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Interview: Matthew Hughes on “Ten Half-Pennies”

Tell us a bit about “Ten Half-Pennies.”

It’s the beginning of a series of stories about Baldemar, a poor boy who grows up to have a career as a wizard’s henchman, after a spending his teenage years as an assistant to a man who collects debts.


A Wizard's Henchman by Matthew Hughes“Ten Half-Pennies” introduces us to a new character, Baldemar, in the Archonate Universe.  What inspired his creation?

In the fall of 2015, Gardner Dozois invited me to submit a story to his forthcoming anthology, THE BOOK OF SWORDS.  I had recently sold a novel to PS Publishing about a hardboiled PI who becomes a wizard’s henchman (that’s the title) after the technological civilization of the Ten Thousand Worlds collapses when the universe arbitrarily switches its fundamental operating principle from rationalism to magic, opening the age of the Dying Earth.

I thought it would be interesting to write about a wizard’s henchman in a Dying Earth setting after Old Earth has settled down into a faux-medieval world where wizards are part of the landscape.  So I created Baldemar, who is sent by the wizard he henches for on an impossible mission to steal the Sword of Destiny from a rival thaumaturge.  Your basic Jack Vance-influenced adventure tale about a tough guy who gets dropped into trouble by those who have more power than he does.

When that story was accepted, I thought I’d do the same thing I had done with Raffalon the thief.  I’d originally created him at the end of his career as an unlucky burglar for the anthology ROGUES.  Then I wrote a series of prequel stories and sold them to F&SF.  So now I’m writing Baldemar prequels, showing his start in life, followed by some of the things that happen to him once he goes to work for Thelerion the Exemplary, a not very competent thaumaturge who nonetheless (like all wizards) has grand ambitions.  So far I’ve placed this issue’s story, as well as a novelette that will appear in the May/June issue and a novella that’s not yet scheduled.  And I have another Baldemar novelette sitting in Charlie’s submissions queue.


In your Archonate stories, you have written protagonists who must contend with magic, and even a few who use magic in some ways, but you’ve never written a main character who was an actual member of the Wizards’ Guild.  Why is that, and do you think you ever will write a wizard protagonist?

I’m thinking of doing it with Erm Kaslo, the protagonist of A WIZARD’S HENCHMAN, the hardboiled Sam Spade who ends up henching for a proto-wizard after the change from rationalism to magic.  But there’s a common theme running through a lot of my sf and fantasy: my protagonists are outsiders who have to use their talents and street-smarts to navigate among personages and institutions that have more power than they do.  It’s a reflection of my own life, where I started out as a child of the working poor who fluked his way into a career as a speechwriter and confidant of political leaders and chief executives of billion-dollar corporations.


Anything else you’d like to add?

I’m now producing a monthly newsletter and emailing it to those who sign up.  Besides news, they get free reads of my backlist stories and episodes from my autobiography-in-progress, which I’m calling ONE DAMN THING AFTER ANOTHER.  To encourage people to get on the list, I’m giving away a free ebook copy of my standalone space-opera novel, TEMPLATE.  Here’s a link for anyone who’s interested:


“Ten Half-Pennies” appears in the March/April 2017 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a copy of the issue here:

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You can click on the picture of Mr. Hughes’s latest book, A Wizard’s Henchman, to purchase an ebook copy of it from Amazon.


One Response to “Interview: Matthew Hughes on “Ten Half-Pennies””

  1. Archonate | Interview in F&SF on March 24th, 2017

    […] done an interview on The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction blog about the genesis of my new character, Baldemar, a poor widow’s son who grows up to become a […]

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