Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Quartet and Triptych, by Matthew Hughes

"Long, long ago, near the very beginning of the present Aeon, it was a custom of Old Earth's elite to preserve the animating essences of its members as they approached the inevitable end of existence." On special occasions the essences would be "placed into a device that projected a simulacrum of the deceased". This superb novella records the consequences of one such device, that containing the remnant of socialite Waltraut Voillute, falling into the hands of Luff Imbry, gentleman thief. With her reluctant assistance he attempts to recover the treasures concealed by her cruel father Lord Syce in a mutable maze under the Summer Pavillion on the estate of Grand Minthereyon.

The only thing I've read by Matthew Hughes before this was "Grolion of Almery", his wonderful contribution to Songs of the Dying Earth, and though this novella (not a collection of seven stories, despite the title) is not an outright tribute, Jack Vance's influence looms just as large, in its delicious language, dry humour, casual cruelty and elegant flourishes. But it's much more than a pastiche, and if you were to suggest that it surpasses Vance I would struggle to find counter-arguments. I loved every word of it, and if this is typical of Hughes' work I expect I'll read every novel he ever writes. It's brimming with lovely ideas and spirited language, and never settles for the obvious when it can offer the superb. Marvellous.

Quartet and Triptych, Matthew Hughes, PS Publishing, hb, 90pp.

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