I read Matthew Hughes’ Template as an ebook, as he’s giving out copies to anyone who’ll blog or otherwise write about it. This naturally makes my review here suspect, because it’s hard not to feel a sense of obligation to someone who gives you something free, even if you try consciously to avoid such feeling. Fortunately, I’ve already established my bona fides as a Hughes fanboy with my glowing reviews of his Hapthorn and Vesh novels, so saying good things about Template can’t be seen as suspicious. Which is handy, because it’s a great book.
The other Hughes novels I’ve read have taken place on an Old Earth teetering between science and magic, feeling very much like something out of Vance. This one takes place in that same universe, but is wholly separate from the other books in plot and character. I believe it’s set earlier, in a time of pure science; given that, and that its plot involves the character hopping around from planet to planet across the length of the Spray, it feels less like Vance’s Dying Earth and more like... okay, more like Vance’s Demon Princes books.
Which is a good thing. Vance is a great writer, and not a particularly imitated one, so even a pure Vance knock-off would be a useful addition to the field (I mean, how many Tolkien knockoffs are there? Surely Vance deserves at least one); but Hughes isn’t a pure knock-off and has his own distinctive stamp, so even better. This is good stuff, and people who like good things — and particularly people who like Vancian good things — should at least go to Hughes’ site and email him for a copy, as this is a good, standalone place to start reading. Or go read The Gist Hunters, which is also an ideal starting place.
Now, just to establish my independence and credibility here, I’ll end with a negative comment. Hughes considers this to be “[his] best work yet,” and on that point I disagree. I think the Hapthorn books are better, and the Filidor Vesh books just as good. So there you are: It’s not quite as good as one of Hughes’ excellent works, and only on par with one of his other excellent works.