I Wake from a Dream of a Drowned Star City by Somtow, S.P., 1992

I Wake from a Dream of a Drowned Star City by Somtow, S.P.

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One of the things I like about novellas, especially bound ones that are sold on their own, is that they are generally produced in such low numbers that authors feel free to go a little crazy with their stories. I imagine that I get the same rush from a new novella that a film buff gets from a new independent film. Both media are pretty much free from industry standards and production rules, and both are usually produced cheaply, but both seem to me to be more acts of love than economic undertakings. That being said, I have a suspicion that this author, Somtow Papinian Sucharitkul, a.k.a. S.P. Somtow, is probably entirely in this genre for the art of it all. More well known for horror novels, as well as opera and symphonic composition, Somtow has occasionally drifted over to SF. So far I have only read this one novella and a few short stories, and I must say that he always makes an impression on me. Three out of five stars.

I Wake from a Dream of a Drowned Star City really is not for the light of heart. Its a coming of age story about a family of clones that for many, many generations have been bred using DNA from only one member of each successive generation. The family that provides the genetic material happens to be the ruling family of a planet that has been cut off from interstellar commerce for probably just as long as the family has been in power, and which is suffering a gradual deterioration to a stage where the citizens view the technology used by the rulers as magic. The title of the story refers to an abandoned city viewed across a permanent flood plain from the current slum that passes for the capital, called Dreambreak.

The story here is about two brothers with an extreme sibling rivalry. Morry, the younger son of the king of Dreambreak has been chosen to inherit the throne from his father, though he has not been told that he is one day to be made king. His older brother, Skart, has lost that right because he has a genetic defect and cannot be relied upon to provide the next generation's DNA for cloning. His defect is minor; a patch of discolored skin on his back, but it is enough to seal his fate for good. His sole job now is to keep Morry healthy until he is able to procreate. He takes his fear, anger and frustration out on Morry by sexually abusing him, until one day while in the act of rape Morry's body responds and he ejaculates. At that point it is known that Morry will produce the next generation, Skart's fate is sealed, and he is taken and given to the king's torturer, the Picklemaster, whose job it is to embalm the family's failures for preservation for comparison to later generations. Morry becomes distraught with the removal of his brother, as he has been confined to the upper floors of the palace for his entire life and has had contact with only Skart, his servants, and an alien teacher who is a disembodied head that lives in its own jar and is able to see into different dimensions. During his coming-of-age celebration Morry copulates with a female clone of his father, whom he will take as a wife. Then as a symbolic gesture of the continuity of the royal family he petitions his father for the pardon of Skart, whom he loves. Skart's death is mandated by the laws of the court, but Morry uses his new found power to convince his father to release Skart. As punishment to Morry, the King makes him an ambassador and sends him on a mission to the mutant lands outside of Dreambreak, where he is to deliver Skart to a business called "Cruise Eternity," which maintains temporal travelers in suspended animation, waking them only for a few days every 100 years so that they can see how civilization has changed.

Morry's plight is reminiscent of fantasy tale tropes, but the imagery Somtow uses to tell this story resonates in horror tales I have read elsewhere. The story however is pure science fiction, but Somtow imbues his tale with beautiful, lyrical language. One of the best tools he uses for metaphor is water. Water separates the citizens of Dreambreak from the former Star City, and has destroyed their heritage, and surround them and imprisons them in their slum. Most of the people of the city are fishers, plucking fish out of the water in the same way that the royals pluck desirable DNA from the rivers of other royal's blood. And the fate of those found not worthy is a watery death at the hands of the Picklemaster. Somtow's two major themes, coming-of-age and the consequences of breaking with tradition, are not exactly dealt with lightly, but they are used expertly. Somtow manages to accomplish a lot in the 100+ pages he allows himself. Unfortunately, this book is very hard to find. If you are interested in this author, his works can be purchased on-line, or in a number of international short story compilations at Amazon. Give him a try for sure if you like urban or dark fantasy, weird horror, or some of stranger things that SF has to offer.

Copyright 2007, Gregory Tidwell

Reviewed by GTT · Rating Rating of 3 star(s)

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