Monday, November 19, 2007

Will versus Reason at the end of time

kw: book reviews, crime fiction, fantasy, science fiction

I find I've reviewed four of Matthew Hughes's books (This search ought to bring them all up, plus this post). Between Baro Harkness, Guth Bandar, and Filidor Vesh, he has quite a stable of characters, with quite diverse personalities, to explore the Archonate for us.

I must have read Majestrum or a sister novel at some time in the past, but don't remember; it was pre-blog. I did remember Henghis Hapthorn and his dilemma—maintaining paid employment as a discriminator (detective) of impeccable empirical skills, while the age changes to one in which magic takes the place of logic. In The Spiral Labyrinth we find Hapthorn sharing his body with his intuitive side (which he'd previously denied having); a personality who's taken the name Osk Riever.

Together with his integrator (PDA), now become an animal "familiar" called a grinnet, he/they locate a missing merchant, who is found to be captive of a telepathic fungus on a small, cold world. Freeing the captive serves to close the introduction to the story, but our heroes are far from done with the fungus.

Rather than flog the tale, however, I find it more interesting to contemplate the question Hughes is asking through Hapthorn: If magic is the application of will plus skills by a trained, intuitive person, how is this different from a situation in which logic rules, given that will and skill is also needed to succeed?

It is sort of like the "irresistible force versus immovable object" of classical logic: There is no definitive answer, but there are sure to be plenty of interesting side products.

In this story, Hapthorn having lost Osk Riever, the now completely unintuitive discriminator finds that, whenever he can be coerced or tricked into speaking a magic spell, he has sufficient will to see its accomplishment, usually in a spectacular way. The grinnet supplies the magical knowledge, stored in it by Riever, who has been studying magic diligently since he became separate, but within. Yet Hapthorn is no magician, which is verified when he meets some real ones.

At story's end, the two halves of Hapthorn are resident in different bodies, and the grinnet, having found a will of its own, has been granted re-"decanting" into a mechanism; it's tired of being a small mammal, considered prey by an unfortunate variety of larger critters. I reckon Hughes has further adventures up his sleeve, perhaps leading to a reuniting of Hapthorn and Riever, perhaps not.

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