Books by S.P. Somtow

Released: July 1, 2000

"Creepy, nasty, and often disquieting: Somtow revels in aspects of the human psyche that most of us would rather not encounter."
Ten tales, nine from 1993-98 and one original, from the author of Darker Angels (1998), etc. Three are based overtly on familiar fairy tales: "Gingerbread" features Hansel and Gretel as abused children who fall into the clutches of a witch who's also a Hollywood madam. Rumpelstiltskin returns as "Dr. Rumpole," a Nazi war criminal and screenwriter of genius, who ends up an unwitting slave in a canny operator's basement; and in "Mr. Death's Blue-Eyed Boy," the Pied Piper of Hamelin shows up, demanding payment for his services—plus accumulated interest. Elsewhere, vampires are on the side of the angels; when Jesus returns to Earth, the devil succeeds at the third attempt in corrupting Him—but, here, the devil's the good guy; King Arthur mixes it up with mythology, movies, and a serial killer; in the title piece, a "tagger" (a graffiti artist) yearns to leave his tag on the Moon, and, helped by like-minded aliens, succeeds; an ancient Mexican vampire wakes to find that the entire world is run by vampires; a violent father turns his "stubborn" son into a zombie; and a necrophiliac discovers his heart's desire in a vault full of cryogenically preserved heads. Read full book review >
Released: Feb. 1, 1998

More supernatural horror from Somtow (Vanitas, 1995, etc.), whose passion for splatterpunk effects have, thankfully, cooled of late. In 1865, when New York widow Paula Grainger goes to view the body of assassinated Abraham Lincoln, poet Walt Whitman makes her acquaintance. With Walt is a young soldier, Zachary Brown; together with Paula's eerie black servant, Phoebe, the three begin to relate the exploits of Paula's late husband, Aloysius. Certain African women, it seems, can transform themselves into leopards. Phoebe, whom Aloysius won in a poker game, is one such ``darker angel,'' supposedly capable of redeeming her people through the power of song. Zachary calmly continues to speak of wartime atrocities, supernatural events, his meeting with Walt Whitman (then a nurse in a hospital), and how his comrade Kaz was brought back form the dead by Joseph, an old one-eyed black shaman. Old Joseph's assistant was a young white boy, Jimmy Lee Cox; continuing the stories-within- stories format, Jimmy describes Joseph's experiences in New Orleans and during the slave revolt in Haiti. Joseph's final intent was to raise the black soldiers killed in the Civil War from the dead. Meanwhile, Aloysius's diaries reveal his futile attempts to reanimate Paula's dead children. Unfortunately, the ending, involving Lincoln and his sons, implodes through oversentimentality. Knotty, dark, nasty in places, and cleverly constructed, but diffuse and lacking propellant. Read full book review >
VANITAS by S.P. Somtow
Released: Dec. 1, 1995

Third—and, apparently, last—of Somtow's yarns (Valentine, 1992, etc.) about the rock star and 2,000-year-old eunuch adolescent vampire Timmy Valentine, who has bestowed his vampirehood upon Angel Todd in exchange for the latter's human soul. Nevertheless, there are still vampires about, notably in Bangkok, where painter Lauren McCandless records the disposition of their victims' bodies in photographic detail. Meanwhile, Timmy's latest album is a flop—his music now lacks bite—so his promoters propose to send him on a huge loss-making world tour as a tax write-off. Accompanied by vision-quester PJ Gallagher, PJ's Thai wife, Prem, and Pamina Rothstein—a desperately wannabe vampire who can't find anyone to bite her—Timmy will track down the last of the vampires. Prem traps vampire Angel Todd in a bottle. Various side trips through history—Shakespeare, Dracula, Marlowe—intrude upon the proceedings, which feature more punk than splatter. There are even some jokes, and a showdown atop an erupting Indonesian volcano. Somtow wraps up his enlightened bloodsucker's career with all the gore and horror of a vegetarian vampire chomping on a beefsteak tomato. Read full book review >
Released: Jan. 1, 1995

A Thai coming-of-age tale mildly spiced with magic realism. Formidable forces converge on 12-year-old Justin's awakening to adolescence. It is 1963, and Justin's best friend Virgil, a black boy from Georgia, introduces him to the richness of black American culture and the prejudice that dogs his family even in Asia. Justin's parents, nearly mythic for their long-term absence, perform top-secret work for the US government as it grows increasingly entangled in Vietnam. A trio of maiden aunts, ``the Three Fates,'' raise Justin on a family estate just outside of Bangkok loaded with intrigue: Two are involved in a fling with a priapic English doctor, and none of the relatives can wait to get their paws on the will of the clan's matriarch, who vows to dance the limbo rock, a reference to an American pop song of the time, before she'll give up the ghost. Somtow (The Wizard's Apprentice, 1993, etc.) creates a convincing voice for Justin to tell of his emergence among so many peculiar factors; and the novel's disparate elements—pathos and humor, reality and fantasy, the traditional Thai household and encroaching American culture—often coalesce to form a seamless whole. The novel climaxes in the staging of a play Justin writes, in which he fuses Greek and African myth and the American Civil War into a drama that serves as a strangely fitting emblem for the young man he is about to become. But some of the oddly shaped building blocks of Somtow's style don't fit together. Virgil speaks in an awkward dialect that doesn't sound much like African-American English, and some lines—``My parents are into cultural diversity or something''—are simply too anachronistic to be believable. Still, the novel succeeds as a poignant, piquant portrait of a boy and his world on the threshold of transformation. Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 29, 1993

It's Hollywood, with shrimp-and-avocado pizza for those bored with the plain old Thai barbecued-chicken kind. Aaron has just discovered that his crush on the pneumatic Penelope is requited and is hurrying to the Mall doing amazing, magical things on his skateboard when Zap! chief-wizard Anaxagoras traps him in a time warp, explaining that Aaron really does do magic and should be his apprentice. Aaron is given a mirror that reveals his true feelings about what it reflects; he also learns a dragon-making spell and a magic way to unstop toilets. But dragons are the bad stuff—the mean, hateful, insecure side of a wizard. Aaron's dragon, smog-fueled, expands to cover most of L.A.—until Aaron, having discovered that he doesn't really despise himself, lets it look in his mirror and the dragon dissipates. As Anaxagoras says, ecology is a subset of magic; and as the author says, the one true magic springs from the human heart. Lots of laughs and Hollywood outrageousness; perhaps a little slick and glib, but still rather a sweet-hearted romp in the ``Dragonflight'' series, by a mainstream SF author. (Fiction. 12+) Read full book review >
VALENTINE by S.P. Somtow
Released: Oct. 1, 1992

Sequel to Somtow's 1985 paperback Vampire Junction: more lurid, appalling, spectacular bloodsucking from the splatterpunk author of The Shattered Horse (1986) and Moon Dance (1990). Timmy Valentine, the eunuch boy-vampire more than two thousand years old, disappeared at the fiery conclusion to Vampire Junction. Now trapped, crucified, inside a looking-glass world, desperately tired of being undead yet not alive, Timmy searches for someone with whom to change places. Young, alienated, confused, abused look-alike Angel Todd suits Timmy's purpose; moreover, Angel is eager to make the exchange. However, the evil witch Simone Arleta is plotting to steal Timmy's immense powers. And while Simone performs her horrid rituals, young half-Shoshone shaman PJ, prompted by the timeless forces of Nature, prepares to oppose her. Once the action starts, people get pulled in and out of mirrors, sometimes only halfway; bodies become possessed, explode from within, are hacked to death, or find other gory, violent ways to perish; heads roam around, seeking excrement as food; vampires pop up, feed, pass on the contagion, and expire unpleasantly; so it goes. Somtow can write effectively when he chooses, but too often prefers to swamp everything in ghastly and intimate detail. The shameless padding doesn't help. At its best, a glutinously horrible experience that feels like it's never going to end. Okay for existing vamps, but won't win many new fans. Read full book review >