[ Note for regular readers and other webizens – this is the first in a string of what I hope will be fairly regular entries wherein I write my thoughts about books and stories I have recently read.
They’re not going to be reviews – indeed, in some cases (like this one) they will be books which I cannot review without justifiable claims of bias, but more often they’ll be titles I don’t have the time or will to review fully. Furthermore, they’ll contain a certain amount of discussion about the mechanics of the writing or plotting; think of it as me workshopping the pieces in a group of one in a glass box on the interwebs. With SP01l3RZ!!!!1OMG.
This being the interwebs, you are of course more than welcome to join in the conversation. 🙂 ]
PS Publishing, Aug 2008 – ISBN: 978-1905834617
First things first: I loved Template to bits. I’d read one Hughes title before (Black Brillion) which I remember liking, but I didn’t fall for it in the same way… maybe a revisit is required.
Every reviewer of Hughes seems to say that he writes like Jack Vance; it’s such a common claim I have to give it credence. I can’t speak with authority because (to my shame) Vance is among that ever-growing list of Writers I Really Need To Discover Properly; for me Hughes writes like Iain M Banks trying on a Michael Moorcock mask, or maybe the other way round. If that’s a bit like like Vance, then score one for genre fiction consensus.
The pseudo-archaic language is well chosen and perfectly controlled, never once strained, never becoming a chore (or a calculated obstruction, viz. Wolfe’s New Sun books). Also notable is Hughes’ handling of detail; rather than deploy a Gormenghastian mass of description Hughes sets the mood, provides a few pointed (and frequently baroque) close details, and then lets your brain do the set dressing all on its own. It certainly worked for me; I was struck by how vividly I had visualised the characters, which never seems to happen as much with writers who describe at length. Less really is more, eh? Even as Conn’s heritage was in the process of being revealed, I was so caught up in the telling-of-the-tale that I felt exactly the same shocked comprehension as the character himself. That’s good engagement, right there.
Template is also a very philosophical novel, and very of-its-time. Laced in with the classic sf theme of the clone/gen-eng’d being and its place as a free agent in the universe (throw in some transcendence of creator’s purpose and the redemption of said creator for good measure) Hughes takes a long deep look at the cultural assumptions that underlie our economic systems… and I’m not talking Blue or Red here so much as completely different cultural shapes for the terms ‘price’, ‘trade’, ‘value’ and ‘worth’. Oh, and ‘good’, of course.
Careful choices make for a good balance of sympathy and that essential lead-character ignorance-of-the-world in Conn Labro, an iteration of the ‘orphan outsider in a society of outsiders’. His games-trained analytical mind suits his his home-world, but makes him prone to question the very different systems he encounters beyond it, not to mention his reactions to such. (It has literally just occurred to me that in that respect he’s like an echo bounced from Banks’ Gurgeh, the Player of Games.) In some respects Conn is also an amplified version of our (economic and cultural) selves as 21st Century humans; this metaphor could be seen as being made a little more concrete in the revelations about his origins late in the novel.
And to close with a reiteration – what a great read! It might be partly due to not having sat down and read a book that I wasn’t on a deadline for, but I’ve not enjoyed a book viscerally quite so much in some time, as both reader-for-pleasure and student-of-craft. It’s a template for a great story, you might even say…
Yeah, OK, I’ll get my coat.