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The Gist Hunter & Other Stories
Matthew Hughes
Night Shade Books, 245 pages

The Gist Hunter & Other Stories
Matthew Hughes
Matthew Hughes was born in 1949 Liverpool, England, but moved to Canada when he was five. A life-long writer, he has worked as a journalist, a staff speechwriter in the federal government and, since 1979, a freelance corporate and political speechwriter in British Columbia. He lives in a small town on Vancouver Island with his wife and 3 sons.

Matthew Hughes Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Black Brillion
SF Site Review: Black Brillion
SF Site Review: Fool Me Twice
Matthew Hughes Tribute Site

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Donna McMahon

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People who are familiar with Matthew Hughes' clever, sardonic prose have probably already snatched up The Gist Hunter & Other Stories, his first collection, just published by Night Shade Books. For others, this will make a good introduction to his work.

Hughes is being compared to Jack Vance these days, but personally I like Hughes a great deal more. His ornate turns of phrase and droll, sardonic humour are something to be savoured and revisited. And like Hughes' novels Fools Errant, Fool Me Twice, and Black Brillion, most of the stories in this collection are set in a whimsical far future Earth.

Six tales feature Henghis Hapthorn, foremost freelance discriminator in the city of Olkney in the penultimate age of Old Earth. Hapthorn, the most brilliant citizen in the city (and he does not hesitate to say so) solves problems that nobody else can solve by "uncovering facts and relationships so ingeniously hidden or disguised as to baffle the best agents of the Archonate's Bureau of Scrutiny."

In "Mastermindless", Hapthorn is working on a problem when he suddenly discovers that he can no longer think clearly, and a glance in his reflector reveals that his face has become disfigured and covered in warts. He discusses the problem with his "integrator", a powerful AI.

My cerebral apparatus was powerful and highly tuned. Yet now it was as if some gummy substance had been poured over gears that had always spun without friction.

Something is wrong," I said. "Moments ago I was a highly intelligent and eminently attractive man in the prime of life. Now I am ugly and dull."

"I dispute the 'eminently attractive.' You were, however, presentable. Now, persons who came upon you unexpectedly would be startled."

And when Hapthorn discovers his bank account has been reduced to 32 hepts and 14 grimlets, he has no choice but to go forward armed only with a fragment of his usual intellect, to discover and stop the perpetrator.

Three other stories feature Guth Bandar, a noönaut, or explorer of the "Commons" -- the human collective unconscious. The first of these tales, "A Little Learning," recounts Bandar's apprenticeship at the Institute for Historical Inquiry, where he learns to travel among a multitude of archetypal Events, Landscape and Situations. Bandar's unconventional approach to the noösphere both irritates the institute and puts him at risk of getting lost or merging with one of the primal entities that roam the "shared basement of the human mind."

The final four stories in this collection are quite different -- two very short, punchy SF tales, a longer SF story called "Go Tell the Phonecians" (which reminded me of the classic Eric Frank Russell story, "And Then There Were None") and finally, a mainstream coming of age story "Bearing Up" about a teenager in Comox, BC. They are all good, but I liked the last one best, which is a fine note on which to end a collection.

The Gist Hunter & Other Stories is in hardcover right now, with the likelihood of a trade paperback some time next year. That's hard on readers with limited budgets, but it is a handsome volume with a delightful Escheresque cover illustration by Jason Van Hollander. For the hard core collector there's also a limited edition of only 125 copies, signed and including an extra story, "Osfeo Tales."

Copyright © 2006 Donna McMahon

Donna McMahon discovered science fiction in high school and fandom in 1977, and never recovered. Dance of Knives, her first novel, was published by Tor in May, 2001, and her book reviews won an Aurora Award the same month. She likes to review books first as a reader (Was this a Good Read? Did I get my money's worth?) and second as a writer (What makes this book succeed/fail as a genre novel?). You can visit her website at http://www.donna-mcmahon.com/.


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