The Big Idea: Matthew Hughes

Good things always have to come to an end. Or do they? Author Matthew Hughes is determined not to let the good name of Jack Vance and his fantastical worlds end. Follow along in his Big Idea as he tells us about his newest novel under the Paladins of Vance series, Barbarians of the Beyond.


A few years ago, I visited a public library in a small town on Vancouver Island.  As I walked in, I saw a display of new arrivals.  One of them was a continuation of Robert B. Parker’s series about two laconic gunfighters roaming the Old West and hiring out as lawmen.

I had already read three or four of the series, which featured Parker’s brilliant minimalist character creation and his incomparable skills with dialogue.  I immediately snapped up the new book.

Cut to later in the day.  I’m sitting comfortably in the well-appointed house where I’m housesitting, the daily horse-tending chores finished (mostly involving shovel and hay).  I open up the Parker book and begin to read.  I’m several pages in when I experience the reading equivalent of taking a mouthful of a favorite beer and finding the taste is . . .  not right.  Flat.  Insipid.

I think, “Jeez, has Parker started to lose it?”

I close the book and it’s only then that I realize the large-type rendition of his name at the top of the front cover is followed by an apostrophe and an ess.

Down at the bottom is another name:  the guy who actually wrote the book.

Turns out Parker was dead, but his publisher, and presumably his estate, didn’t want to forego the revenue stream he had been generating for them for so many years.  So they hired a guy to take his characters and his situations and run with them.

A kind of stumbling, clumsy run, where Parker had loped like a carefree gazelle.

There’s a lot of that sort of thing happening in corporate publishing today, where a book is only a commodity produced to make money for the shareholders.

Well, that’s not what’s happening with the legacy of Jack Vance.

Jack’s son, John, has started up a small press with Koen Vyverman.  They began by publishing ebook and paperback editions of the complete Vance oeuvre, using the texts generated by hundreds of volunteers around the world for the Vance Integral Edition.

The reason:  because Jack Vance was a unique voice in science fiction and fantasy.  If you want my opinion, and that of many others, that unique voice was one of genius.  It also had a profound and lasting effect on scads of genre authors over the decades he was publishing.  The proof:  the statements by authors as diverse as George R.R. Martin, Neil Gaiman, Robert Silverberg, Dean Koontz, Terry Dowling, and (for what it’s worth) me, in the tribute anthology, Songs of the Dying Earth.

They read Vance when they were young, and he struck them and stuck to them.

Well, now that unique voice of genius is stilled forever.  But the legacy lives on, and recently it has taken a new path:  Spatterlight Press has created a publishing series called “Paladins of Vance.”  John Vance is licensing other authors to create new stories set in “Vance Space,” the universes that his father opened up:  the Dying Earth, the Oikumene and the Beyond, the Alastor Cluster.

As John told me, “We look upon ‘Paladins of Vance’ as an experiment, not so much to generate revenue but as a way to keep a light shining on dad’s legacy. It’s not easy to manage or predict outcomes, but we’ll see what happens, and keep our options open.”

So, the novels appearing in this series are not Frankensteinian reanimations of iconic Vance characters, no Kirth Gersen Rides Again or The Return of Adam Reith.  The chosen authors are licensed to set new stories, with new characters, in the universes Vance created.

Which is a wonderful idea, because those milieus of fantasy and space opera are far too good to be left to dwindle in SF’s rear view mirror.  And that ineffable mood that permeates so much of Jack Vance’s works, the world-weariness at the end of time, the clash of antiheroes and ingénues questing for revenge—that, too, deserves to endure.

I am proud to have authored one of these tributes to the unequaled imagination of Jack Vance.  Barbarians of the Beyond, now coming out from Spatterlight, tells the story of Morwen Sabine, the grown-up child of a couple who were stolen into slavery when the Demon Princes raided Mount Pleasant.

Escaped from bondage, Morwen makes her way across the Beyond, returning to the world Providence, with a plan that would end with her buying her parents’ freedom.  But Mount Pleasant has been repopulated, and things are not as simple as they seem.

I have done my best to do honor to the legacy of Jack Vance, who struck me at the age of thirteen and stuck with me ever after.

His son has graciously allowed me to play in his father’s sandbox.  I’ve built the best castle I could.

Barbarians of the Beyond: Amazon

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s website. Follow him on Twitter.

14 Comments on “The Big Idea: Matthew Hughes”

  1. I have not yet read this book, however; if one can judge by Matt Hughes’ previous works (and his dedication to Jack Vance’s legacy) I’d say it’s worth a try – I’m looking foreword to it

  2. I don’t buy paper books anymore but I will buy this as soon as it is in an ebook. The combination of Jack Vance and Matthew Hughes is something I won’t miss everything I’ve read by both is great.

  3. I am looking forward to reading this book, especially so after he teased us with the first chapter. I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve read by Hughes to date.

  4. I recently picked up some of those new Jack Vance collections; the short stories like Chateau d’If are great. I didn’t know his son was behind that, and didn’t know about this new experiment. Very interesting!

    I think I worked my way back to Vance from Gene Wolfe. They both have similar dying-earth settings and penchants for baroque vocabulary. Vance’s characters are maybe a little more rascally.

  5. Like the crew of the Glicca at the end of Lurulu, we have grown restless in our familiar habitation and the urge to ship out once more is upon us.

  6. Will it be available from non-Amazon sources?

    Yes. Barnes and Noble listed it a few days ago, then the listing vanished. It should return. Also I saw it listed on Fantastic Fiction.

  7. As Vance is my all-time favorite writer, I fervently wish success on this enterprise.

  8. Working in a bookstore in the 1990s, I noticed that “A Famous Author Book (by a not-so-famous author)” thing a lot, so I’m not surprised. I think starting with new characters in the same setting is an excellent idea.