Monday, May 27, 2019

Birthday Review: Stories of Matthew Hughes

I have enjoyed Matthew Hughes' stories set in a version of Jack Vance's Dying Earth milieu for a long time. Today is Hughes' birthday -- here's a selection of my reviews of his work (by no means representing all his work!)

Locus, March 2004

The March F&SF opens with "Mastermindless", an amusing science fantasy novelet by Matt Hughes, set "one eon before Jack Vance's Dying Earth". Everyone in the city has been rendered nearly broke, ugly, and stupid. Unfortunately, this includes our hero, which severely hampers his investigation into the cause. It's quite fun, and I'm looking forward to the promised future stories in the series.

Locus, June 2004

The two novelets in the June F&SF are both colorful adventure fantasies, and plenty of fun. Matthew Hughes's "A Little Learning" is about Guth Bandar's examination to become a scholar of the Institute of Historical Inquiry. He must travel through the Events, Landscapes and Situations of the noösphere to the Blessed Isles. But a rival sabotages his route, and Guth is left with little option but to use what small knowledge he has of alternate routes through the noösphere to try to find a shortcut. His adventures are amusing indeed, and cleverly imagined. Hughes is a welcome new find.

Locus, August 2004

Also in the August F&SF is another amusing story by Matthew Hughes, "Relics of the Thim", in which Hengis Hapthorn investigates some very plausible looking relics of an ancient civilization, suspicious because they have been produced by a known con artist – though authenticated by a respected scholar. What he learns is a bit unexpected.

Locus, October 2004

The men show well too, in the September Asimov's. Matthew Hughes might seem like a "hot new writer", but actually his first novel appeared in Canada ten years ago. Still, he has just recently come to well-deserved wide attention. "The Hat Thing" is a sharp time-travel short-short, about the difficulty of really fitting in in the past.

Locus, February 2005

The highlights of the February F&SF are two rather light-toned novelets. "Inner Huff", by Matthew Hughes, is another story of Guth Bandar exploring the noösphere. This is the human collective unconscious – source of stories and tropes. He is researching the siren songs, but ends up captured by a version of Circe, and turned into a pig. He escapes to another part of the noösphere – but as a pig – and there are some interesting pig stories out there ...

Locus, June 2005

The June F&SF features Matthew Hughes "The Gist Hunter", along with a cover illustrating the story, also by Matt Hughes (not the same guy!) I think this may be Hughes's best Hengis Hapthorn story to date. Hapthorn is engaged by one Turgut Therobar to defend him in a case of "murder and aggravated debauchery". Therobar is a very respectable man, but people have gone missing at his estate, and a young woman has been violated outrageously. Hapthorn visits the estate, and finds things are quite strange. In particular, a rival he once insulted is present, and seems to be working to prove a theory involving "gist" that Hapthorn regarded as nonsensical. To be sure, there is also an extremely attractive and surprisingly enthusiastic young woman ... Let's leave the unraveling of mysteries to the story – it's very enjoyable work indeed.

Locus, April 2005

In Matthew Hughes's, "Finding Sajessarian" (F&SF, April), the title character is willing to pay Hengis Hapthorn to find him -- as a dry run for his anticipated disappearance subsequent to a planned crime. Hengis, with the help of his remarkable AI assistant, has little trouble finding him, but Sajesssarian, after all, is a criminal, and has little desire to pay up, instead leaving Hapthorn in a sticky situation. Hengis, and the integrator, and another assistant, are equal to the problem, of course, and readily figure out what is truly happening -- but not without certain, one feels, irrevocable changes occurring in the relationship between Hengis and his much put upon assistant.

Locus, August 2005

Matthew Hughes's "Thwarting Jabbi Gloond" (F&SF, August) goes back to the beginning of Henghis Hapthorn's career. Our hero is rather undistinguished student, but he shows a certain intuitive ability, which causes his friend Torsten Olabian to suggest a career as a discriminator. Hapthorn is skeptical, but then Olabian has cause to ask for his friend's help in dealing with a man who is sponging off his father's estate. Hapthorn's investigations uncover some unsavory and unexpected secrets about Olabian's father and his fortune, involving some rather interesting aliens – perhaps not an unmixed result, but one that at any rate confirms Hapthorn's career direction. This is enjoyable work that accomplishes, I think, just what it is attempting – but it isn't terribly ambitious set next to Hughes's other Hapthorn stories, nor his Guth Bandar stories.

Locus, July 2006

Matthew Hughes is reliably entertaining in “The Meaning of Luff” (F&SF, July), a tale from the early life of Luff Imbry, who by the time of the novel Black Brillion was a reformed con man. Not so here – as he takes advantage of a fellow conperson’s financial need to take the lion’s share of a money making opportunity involving a device that, apparently accurately, reveals the ultimate value of any person’s life. The title tells us where this is going – and Luff’s response to such knowledge is quite in character.

Locus, March 2007

The February and March issues of F&SF each feature a nice cover taken from the same story: the two-part serial “The Helper and His Hero”, by Matthew Hughes. This story represents the culmination of Hughes’s series of stories about the noönaut Guth Bandar. A noönaut is an explorer of the collective unconsciousness: the source material (or perhaps the collective resultant) of story and myth. Bandar is by now middle-aged, and his noönaut career has long since been frustrated – as he has learned, because he is being saved for an important role. Now he takes a vacation to investigate gravitational anomalies in the Swept: a mostly uninhabited plain, the result of a long-past invasion by the alien hive-mind called the Dree. Most of the travelers are victims of a new disease, the Lassitude, and their companions, in hopes of a cure. But Bandar quickly gathers that one disturbing pair is not what it seems. In particular, the young aristocrat of the pair soon evinces great interest in Bandar’s ability as a noönaut – and, worst, this young man shows scary ability in that area himself. More, he seems hardly a real person – closer to an archetype, specifically the Hero archetype. And Bandar, it appears, is to be cast in the role of Helper to this Hero – in a desperate attempt to forestall another Dree invasion. The story is enjoyable enough, but seems just a bit sketchy. And the reason for that is simple, I think: this is exactly the story told in Hughes’s novel Black Brillion. Only the novel was told from the point of view of the young “Hero”, Baro Harkless, while this story is told from Bandar’s POV. It is interesting seeing the tale from another angle, but I must say I find the longer novel a more satisfying experience. (The serial is itself, I believe, just barely novel length according to SFWA’s definition.)

Locus, June 2007

Matthew Hughes's "Sweet Trap" (F&SF, June) is reprinted from a limited edition of his 2006 novel Majestrum. Henghis Hapthorn, along with his new familiar and also with is other self, the magically talented Osk Rievor, is hired to track down a missing man. The man bought an unexpectedly cheap spaceship then disappeared. Henghis and his often reluctant allies manage to track down the disappeared man, and find the unexpected criminal behind it all. It's a pleasant story but nothing special.

Locus, December 2009

Postscripts #19 is subtitled Enemy of the Good. So, yes, I know it’s officially an anthology but to me it’s still a magazine. The title story is one of Matthew Hughes’s Luff Imbry stories, set as with his Henghis Hapthorn pieces in the age just prior to that of Jack Vance’s Dying Earth. Here the enterprising thief is captured by a trap set by his latest victim. But his captor has an additional use for him – to explore a cave wherein an ancient sect had reputedly created nearly perfect works of art. Such ancient masterworks would surely be incredibly valuable. But – well, there’s always a but, and it’s fun getting to the but, and realizing why Luff himself is uniquely qualified to (more or less) triumph.

Locus, May 2017

The three novelets in the March-April F&SF are all really nice pieces, in different ways – perhaps none of them is precisely groundbreaking but they are all quite fun. ... Matthew Hughes starts a new series with “Ten Half Pennies”, about Baldemar, a poor boy who finds himself bullied at school, and comes up with the notion of buying protection from a moneylender’s enforcer, which leads eventually to doing errands for said enforcer, and then to a position as “wizard’s henchman”. The story from there is well-plotted and amusing, told in Hughes’ well-honed Vance-derived ironic voice.

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