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Sixteen by Hughes

Devil or Angel & Other Stories

By Matthew Hughes 

24 Aug, 2015

Miscellaneous Reviews


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I've reviewed Hughes here before and I will review him again in the future.

Although he is perhaps best known for his Vancian Archonate stories, those do not make up the entirety of his work. Devil or Angel & Other Stories collects sixteen of his non-Archonate stories [1], written deliberately in what the cover calls “old-style.” Which is to say that it would not come as a surprise to find that these stories had been published in such magazines of yore as Unknown, Galaxy, or even the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Except that they weren’t [2].


Some day an author is going to screw me over by writing a story called “Introduction” before sticking it at the beginning of a collection, but today is not that day.

Devil or Angel
• (2013) • novelette

What do you do if immediately after meeting the woman of your dreams, both of you are immolated in a fiery plane crash? Or rather, what do you do if after dying you discover that the Powers That Be have assigned her to heaven and you to … somewhere less pleasant? If you're recently discorporated record magnate Jason Flanders, you set to proving to the Powers That Be that they've made a terrible mistake.

Pity that the Powers That Be are incapable of admitting even the possibility of error.


I don't think Hughes is writing from a particular Christian perspective so much as borrowing elements of the cosmology. Just as well, because the whole heaven and hell shtick, and the angels and demons that go with it, comes off as arbitrary and needlessly cruel. It does have the narrative benefit of giving Jason something worth struggling against.

“Petri Parousia” • (2008) • short story

A jaded cynic is quick to see the profit potential in his pal's new technique. And after all, what could possibly go wrong with a method that allows one to clone one's ancestors?


The most exciting thing about tampering in God's Domain is finding out exactly which step is one step too far.

“The Devil You Don't” • (2005) • short story

Winston Churchill, in the grips of depression as World War Two takes its toll, is surprised in his garden by a visitor of a very unexpected kind.


Time travel stories of this sort, wherein a historical figure is offered a history book or two, are really constrained in how they can play out: either the historical figure acts on the information or they don't. The interesting question then becomes: why do they make the choice they do?

We moderns tend to focus on Churchill in relation to World War Two, But he had a long and contentious political history before that war. A history which suggests that there is huge and still untapped horror potential in imagining Churchill’s reaction if he were to hear about Macmillan’s Wind of Change speechand decide that he knew how to make sure that that history did not come to pass .

“Not A Problem” • (2011) • short story

Multi-billionaire Bunky Sansom hits on an innovative solution to global warming, one that ensures climate change will be the least of our problems.


I could see this in Galaxy. Maybe by Tenn or perhaps Brown....

Grolion of Almery • (2009) • noveletteA slain sorcerer haunts his old home as his inheritors struggle to deal with the curious legacy the sorcerer left his former community.


This is Hughes writing in Jack Vance mode; the story was commissioned for Martin and Dozois' 1999 Songs of the Dying Earth: Stories in Honor of Jack Vance. I haven’t read this collection, would like to make time to read it, but ... I vowed to eschew modern (post 1985) collections lacking a reasonable representation of women writers. Song’s 30% ain't reasonable. But it is pretty typical of the Martin and Dozois collections I've perused, Dangerous Women aside. It's a good thing for me that Hughes stories are available in single author collections like this because I would hate to have missed it.

‘Timmy, Come Home’ • (2010) • short story

Brodie hears voices. He asks a psychiatrist to help him find out why. This proves far more successful than Brodie could have imagined.


Sometimes “know yourself” is good advice, even if it leads places you would not expect.

“Go Tell the Phoenicians” • (2005) • short story

The avaricious companies of Old Earth are convinced there's an angle that would let them exploit the K'Fondi the same way they've exploited the other alien races of the Milky Way ... and it's Kandler's job to find it!


Definitely a Galaxy-style story. If it had been published in Astounding, Kandler would have been one hundred percent on board with the Plan rather than being burdened with *moral qualms*. Whatever those are.

“The Hat Thing” • (2004) • short story

It's the little details that give visitors away...


Again, this dark comedy would be totally at home in Gold's Galaxy. I understand that's not helpful to a lot of you. What I can do for you is suggest that you listen to the episodes of X Minus One drawn from the pages of Galaxy.

Hell of a Fix • (2009) • novelette

Chesney Arnstruther is many things and one of them is an accountant who can weigh “demonic gifts providing short term benefits” and “an eternity in Hell” in the balance and figure out which weighs more. By refusing to accept the deal he is offered, Chesney breaks Hell ... and that, surprisingly, isn't good.


The solution to the conundrum Chesney poses turned into a three novel series, which I will probably get around to reviewing..

"Hunchster" • (2009) • short story

What could possibly go wrong with a device whose sole function is look into the past?


Different plot, but same issues as Asimov's story “The Dead Past.” Looking a hundred million years into the past is fine, looking at events closer to the present is going to cause … problems.

The Ugly Duckling • (2013) • novelette

On a world filled with the enigmatic artifacts of the recently extinct Martians, one human explorer proves all too vulnerable to their influence.


This was first published in Martin and Dozois' Old Mars, another anthology I cannot review thanks to my vow not to review recent anthologies with laughably tiny numbers of women contributors. Of which Old Mars is one. That’s a pity if the other stores are as good as this one, which is a surprisingly successful homage to Bradbury.

“Shadow Man” • (2005) • short story

A fan manages to have more of an effect on his hero than he will ever know.


Not all of the stories in this are science fiction or fantasy. This one has SFnal props, but the effect is pure horror.

“Widow's Mite” • (1995?) • short story

A professional torturer provides an entirely unanticipated service.


And this is definitely horror, of a historical sort.

“From the Discourses & Edifications of Liw Osfeo” • (2005) • short story

The one story in this collection set in the Archonate. A series of brief anecdotes re the colourful career of Liw Osfeo, who is one part enlightened master and one part fool.

“So Loved” • (2011) • short story

A Gnostic creation story, explaining the demiurge's motivation.

Ant Lion • (2015 ) • short story

Why are we shown treasure-filled storage facilities on those reality shows featuring contestants bidding for a chance to empty abandoned storage lockers?


The lockers on the shows are filled with valuable goodies because viewers would not watch if all the contestants found was junk. Hughes imagines a far less venial, more horrific explanation.

You generally cannot go wrong picking up Hughes' books and this is no exception. Devil or Angel can be purchased from a variety of sources.

1. Well, there’s one Archonate story, but I am allowed reviewer’s license. Like poetic license, but better.

2: Except for the ones that were in F&SF but under a more recent editor than a Ferman.