31 May 2008

Matthew Hughes's Template

Matthew Hughes has been called the best kept secret in science fiction, but I say, why keep him secret? His novels of the “Archonate” in the “penultimate age of Old Earth” are riproaring fun, and, to the extent they are Jack Vance homage, they are absolutely the best of their kind.

Template, being published by PS Books soon and made available by the author in electronic format to people willing to review or comment, was actually written in 2003 but was not published. Stupid publishers, because it's a great read.

It has some of the elements of Jack Vance's Star King and other Kirth Gersen stories. A young man of exceptional ability and a dark, secret past, with mysterious and implacable enemies, in a galaxy of adventure. Also, Hughes has a somewhat similar sardonic wit and gift for atmospherics, esoterica, bits of philosophy, and a lovely way with unusual characterization. This is entertainment, not Deep Thought, but it's very well crafted and holds interest throughout.

There's a game in the story called birl, which reminds a Vance fan of hussade (also mentioned in passing), and there are many other nods of homage to Vance (Amboy, the planet of Emphyrio, is briefly mentioned, and there are others for the fan to pull out). The romance element is not really surprising, but it's believable, and the resolution of the mysteries, and of the plot itself, are Vancian and satisfying.

Highly recommended, especially to those who love a good old fashioned space opera, or, even more, to those who cut their teeth on Jack Vance.