So most of the books that I’ve not booklogged for months range from the weakly bad to the weakly good, but the ones that I feel worst about not mentioning before are the biggest exception to that, Matthew Hughes’ The Gist Hunter and Other Stories, Majestrum, and The Spiral Labyrinth , which are collectively the tales of Henghis Hapthorn.

Hapthorn is a discriminator (translate as, loosely, private investigator) in the far, far future, on an Earth so long from now that our time is distant legend. What’s more, it’s an Earth that’s beginning the transition from an age of science, when rationality and reason and technology rule the universe, to an age of magic, when belief and will and intuition are supreme. The pretty obvious inspiration here is Jack Vance’s Dying Earth, but Hughes isn’t writing pastiche any more than Gene Wolfe was in The Book of the New Sun; this is a fully realized creation on its own.

In The Gist Hunters, a half dozen Hapthorn stories are collected, and they seem at first like conventional SF mysteries, but as they progress, the characters and the world change and develop in ways that are unusual for a genre that thrives on stasis. That change, and that unpredictability, continue throughout the two novels; each of them tells a complete story, but they’re clearly building up a larger story of the world changing and Hapthorn trying to find a place in the new world (a story which is as yet incomplete; there’s at least one more book coming out soon, and hopefully others past that).

Hughes is a great writer, capable of writing SF on the grand scale, but also of light touches of dry humor; Hapthorn is a great character, pompous and self-regarding and brilliant; and the far-future Earth is a great setting, soaring and glorious and ancient and magical. If you enjoy mystery-tinged SF, humor-tinged SF, fantasy-tinged SF, or even just exceedingly well-written SF, you should go buy at least The Gist Hunters.


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