Matthew Hughes and Vance

A few years ago, I came across a review of a book called Fools Errant. I believe it was in Locus magazine, and the novel was by a new author named Matthew Hughes.


What intrigued me about the book’s review was that the book was highlighted as being in the vein of Jack Vance’s Dying Earth. And we all know how much I love Vance’s work, Dying Earth being high in my esteem for the author. This intrigued me.
So, I bought the book and read it. It wasn’t bad, I liked it. Was it as good as Vance?
I am pained to admit to you that it did not rise quite as high in my esteem as the work of the singular master Jack Vance.
It felt like an early work by a young author. I could see that it was both a pastiche as well as an original work by Hughes, though. It felt like a Vancian novel, but his Archonate universe was a little more geared toward Science than fantasy, as if it took place not quite so late in Earth’s history as the world of the Dying Earth.
The book went onto my completed pile, and I moved on. I sometimes take a long time to return to a series or an author, given the breadth of my reading. In point of fact, Hughes mostly fell off my radar.
Since then, though, without me buying his books, Hughes himself has not been idle. He has written a sequel to Fools Errant, Fool Me Twice, as well as more novels and stories set in his Dying Earth like world. In point of fact, he has gotten quite a bit of good buzz, and I do wonder how much he has honed his craft since reading that early novel of his.
Perhaps it is time again to revisit Hughes’ work and see how he has grown. The excerpts from his website of his various novels are quite promising. The style and feel I had read in Fools Errant seem to have been polished:
Luff Imbry came to Sherit on the shuttle from Olkney, traveling comfortably on a red-tab first-class travel voucher. The ticket had begun as a blue-ordinary, but soon encountered a small but useful device of Imbry’s own manufacture, which bedecked it in an electronic mirage that fooled the shuttle’s automatic scanners. At ease in the red-tab compartment’s sumptuous lounge, the fraudster helped himself to a smattering of delicacies from the circulating buffet and accepted a glass of quite decent golden Phalum.
At Sherit’s main terminus, Imbry’s appearance excited no comment. His only outstanding feature was a pronounced corpulence but even this he used to his advantage, contriving his features into an arrangement that conveyed benign geniality, the image of the jolly fat fellow. His garb was also commonplace in Sherit that year: a voluminous jacket of dark patent leather over flared pantaloons patterned in contrasting stripes of red and white, with shoes that matched the leather and a hat that echoed the cloth.
He recovered his carry-all bag from the here-you-are, then wove his way through the crowds of travelers to the ring-road outside. There he spied a passing omnibus which bore the name of the Trabboline Inn. The slow-moving conveyance was trolling for in-bound travelers who had not yet reserved lodgings, its illuminated sides displaying the Trabboline’s rates and attractions.
Luff Imbry assembled his face into a pleasing distribution of smiles and winks, then stepped aboard and spoke affably to the vehicle’s operator, a stubby person with pale hair and eyes whose gender remained indeterminate under the baggy one-piece work garb typical of lower class Sheritics. The response was brusque, somewhat more than a grunt although not quite an actual syllable, but Imbry was not so easily put off.
“I believe the Trabboline offers discrete classes of accommodation,” he said, “from Green Basic to Platinum Superior?”
The inquiry drew a confirmatory sound from deep in the Sheritic’s throat.
“And Platinum Superior is available only to persons of the renunciant class?”
This time the answer was more growl than grunt. Imbry had uncovered a raw patch on the driver’s psyche. He proceeded to abrade it. “I am impressed by the renunciant concept,” he said. “The wide world marvels at the wisdom of Sheritics in having created such a beneficial institution.”

–Black Brillon, Matthew Hughes
Reading through the descriptions of some of his novels, too, I think that my instincts for what Hughes is doing are right. The novels are set in a Dying Earth like universe, but one which is at a more science dominated point in history–but that is changing. Hughes’ novels seem to be documenting the time up to the “turnover” point, and once again I am intrigued.