My reading material of choice lately has been Fire from the Wine Dark Sea by S. P. Somtow (then, Somtow Sucharitkul). As you may have heard from me before, S. P. Somtow is one of my favorite authors, so a collection of his short stories was right up my alley. I initially picked it up for The 13th Utopia, a short story that takes place in the Inquestor universe, that I had only ever gotten the chance to read in the bowels of the library from an old issue of Analog. I thought I’d never get the chance to read it again, until I saw this collection on Somtow’s publications page, and I knew I should pick it up.
The 13th Utopia, of course, did not disappoint. Just getting to spend some time with Davaryush again was a lot of fun, and worth every word. There were a lot of other familiar pieces to this collection though – Darktouch was excerpted from The Darkling Wind (though before it was actually written), and The Final Haiku was a short story version of Starship and Haiku. Both were fun to read, and provided an interesting look back. Another piece, A Child of Earth and Starry Heaven, reminded me a bit of Riverrun. It was obviously not as direct of an ancestor as the other stories I mentioned, but there were tickles of similarities in in how S. P. Somtow writes about the afterlife and a child’s need to save his parents that really showed through to me.
If I had to pick one story as the standout though, it would be Absent Thee from Felicity Awhile. The main thought experiment is that seemingly benevolent aliens grant humanity immortality with the catch that they must reenact (consciously) the same day over-and-over for the next seven million years. It is with this launching point, Somtow asks some very interesting questions: What if with great effort, you can change something? What happens to someone who dies during that day? I really love these kinds of short stories because they don’t have to answer the questions, just pose them in a creative way, and Absent Thee from Felicity Awhile does this exceptionally well.
Fire from the Wine Dark Sea has an interesting property that it occupies a very specific (and somewhat peculiar) place in time – between installments of the Inquestor novels. It’s odd because Somtow talks about things that are yet to come, that didn’t quite develop the way he says. It’s also very interesting to hear a bit about the science fiction industry as it was at that time – through the interviews and often quite funny commentary ahead of many of the stories I got an impression about what kind of character Somtow Sucharitkul was at that time. Thinking about these now still makes me smile.
Overall, I definitely recommend this anthology to anyone who is interested in Somtow Sucharitkul’s work or needs a primer on the Sucharitkul fan in their life.