Matthew Hughes is best known for his excellent Archonate novels, about which the awkward adjective “Vance-ian” is always used, for the obvious reasons that the setting and the tone are both reminiscent of Jack Vance. And Matthew Hughes’ The Other is an excellent installment in that series. Here, we focus on the con man Luff Imbry, who has been marooned on a desolate backwater planet. As in most of the Archonate novels, this planet turns out to hold a unique branch of human culture, and figuring out how to deal with that (and figuring out why he’s been marooned) drives much of the plot.
Hughes’ writing in this mode is droll, witty, and absolutely unlike anyone writing today. Highly recommended.
Then there’s Matthew Hughes’ To Hell and Back trilogy, which is something altogether different. When I started reading them, I thought they were supposed to be urban fantasy—and why not? It seems like just about every SF/fantasy author these days tries their hand at urban fantasy, just as they all turned their hand to epic fantasy around the turn of the century.
But it quickly becomes apparent that this is not your standard urban fantasy. It takes a detour into superhero fiction, but never quite settles there, either; it finally ends up settling somewhere around “theological fantasy,” like a less caustic James Morrow. Fundamentally, it’s about a demon granting superpowers to an accountant, and thereby precipitating a theological crisis, which definitely is not your standard sexy-vampire book.
So it definitely retains Hughes’ originality and uniqueness. But… honestly, I can’t say that I loved this series in the way I love the Archonate books. It’s another of those respect-more-than-like scenarios. If the premise sounds interesting to you, go ahead and give it a whirl, because it’s at least pretty good; but for my part, I hope Hughes goes back to writing Archonate novels.