Tag Archives: S.P. Somtow

Book Review: Starship and Haiku, Somtow Sucharitkul (S. P. Somtow) (1981)


(Gerry Daly’s cover for the 1981 edition)

3.25/5 (Vaguely Good)

“Nature does not write haiku.  Men write haiku.  The world cannot end in chaos, with things running wild, with gangs running rampant, with cannibals, with dog eating dog and plague-deaths and the abominable mutations.  O, I know it is so in some other countries, but we are Japanese.  We are the children of the whale, who have committed the original sin of patricide… but we have pride, and we must die in beauty” (131).

Somtow Sucharitkul (S. P. Somtow after 1985) is a fascinating individual.  He’s a Thai-American SFF author/composer who moved back and forth between Thailand and the UK (English was his first language and he received his education at the University of Cambridge).  Perhaps best known for his Mallworld sequence of stories (1979-2000), Somtow’s output is immense and ranges from horror to mainstream fiction (in addition to numerous symphonies and operas).

His first novel Starship & Haiku (1981), which won the 1982 Locus Best First Novel Award, joins the ranks of a veritable subgenre of SF about whales and pseudo-whales—including (off the top of my head, there are bound to be more!): Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986), Ian Watson’s The Jonah Kit (1975), T. J. Bass’ The Godwhale (1974), Philip José Farmer’s The Wind Whales of Ishmael (1971), John Varley’s Gaean series (1979-1984), Alan Dean Foster’s Cachalot (1980), and  Robert F. Young’s Spacewhale sequence of short stories (1962-1980) which includes “Starscape with Frieze of Dreams” (1970).  And yes, a whale makes a fateful appearance in Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1979)… The interest in whale SF was probably rooted to the increasing scientific research on whale song in the 1970s.  And whales do hold a certain allure as the largest mammals on our planet! Continue reading Book Review: Starship and Haiku, Somtow Sucharitkul (S. P. Somtow) (1981)