Science Fiction & Fantasy

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Nonfiction

Author Spotlight: Matthew Hughes

Immediately, we get the impression of a fleshed out world, with all its intricacies ready to be put down on the page when needed. How did you approach crafting the world of “And Then Some” and how much didn’t make it to the final draft?

For quite a while now, I’ve been writing about a highly improbable far-future human civilization called The Ten Thousand Worlds that stretches along The Spray, our arm of the galaxy. There’s Old Earth, which has become as forgotten as the font of civilization as Uruk is to us today. Then there are the Grand Foundational Domains, the first planets settled aeons ago that are now vast, complex, wealthy societies. Then there are the secondary worlds, peopled by misfits and oddballs who felt hemmed-in on the Foundationals. And there are quite a few minor and disregarded planets where you take your chances, just like backpacking through some parts of Earth today.

So, not much gets left out. And I usually only do one draft and a good polish.

Cheddlites, the Adelaine, even names of characters like Binnie Varshun, come across as incredibly unique. How did you approach the terminology?

I mostly take existing names, although they might be unusual or thoroughly non-Anglo, then fiddle with them. Cheddle could be a descendant of Cheadle; Adelaine is a minor step away from Adelaide. A V often becomes a B as languages evolve, so think of Binnie Varshun as a mutation of Vinnie Vachon, and there you are. Of course, some of them I just make up.

With dozens to choose from, “And Then Some” offers images that invoke some of the best western and science fiction has to offer. What was the most exciting scene to write, and which image or scene was the most difficult?

None of it was difficult. I’ve been writing for a living for more than forty years, and writing fiction for a good half of that. My gears are well oiled.

I enjoyed writing the sequence where Kaslo arranged to get back his boots, because it was a good exercise in minimalism: Perfectly awful things were happening, but it is left to the reader’s imagination. I also enjoyed the conversation between Binnie and Kaslo on the spaceship. That was, to my mind, like Humphrey Bogart and Peter Lorre talking things over in The Maltese Falcon.

Erm Kaslo, Binnie Varshun, Captain Maduc, and—among many others—Diomedo Obron: All of these characters play significant roles in the story; however, which one would you feel you most identified with when writing, and why? Did anyone inspire the ones you didn’t identify with?

Each of them in turn. I’m an intuitive writer. When I’m writing a character’s lines and actions, I’m temporarily inside that persona. It’s nothing artsy. One of the reasons I was a successful speechwriter was that I was able to get a client’s voice and worldview inside my head, then write the words so that they sounded perfectly natural to that speaker. I discovered I had the ability when I was editing a weekly newspaper in a Vancouver suburb back in 1973. I had to write very right-wing (in the Canadian context) editorials about flogging vandals and so on, and I found that the only way I could pull it off was to write them in Richard Nixon’s voice.

As for inspiration: again, The Maltese Falcon, Casablanca, the noir films of the late forties and early fifties. Bogart, Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet, Van Heflin. I’m essentially a hard-boiled crime writer working in a science-fictional mode.

Is there any more insight you could give into the creation of “And Then Some”?

Well, since you ask . . . I’ve written a lot of stories set on Old Earth and the rest of the Ten Thousand Worlds when they’re about to enter a particularly horrible phase. That’s because, every several thousand years, the universe, for no known reason, abruptly switches its basic operating principle from rational cause-and-effect to “sympathetic association,” that is, magic. Every time this happens, civilization collapses, there’s an interregnum of chaos, then a slow rebuilding. But, gradually, the fact of the transition is forgotten, so the next time it happens it comes as a complete surprise to all but a few, who get an inkling shortly before the cusp and try to prepare for it.

I came up with the notion as a throw-away idea in my first novel Fools Errant, set on Old Earth one age before Jack Vance’s Dying Earth cycle. It was a way to explain how we got from his space-opera classic SF universe to the dark and magic-haunted world of Rhialto the Marvellous and Chun the Unavoidable. Later I came back to the idea and developed it in a series of stories and novels about Henghis Hapthorn, a Sherlock Holmes of old Earth who discovers, to his horror, that the change is about to happen and all that he values will be smashed and broken. In creating Hapthorn, I was thinking of the handful of Edwardian gentlemen in the weeks before the onset of World War I who realized that their civilization was about to crash: “The lamps are going out all over Europe; we will not see them lit again in our lifetime” is the appropriate quote.

I took Hapthorn up to just before the tsunami of change strikes. With the series of stories that begins with “And Then Some,” I’m going to take Erm Kaslo and Diomedo Obron through the collapse and into the new dark age and a world ruled by wizards.

Is there anything you would like to share with Lightspeed about upcoming publications or projects?

I’m writing the Kaslo series as a serial, or call it an episodic novel. The episodes will appear in subsequent issues of Lightspeed, and I am grateful to John Joseph Adams for buying into the concept when only four episodes were written.

I have some interesting stories coming out in three cross-genre anthologies that George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois are editing. The first antho is Rogues, coming out in October 2013; Old Mars and Old Venus will follow in the next couple of years.

And since February, I’ve been self-publishing my backlist as bargain-priced ebooks (and reasonably priced POD paperbacks). Readers who like “And Then Some” should come to my webpage and take a look.

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Patrick J Stephens

Patrick J Stephens recently graduated from the University of Edinburgh and, after spending the entire year writing speculative fiction, came back with a Master’s in Social Science. His first collection (Aurichrome and Other Stories) can be found on Kindle and Nook.