Thursday, April 20, 2017

Bible Stories for Secular Humanists, by S.P. Somtow

Today I'm looking at another book by the Thai author, S.P. Somtow. Some of you may remember when I looked at his Chronicles of the High Inquest series some time ago and my conclusion was, ''These are kind of weird.'' Interestingly enough, I can't remember how exactly Bible Stories for Secular Humanists  got on my list of things to read because it was definitely before I knew who Somtow was. (This is a continual problem for me where interesting books get put on a to-read list and then I come back to them years later.) I'm willing to quibble a little over the title because some of these aren't retellings of  bible stories with Somtow's distinctive twist, but horror stories with religious themes. But I feel like it's an interesting selection of Somtow's writing and I feel like I'm getting a better read on his personality. I don't know if I can say I enjoyed this book, but that's more because horror isn't really my cup of tea.

As Somtow states in the introduction to this book, these short stories are ultimately about sex and death, which he sees as the two main driving forces behind humanity. Also lots of zombies. Somtow also admits he really likes zombies and he uses a lot of opportunities to put them in stories, whether in Roman times or a sci-fi future. But I feel like Somtow manages an interesting range with his stories. Some are just kind of silly, like his story about a hard-boiled detective in Roman times dealing with zombies. But some are deeply emotional and show Somtow's thoughts on humanity's place in the universe, even with all the zombies shuffling about. The Inquest definitely had its own flavor and I'm still having trouble digesting all of it, but these stories helped show me Somtow has a good range as a writer.

I don't normally mention formatting or typos because it's usually not an issue with the books or so rare it barely merits commenting upon. I will say with the kindle edition of this book there were a couple of stories where, for no reason I could discern anyway, the text was ridiculously large. I even messed with the text settings on my kindle and compared it to other chapters and it seems to be something specifically within the file itself rather than anything I did. In the end it wasn't a big issue, but it meant I had just a couple of sentences per page because of the font. I also recall at least one story having several typos which actually made it difficult for me to figure out what the sentence meant. This wasn't just a they're/their/there problem, it was a completely different word that makes no sense within the context of the sentence and is clearly an error. Of course, Somtow does enjoy using archaic words or archaic definitions of words so I had to use my dictionary a couple of times, but even then there were some typos where I just couldn't parse the sentence.

So I think I can say from a writing perspective that this book is very good and Somtow has some interesting stories. However, almost all of them involve vampires, zombies, or some other horror aspect and Somtow definitely enjoys the horror genre. Unfortunately it's not my favorite thing in the world so I think some of the appeal of the book is lost on me. But it's definitely different and interesting and if you like horror it may be worth your time to check out.

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