From the opening lines to the closing exchange, there is no doubt that “The Archon” is a story of transitions — in politics, life, reality, and perceptions. Your prose is tight, and conversations flow with a natural rhythm. Where did you find your inspiration to write this story?
In this serialized novel, as in the rest of my Archonate stories, I’m looking at a civilization that is about to be profoundly changed, though almost all of its inhabitants have no idea what’s about to happen. The general inspiration came from thinking about the western world in the summer of 1914, when the civilization of Europe was about to be wracked and transformed beyond recognition, but only a few realized that “the lamps are going out and will not be lit again.”
The narrative style is minimalism, just a few details to evoke setting and mood. For the dialogue, I don’t try to mimic real speech — who knows how people will talk thousands of years from now? — but I try to remember that every dialogue is a duel.
Your system of magic is an intricate blend of sympathies and subtle understandings not quite built on the logic of science and reason. It draws the reader in and encourages the imagination. What sort of magic would you work if you could step through the pages and into the story?
Some spell that would insulate me from the horrors I’m inflicting on the trillion poor souls who inhabit the Ten Thousand Worlds.
The characters speak to the changing world, much like the face of genre fiction. Kaslo is a man in the second act of his life, abandoned by the old world and left to find his place in the new. Obron has a better grasp on the mechanics of this new world, but even he seems taken aback at times. How do you see the changes in science fiction and fantasy, and the chances writers and publishers take to bring quality fiction to the readers?
You’re asking the wrong author. I recognize that I’m writing SF/F that could have been published fifty years ago. I haven’t seriously read SF/F since the mid-1980s and have no idea where the field is going these days.
You make excellent use of color to create a vivid, believable setting. What writers whet your imagination’s whistle when you’re in the mood for fantastic locations and worlds?
Jack Vance, of course, Gene Wolfe, Ray Bradbury, whom I read from my teens into my thirties. I still re-read Vance, and also P.G. Wodehouse, whom Vance revered. But mostly I read crime fiction and consider myself a crime writer trapped in a science-fiction author’s career. Kaslo, for example, is my take on a classic hard-boiled private eye dealing with a situation straight out of science-fantasy.
You have an extensive bibliography, ranging from novels and short stories to a variety of non-fiction work. Some writers feel they must specialize in longer or shorter works, and can’t manage to cross from one to another. How difficult is it for you to dip your toes into both ends of the writing pool, as it were?
Not very. I’ve been a professional writer for more than forty years — journalism, speechwriting, screenplays, radio comedy, ghostwritten novels and memoirs, and more. I had to produce to feed my family. I started writing short SF after my first two novels didn’t ring any bells, thinking that exposure in magazines like Lightspeed and F&SF would build readership. I found that I liked the form, especially the 10,000-word novelette, so I’m concentrating on those lately. After they run in the mags, I can bundle them into collections and sell them as ebooks and POD paperbacks from my own webstore (www.matthewhughes.org, if you don’t mind my plugging it) and Amazon. The Kaslo Chronicles will be another one of my self-pubbed projects once the last episode has run in Lightspeed.
What’s next for Matthew Hughes? What can the readers look forward to in the coming year?
I’ve turned in the last episode of Kaslo, so Lightspeed will be running those. Gordon Van Gelder has three more stories about Raffalon, my archetypal journeyman thief, in inventory at F&SF, and I’ll do at least a couple more to make sure I have a collection’s worth. Something I’m particularly proud of is a Jeeves and Wooster pastiche in Old Venus, the next George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois antho coming out in March. And I’m thinking of reviving my corpulent master criminal of the Archonate, Luff Imbry, in a few stories and offering them to John Joseph Adams.
Meanwhile, I’m writing a historical novel I’ve wanted to do since about 1971.
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