Sunday, January 11, 2015

Alpha-Bytes: Somtow's Inquest Script

It's been well over a year since I've done an Alpha-Bytes post (last one was November 2013, I think).  My initial description was that these posts were a place for me to "...gush geekily about my favorite alphabets, ciphers, and alternate writing systems."

Earlier in 2013, I posted about one of my favorite slipstreamish, sci-fi, alt-hist, weird-lit authors: Somtow Sucharitkul.   I bemoaned that I couldn't find any online examples of the alphabet he created for his "Inquest" series of novels and stories.  Well, if you want something done right...

Ai! Click for bigger versions.
The above comes from the prologue of 1984's Utopia Hunters.  Apologies in advance for cellphone-pic quality, but I'm not able to put them through a proper scanner. The next one is from the same book's epilogue:

I'm not sure if all that weeping and yearning is representative of the rest of the books.  It's been almost 30 years since I've read them, but I might give them another whirl if I end up finding them all.  (These were a recent windfall at $1.48 apiece at a used bookstore in my new town!)

Alas, I don't have a one-to-one list of each glyph's phonetic meaning.  A quick scan of these examples tells me that it might have been meant as a far-future evolution of the Roman alphabet.  There are quite a few quasi--almost--sorta similarities between some symbols and their intended vowels or consonants.  Still, the overall appearance is hauntingly alien.

Somtow's exploration of language went even further in 1985's The Darkling Wind.  We saw these glyphs translated into not one, but two different alternate tongues...

Apologies again, this time for cutting off the rest of the Lowspeech and all of the English translation that spills onto the next page.  Later in the book, Somtow explored a graphical layout reminiscent of the one I transcribed in my post about him, this time laying out the relationships between the godlike beings that dominate his Inquest universe...

I have a vague recollection of seeing a page or two in one of the other novels that gives a full description of the script and its quirky phonetics.  If I see it, I'll update!


  1. Don't you just love a good 'new' used bookstore!?

    1. Oh yeah. It's one of the first things I try to scope out when visiting anywhere new. :-)

    2. I believe that's called, 'being a heat-seeking missile.'

  2. Hi, I stumbled on this while searching for mentions of the Inquestral Highspeech online. I wanted to let you know that I'm producing a series of articles about the language, each one appearing in an issue of INQUESTOR TALES - a sort of personalzine I am doing in which I'm serializing the 5th Inquestor novel. (The rest are all available in new editions now, btw.)

    1. Wow! Thanks so much for commenting. Gotta admit to being a bit starstruck here. I'll definitely seek out the new editions and the serialized zine!

  3. Replies
    1. Ha! I'll admit to being a bit fanboyish, but it's still pretty darn cool that we live in such an interconnected world. The 13-year-old version of myself, reading your stories in Asimov's, would be floored that this kind of interaction isn't just possible, but commonplace.