Thursday, December 31, 2009

Template by Matthew Hughes

In a better world, Template would have been the immediate follow-up to Hughes's engaging novel Black Brillion, which became a solid hit and generated a serious fan following for Hughes' witty and quietly cutting tales of the far future of the Archonate. Sadly, this is not that world, and none of those things happened -- Black Brillion was a wonderful book that readers inexplicably avoided, and Template sat on the shelf for a few years, only to emerge from a small British house, PS Publishing, in this handsome but limited edition last year. (A trade paperback, which I hope will reach more people, will be published by Paizo sometime in 2010.)

Hughes's work often tends towards the Vancean, and Template is firmly in that mode; it's set so far in the future that the planet called "Old Earth" may not even be the one we're on now, and in a society where humanity has spread throughout an entire arm of the Milky Way. It's a slightly old-fashioned future, pre-Sterling and Vinge, in that all of those humans are apparently physically identical to humans today, and their divergences -- which are many, and one of the underlying themes of Template -- are entirely cultural, not physical.

Conn Labro is a gladiator of sorts, a master of physical combat on the world Thrais, where every contact among humans is governed by pure commerce. But he will find himself traveling through many different worlds of The Spray of humanity -- all the way to Old Earth, with stops along the way -- and find that each world has a very different set of expected behaviors. Template is, on one level, the story of Conn's adventures as he investigates the death of Hallis Tharp, an old man with whom he used to play the game of paduay, and those adventures are colorful and exciting. But Template is also the story of how Conn learns to appreciate and live with those very different cultures -- including, or especially, that of the young woman Jenore Mordene, originally of Old Earth herself.

Hughes's writing is both supple and subtle here; his dialogue is allusive and amusing in that dry, understated style that he shares with Vance, and his descriptions are precise and specific. Template isn't a long novel -- it tops out at 250 pages -- but it's full of wonders and thrills, deeply amusing and thoughtful in turns, a fine mature work from one of the best writers that SFF has today. I can only hope that his audience will increase; we need more Hughes novels, and a world with a legion of Hughes fans would be a wonderful thing.


Matt said...

Any idea why your image (advanced reader's copy?) gives Matthew Hughes as the author, but Amazon is listing it as by Matthew Hughes and Jay Lake?

Andrew Wheeler said...

There's a foreword by Lake, which is why he's credited as an author. (Actually, the real book has a line about that on the cover as well, so the image I grabbed online must be outdated.)

Amazon is constantly in a tension about author credits -- there's a big to-do about getting them to list all contributors to anthologies (on the one hand; I've seen a petition on Facebook for that), and there's also the confusion that results when a books looks like it was co-written by the author and editor, or illustrator, or the guy who did the foreword. Looks to me like they need much more robust metadata in the "author" field, and I'm glad I'm not the guy who has that project.

Matt Hughes said...

Thank you, Andy. Please watch for "The Other," the first Luff Imbry novel coming from Underland Press sometime this year.

Susan de Guardiola said...

You missed last spring's Template review-a-thon! Here's the roundup page:

Andrew Wheeler said...

Susan: Long since missed it, yes -- I didn't even get a copy of the book until almost eighteen months after that.

Post a Comment