The Other by Matthew Hughes – Underland Press, 2011 – now rereleased on Amazon in paperback or e-book and on Kobo.
Famous sci-fi writer Robert J. Sawyer described Matt Hughes as ‘science fiction’s best-kept secret’. Despite the lack of instant name recognition, Hughes has been producing high quality work in several genres for decades and is still going strong. ‘The Other’ is one of the many books that Hughes sets in the ‘archonate’ – the name he’s given to the ruler of the ancient world where humanity originated before heading out to colonize the endless galaxies known as the spray. The archonate novels feature several recurring characters: there’s the archon himself, a brilliant ‘discriminator’ (futuristic detective) called Hengis Hapthorn, a corpulent master criminal named Luff Imbry, and a charming rogue that answers to Raffalon.
‘The Other’ is one of the Imbry novels and it deals with, among other things, a theme of conformity. The fat master criminal has an unknown enemy that abducts Luff from his home world and leaves him stranded on Fulda, a remote and isolated world where everyone is obsessed with physical attributes. It seems a messianic character and his followers had long ago colonized the planet with the idea of perfecting the physical characteristics of the race. A whole religion sprung up based on the founder’s ‘golden mean’ – specific physical dimensions he had calculated to be perfection in the human specimen. By the time Luff is dropped unceremoniously onto the planet, the degree to which a person’s physique matches the founder’s ‘golden mean’ determines one’s status, job prospects and role in life.
Imbry, with his roles of fat, finds himself relegated to a group of undesirables whose physiques make them an abomination to the citizens of Fulda subscribing to the ‘golden mean’. This group ekes out their existence on Fulda by performing in traveling troupes– much like the old time circuses on Earth would entertain customers with ‘freak shows’. But there’s more than meets the eye on Fulda. Discovering an undercurrent of social unrest between the planet’s two main social groups, Imbry attempts to uncover the secret behind what the good citizens of Fulda really want from the freaks. It will take all his skills, ingenuity and luck to survive, let alone escape Fulda and take revenge on his abductor.
TL:DR – Like many of Hughes’ novels, ‘The Other’ is set in a bizarre world that’s full of quirky characters and plot twists. There’s fun to be had in watching the fat man see if he can wiggle out of another tight spot.