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The Spiral Labyrinth: A Tale of Henghis Hapthorn
Matthew Hughes
Night Shade Books, 216 pages

The Spiral Labyrinth: A Tale of Henghis Hapthorn
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:The Gist Hunter & Other Stories
SF Site Review: Black Brillion
SF Site Review: Black Brillion
SF Site Review: Fool Me Twice

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Sherwood Smith

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This is the second novel featuring Henghis Hapthorn, a discriminator -- read private detective -- on an alternate Earth. Aided by his intuitive inner self, Osk Rievor -- having become a separate entity during the course of the first novel -- and his faithful grinnet -- an AI housed in a furry little body like a cross between a cat and an ape -- Hapthorn is approached by a wealthy socialite with what appears to be a straightforward case: her husband has vanished after buying a small spaceship. Establishing that the spouse was not involved in hanky-panky, Hapthorn investigates further, to discover that several others who had considered buying the vessel also disappeared. He takes on a guise as a buyer himself -- to be captured, along with his grinnet and intuitive self, by a super-intelligent fungus that leeches personality, experience, and knowledge from its victims.

In attempting to escape he is unexpectedly transported centuries into the future, in which magic has replaced physics. Osk Rievor is tricked and vanishes, the grinnet appears to abandon him, and Hapthorn finds himself in the middle of a war between some extremely nasty wizards. He only has the help of a somewhat mysterious servant of one of the worst of the wizards, a man bent on discovering Hapthorn's secret identity. This after some kind of super-powered entity searches through the Nine Planes, howling across worlds, Bring me Apthorn!

Hapthorn hates magic. He likes belonging to a universe that works on rational principles. But when one is in need, one swiftly learns to use the tools at hand -- or succumbs to the wily plans of evil-minded dacoits.

One does not have to have read the first novel to pick up the storyline. These seem to be episodic, and not part of a single-arc larger story. That's not to say that Hapthorn and his companions are deposited back exactly where they began this adventure, because that is not true. But the story threads are all tucked in.

I've noticed that many reviewers compare Matthew Hughes' wit to P.G. Wodehouse, and his imaginative plotting to Conan Doyle. Hughes does indeed demonstrate a penchant for witty dialogue as well as for entertainingly weird characters and world invention. His lapidary style, gleaming with sly wit, reminds me more of that giant of the golden era of science fiction, Jack Vance. Not that Hughes is writing mere pastiche. Hughes' voice is distinct, and I find the underpinnings of his worldbuilding more interesting than I ever did Vance's, much as I loved (and still love) most of his work. Vance's stories so often are bent around the form of revenge tales; Hughes gives the reader far more philosophical pyrotechnics. For example, how many science fiction writers have ever heard of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, much less employed his truly SFnal notions for building a universe?

Hughes writes with wit and panache, his imagination is delightfully vivid as well as weird, and his stories never predictable. This one goes on the reread shelf.

Copyright © 2007 Sherwood Smith

Sherwood Smith is a writer by vocation and reader by avocation. Her webpage is at www.sff.net/people/sherwood/.


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