Title: The Gist Hunter & Other Stories
Author: Matthew Hughes
This is a pretty varied collection of stories, many of them a sci-fi/fantasy blend. The first chunk is dedicated to Henghis Hapthorn, a discriminator (private investigator) of some renown who lives in the far-flung future where ten thousand worlds have been discovered. These are the stories for which I bought the book, and they were indeed my favorite of the lot. Henghis is a Sherlock Holmes-type detective, very logical and prone to noticing the little details that will unravel a case—yet his absolutely rational world is interrupted by the encroaching existence of a force that he has spent his entire life denouncing. Magic. The opening story is as much a personal problem as a case, as something has caused Henghis to become vastly reduced in attractiveness, financial solvency, and intellectual capabilities. The dry humor shines in places like this:
“Be useful and posit some complicating factors that might have something to do with the case.”
“Very well. You are ugly and not very bright.”
It’s also interesting to see how the relationship between Henghis and his integrator (personal computer) evolves, and how Henghis himself is changing. This is the background to the full-length novels beginning with Majestrum, which I had previously read and also enjoyed. And these are the funniest stories in the book. The next set feature only one character, so they lack the dynamic present between Henghis and his integrator, who manage to have so many exchanges like the above, or between Henghis and some determined adversary.
The second set of three stories follows Guth Bandar, an adventurer inside the realms of the collective unconscious. Guth is rather amusingly logical about breaking down what’s happening to him in terms of stories, metaphors, and archetypes. Like the Henghis stories, there’s a progression in his character even over the three stories here, and a hint at the end of the third that some greater destiny awaits. I liked the Commons that he explores, how he analyzes the stories, and the offer of a destiny that isn’t explained. I was less fond of the more adult tone of these, as I prefer not to read explicit scenes.
The last set of stories all stand alone, though the first two offer a very similar take on time travelers that I did appreciate. The third is the longest, and the one I liked best of the bunch, where an exo-sociologist has to unravel the secrets of an alien society before he loses his job.
Overall this is a solid collection, although I still very much prefer the Henghis stories over the rest of them. I just couldn’t stop laughing while I was reading those. I rate this book Recommended.