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The Gist Hunter and Other Stories

Matthew Hughes
Night Shade (256p)
$27. ISBN: 1-597800-20-1

book cover Hughes' fictional Archonate is set in the "penultimate age," of a far future Old Earth before the time of Jack Vance's far, far future Dying Earth. Vance's style has been summed up by Michael Dirda as "wonderfully ironic...reserved, august, tongue-in-cheek, recherche..." and Hughes technique is an intentional homage. Hughes, like Vance, also explores his world through interrelated stories. (He also has written three related novels.) This collection includes six Archonate stories featuring Henghis Hapthorn, "Old Earth's foremost freelance discriminator" who "unravels complex mysteries" with Holmesian aplomb. A trio of tales focus on Guth Bandar who studies the nooesphere, the collective human unconscious. The Hapthorn yarns also have a P.G. Wodehouse flavor with the Jeeves role taken by the discriminator's "integrator" device while Bandar is more Jungian than Jung. Four unrelated final stories range from less than adequate to merely pedestrian. The neo-Vancean stories are entertaining and often droll, but those who revere Vance may come away somewhat disappointed. Such bold derivation invites -- almost demands -- comparison and, in this collection at least, Hughes comes up short. His language, for example, although rich, lacks Vance's lyrical elegance and precision. (Hughes, in other words, is no Gene Wolfe. But who is?) Hughes achieves neither Vance's compelling fin de l'univers atmosphere nor his sense of human absurdity. (...nor is he M. John Harrison.) Despite everything and everyone Hughes is not, 75 per cent of his collection remains amusing, enjoyable, and highly readable. -- (from Fantasy #1)