Trek: The Next Generation: Do Comets Dream? (2003). It might seem that rich and fluid twenty-first-century venues, as exploited by authors like Paolo Bacigalupi or Ian McDonald, might be natural habitats for his complex imagination; but he has not yet moved in that direction. [JC]

see also: Anthropology; Asimov's Science Fiction; Ecology; Galactic Empires; Messiahs; Music; Sociology; Space Opera.

Somtow Papinian Sucharitkul

born Bangkok, Thailand: 30 December 1952


series (titles as Somtow Sucharitkul are so indicated)






  • Riverrun (New York: Avon Books, 1991) [Riverrun: pb/Tim White]
  • Forest of the Night (New York: AvoNova, 1992) [Riverrun: pb/Tim White]
    • Armorica (London: Orbit, 1994) [vt of the above: Riverrun: pb/Keith Scaife]
    • The Riverrun Trilogy (Clarkson, Georgia: White Wolf Publishing/Borealis, 1996) [omni of the above two plus the book-length "Yestreen": Riverrun: pb/Troy Eittreim]

Star Trek

individual titles

collections and stories


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