Majestrum is a relatively short science fantasy set in our own far-future universe which has been co..Show More »lonized far and wide by humans from Old Earth. The protagonist, Henghis Hapthorn, is a “discriminator” (“he unravels conundrums, picks apart puzzles, uncovers enigmas”) who uses his keen logical skills to solve mysteries.
But some strange stuff is going on: Mr Hapthorn’s integrator (a sentient computer which assists him in his work) has recently donned flesh and blood and become more like a familiar than a computer. Also, the small intuitive part of Henghis’s psyche has suddenly asserted itself as a separate personality which shares Henghis’s brain and body. These occurrences seem to indicate that sympathetic association (magic), which waxes and wanes across the eons, is now rising again. And soon Henghis Hapthorn’s double personality and his familiar find themselves hunting an ancient evil force which is trying to resurface.
Majestrum is a fast-paced novel which reads much like a crime thriller (Matthew Hughes writes those under the name Matt Hughes) with a heavy dose of sarcasm, irony, and dry humor. Hughes is known to be a Jack Vance fan (read his appreciation of Jack Vance which he wrote for us upon that author’s death), and this influence is obvious. The novel reads much like an homage to Vance. Even the cover art was created by Tom Kidd who does much of Vance’s cover art. Majestrum and Hughes’ other ARCHONATE novels are set in a Dying Earth universe that’s very similar to Vance’s famous setting. The writing style is purposely magniloquent with numerous ten-dollar words (e.g., peregrinations, transmogrification, pansophical, ratiocination) and the characters “ascend” rather than go up, “peruse” instead of read, and “ascertain” instead of figure out. As in a Vance novel, all of the characters speak this way, not just the upper crust.
Hughes imitates Vance’s droll humor and absurd plotting perfectly, and there are many laugh-out-loud moments such as when Henghis has to put on upper-class ornamentation so that the nobles can perceive him, when his integrator/familiar falls asleep at crucial moments, and when hardened criminals are given to the Corps of Buffoons, fitted with coercion suits, and compelled to publicly act in bawdy plays. Even the character names are funny and noticeably Vancian: Glam Botch, Bristal Baxandall, Vhobald Hammis.
Despite the obvious mimicry, Hughes’ characters, ideas, and plot are original, making Majestrum an inventive and entertaining novel in its own right, and a perfect read for a Vance fan who has tragically run out of Vance to read. Fortunately, there are several more books in Hughes’ ARCHONATE universe.
I listened to Audible Frontiers’ recent version which was read by David Marantz. It took me a little while to warm up to Marantz, but I soon decided that his voice, which lacked much inflection or enthusiasm, fit Hughes’ droll style and Henghis Hapthorn’s personality nicely. I recommend Majestrum on audio, but if you don’t like it immediately, give it a few chapters and I think you’ll change your mind.
Henghis Hapthorn, who we met in Majestrum, is back. Actually, he’s not really back, he’s forward, be..Show More »cause after solving the mystery of the disappearance of a man who went to look at a spaceship for sale, Henghis finds himself in a future Dying Earth where magic has replaced the role of reason in the universe. It seems he’s been drawn there by some malevolent force that wants something from him. In this future Earth, Henghis contends with warring wizards, fire-breathing dragons, and a very nasty luminous fungus. Will he be able to get back to his proper time and place?
Fortunately, Hapthorn is not alone. He has his computer which has turned into an argumentative fruit-eating feline pet, and a sentient sword which is eager to be drawn and brandished at any potential threat. Unfortunately, Henghis’ intuitive alternate psyche, who prefers to be called Osk Rievor, is missing and Henghis, who’s quite a logical fellow, could really use his help in a world where logic no longer works.
As I mentioned in my review of Majestrum, the first of the Henghis Hapthorn novels which are set in the ARCHONATE universe, Matthew Hughes’ writing style, dry humor, and bizarre characters and situations unabashedly mimic Jack Vance (he even uses the word “exudate”). Hughes’ work is not parody or pastiche — his characters and plot are all his own. These are original and creative stories, not rehashed Vance tales. As a rabid Vance fan, I think Hughes is worthy of comparison to the master and I can’t help but be charmed by an author who clearly loves Jack Vance as much as I do. Even the covers for the Henghis Hapthorn novels were painted by one of my favorite fantasy artists, Tom Kidd, who created the covers for many of Jack Vance’s novels. Charming.
David Marantz narrates the audio version of The Spiral Labyrinth which was recently produced by Audible Frontiers. It took me a while to warm up to Marantz in Majestrum, but I decided that he was a good fit after all and I really liked him in The Spiral Labyrinth. His voice is pleasant and his plain, even reading technique works well with Hughes’ style.