S. P. Somtow, sometimes known as Somtow Sucharitkul, is a Thai/American author of English-language science fiction, fantasy, and horror, as well as a composer and musician.
Somtow is a minor member of the Thai royal family, but he was raised in England, and his first language is English. He moved back to Thailand while still fairly young, and is fluent in both languages. He currently has dual US/Thai citizenship.
His early fiction was published under the name Somtow Sucharitkul, but he quickly switched to using S. P. Somtow—possibly because it's easier for westerners to spell. The P comes from his actual middle name, Papinian. Much of his older work has been republished under the new byline.
As an author, his best known work is probably Jasmine Nights, a semi-autobiographical work set in Thailand with added elements of Magical Realism. He also has several SF series, including the Inquestor series, the Mallworld series, and the alternate history series, The Aquiliad. His horror novels include Vampire Junction and its sequels, the cowboy/werewolf novel Moon Dance, and the YA novel The Vampire's Beautiful Daughter. He wrote and directed the horror film The Laughing Dead, and co-wrote the Roger Corman film, Bram Stoker's Burial of the Rats.
As a musician, he has composed a number of operas, several symphonies, and one ballet, Kaki. His opera Madana (based on a play by King Rama VI of then-Siam) was the first western-style opera ever written by a Thai national. He also wrote a musical, Raya the Musical, based on a novel by his mother which had already been adapted as a soap opera on Thai TV. In addition to his work as a composer, he is the artistic director of the Bangkok Opera.
Tropes in his works:
- And I Must Scream:
- The short story "Absent Thee From Felicity Awhile" features aliens who offer the human race the gift of immortality. There's just one catch; to earn this gift, everyone has to repeat what they did on the day before the aliens came (for the benefit of study groups)—for a million years... and if you died the day before, too bad for you; you get to die again 365,250,000 times. Without the immortality reward at the end.
- The Inquestor-verse stories have the "delphinoid shipminds". These are essentially the brains of blind, mute alien creatures that have been removed from their bodies and placed in starships to navigate through hyperspace (working in tandem with human telepaths who can communicate with the shipminds—their story isn't pretty, either). They're sentient, aware of their situation, and in perpetual agony. At one point some characters are able to essentially hijack a starship by promising the shipmind that once it takes them where they want to go, they'll allow it to die.
- Alien Lunch: In Mallworld, an alien ambassador brings a live animal (considered a delicacy on his planet) to a diplomatic dinner with the humans. The animal looks like a vaguely humanoid rhinoceros beetle and is about the size of a howler monkey. The humans are appalled... APPALLED, I tell you... to find out that the "animal" is actually a child-stage member of the ambassador's own species. (Turns out the aliens aren't sentient until adulthood, breed very quickly and in copious numbers, and generally consider their own children vermin; any that manage to survive to adulthood are taught how to be civilized beings, but until they they are hunted and eaten by their own parents.
- America Is Still a Colony: In The Aquiliad, the Roman Empire didn't fall, discovered steam power, and eventually came across the Atlantic to conquer the Americas. The protagonist (Aquila, which is Latin for "Eagle") is a member of the Lakotii tribe (what we would call the Lakota Sioux), and a member of the Senate.
- Bigfoot, Sasquatch, and Yeti: In The Aquiliad, the narrator finds the Sasquatii, or, as the scholars put it in proper Greek, the Megapodes—who greet the Romans with, "Shalom." Yes, the Sasquatii are descendants of the Lost Tribes of Israel, kidnapped and mutated by a Time Traveling Mad Scientist... and it goes on to get even weirder.
- Blue-and-Orange Morality: In one of the Mallworld stories, an alien race hosts a banquet for their human hosts, featuring one of the race's prized delicacies. The primary ingredient for this delicacy was roasted alien baby (the children of this alien race were considered vermin until they reached a certain age). The aliens couldn't quite understand why the humans were so horrified.
- Child Eater: The alien overlords in the Mallworld series not only eat their own children, they've been known to serve them up as the main course at diplomatic dinners. Their children are non-sentient and considered vermin until they reach a certain age.
- Complexity Addiction: In the Inquestor stories, Inquestors play a very complicated "game" called makrugh in which the object is mainly to maneuver your opponents—basically, every other Inquestor—into losing face. Since this is pretty subjective, it tends to result in "You lost."/"Oh, but did I?" type conversations.
- Cryonics Failure: In one of the Inquestor novels, there's mention of some human colonists who were travelling in time stasis. Unfortunately the device malfunctioned, causing some of them to become irreversibly frozen, so they're now used as ornaments.
- False Utopia: In the Inquestor series, the main characters serve as Utopia Hunters, elite and near immortal maintainers of galaxy order who investigate all so-called utopias and then, having found the hidden flaw, bring the entire edifice down.
- "Groundhog Day" Loop: The short story "Absent Thee From Felicity Awhile" has aliens grant humanity the gift of immortality—at a price; everyone must relive the day before the aliens came—for a million years.
- The Mall: In Mallworld stories, the barJulian family is insanely rich because they're descended from the man who held title to the region of space where Mallworld (a giant space station -cum- mall) was built. Most of the workers live in nearby space habitats and commute in, though there are semi-feral tribes of young people who live in the maintenance spaces of the mall itself. If it's not obvious already, most of the stories were written in the 1980s.
- Mistaken for Servant: Reversed in The Shattered Horse. The child Astyanax innocently exchanges clothes with his playmate/servant on the night the city falls. As a result the playmate is mistaken for the young heir to the throne of Troy and tossed over the wall to his death; Astyanax's protests to the contrary are taken for a loyal servant's desperate lies, while he notices that the other boy isn't disputing the assumption at all. Astyanax himself survives to adulthood.
- Not In Kansas Any More: Parodied in one of the Aquiliad stories about a world where the Roman Empire survives to the 20th century and interacts with Native Americans. At some point one of the Romans says something like "All things considered in toto, I don't think we're in —— anymore."
- The Stars Are Going Out: In the Mallworld stories, the inner Solar System has been quarantined by enclosing it in a giant sphere about 20 AU in radius (until such time as we become mature enough to join the Galactic civilisation). Not only does this prevent our travelling much beyond Saturn, it also blocks starlight.
- Vampires Are Sex Gods:
- The protagonist of Vampire Junction often feeds himself by picking up horny men in the red-light districts... and he looks ten years old. (Guess if you gotta kill somebody...)
- All the vampires we see in the short story "Venus and Mars" (besides one mook) are beautiful young girls, all mostly ex-child prostitutes. They have a fairly successful racket going on.