kw: book reviews, science fiction, fantasy, anthologies
In a post on July 14, I reviewed Matthew Hughes's book Black Brillion. The human "collective unconscious" or Commons plays a large part in the book. Three of the stories in Hughes's 2005 collection The Gist Hunter & Other Stories develop the background of Guth Bandar, who helps Baro Harkness use the Commons to unravel a mystery and foil an ancient plot. In the novel, Bandar is rather timid and fussy, though he exhibits surprising pluck in a crisis. These stories explore his younger days, when it seems he had considerably more pluck, or perhaps dumb luck.
Henghis Hapthorn, discriminator extraordinaire (that means he's a lot like a far-future Sherlock Holmes), is featured in six other stories, also set in the Archonate milieu of Guth Bandar and Baro Harkness. This is one of the farthest-future settings one can have, the Sun being quite close to bloating into a red giant and engulfing Old Earth. Fortunately, humans have spread to a number of other star systems, and star travel is within the means of at least the well-to-do. Hapthorne wrestles with the implications of a cusp in the cycles of essential laws, with logic soon to give way to magic; indeed, it is doing so—in fits and starts—as these stories progress.
Four final stories give the author a chance to kick up his heels in a few other arenas. My favorite is "Go Tell the Phoenicians," set in a more repressive version of the Archonate, perhaps pre-Archonate...and explores the turn of the worm that will end the repression.
I rejoiced in the focus of Black Brillion on things less violent or sexual than is the norm today. In a couple of the Guth Bandar stories, Hughes shows he's as prone to adolescent fantasy as any, and has an arena in which to take it to extremes few others might dream of. He manages to make one tale hilarious rather than scurrilous, in which our hero returns from misadventures in the Commons with elephantine ears and nose...and "other nose". Oh, well, it'll take a while to get some of that out of my memory!
I've scared up copies of another couple of the author's books. Stay tuned.