All the best sci-fi novels are, at their cores, novels of ideas. Template is no different, exploring philosophies of the defining traits of societies and what it means to belong. Here’s the thing with this book, tho: while written in the third person, it takes the narrative view of the hero of the piece, Conn Labro, an orphan raised by a gaming house as a master duelist on a world that abides by a philosophy that reduces or, generously, simplifies human interactions to profit/loss transactions. Emotions are not a large part of Labro’s life, so when his employment and only friend are both abruptly terminated, he finds himself ill-equipped to deal with the planet-hopping quest for meaning on which he’s suddenly thrust. Fortunately, he captures the interest of someone better able to deal with social nuances in the person of Jenore Mordene, a dancer from Old Earth looking for a way home. Jenore serves as the readers’ touchstone with, for the majority of us, “normal” interactions. Conn’s reductive view of his experiences, while an intriguing intellectual exercise (and, frankly, a terrific narrative tool in the way it lulled me into not expecting a significant plot twist that can be considered a feature of the genre,) made Template a less than immersive experience for me, as it’s hard to feel more emotionally connected to a story than its own viewpoint character. So it’s kinda weird that it’s a really terrific, intelligent space opera that wound up leaving me, if not exactly cold then lukewarm, due to the narrative framework integral to presenting its story. A good, if curious, read, especially when the extent of my familiarity with Matthew Hughes’ work so far has been with several of his extremely charming short stories (more of which I will be reading soon, so expect that review in the near future!)
Disclaimer: Mr Hughes sent me a copy of this book for review because I’d previously said nice things about his short story included in Rogues. You should also try to find a copy of his excellent Jeeves and Wooster pastiche, Greeves And The Evening Star, which ran in another Martin/Dozois anthology, Old Venus.