Sprinklers in the Rain Blog

The Inheritance, and Other Stories – by Hobb/Lindholm

If you’re a fantasy reader, chances are you’ve heard of – if not read – Robin Hobb, author of the Realm of the Elderlings (Farseer, Liveship Traders, Tawny Man trilogies and Rain Wild Chronicles) series and Soldier’s Son trilogy. You may be less familiar with Megan Lindholm, a name largely out of print and difficult to find in the United States, despite the critical acclaim for her forays into short fiction and various fantasy/sci fi novels in the 80’s. The author is one and the same, jumping from one pseudonym to the next depending on the style of writing she’s aiming for.

The Inheritance is a collection of stories from both personas: a nostalgic look into the past with seven previously published stories, and three new stories. From the dark, fast hitting stories she throws at you as Lindholm, to the sprawling and slow stewing dramas as Hobb, the difference in her writing styles become abundantly clear as you read. Lindholm raises challenging questions without being overly preachy, and as ever, Hobb’s slices of life are something to immerse yourself in and savor.

I’ve been a huge fan of Robin Hobb’s for years, but I’m loathe to admit that the only thing I’ve ever read of Lindholm was Wizard of the Pigeons and her short story, Cut. Hardly a scratch on the surface of the library she has to offer there. A reader accustomed to her epic fantasies may be surprised to find stories here about vampires, aliens in Seattle, or female circumcision. My favorite was Strays, a moving tale of a poor girl living with an abusive step parent who finds an almost magical refuge in the stray cats of the city. The ending, which would have been ridiculous had it been written by anyone else, sent me upright in my chair and heart pounding.

“She was already broken, already damaged past repairing. If you can’t fix something, then don’t worry about hurting it even more. The boys knew that. She wasn’t worth saving from them. It was like jumping on the couch that already had broken springs. She was just a thing to practice on.”

She takes us back to the world she introduced in Realm of the Elderlings for three novellas. Cat’s Meat being an entirely new story with an antagonist to make Joffrey Baratheon look like Justin Bieber on muscle relaxers. In typical Hobb fashion, these three stories take their time and consume as much page space as Lindholm’s seven. Of the three, I maintain that Homecoming is one of the best novellas I’ve ever read. The ground covered and the amount of character growth and development in such a small piece is nothing short of amazing to me.

Of equal interest are the author’s intimate “inside looks” in the preface and introducing each story. She discusses the choice to distinguish her writing styles with a psuedonym, and goes into the real life stuff that went into the development of each story – all garnished with excellent advice for writers from a seasoned pro. Even if you’re not a fan of Hobb’s, or a fan of fantasy, this book is worth a look if only for the autobiographical nature of the forwards.

“Writing fiction, my friend, is a game of sleight of hand that a writer plays with her- or himself. The writer takes key events, dazzling pains, gasping joys, and unutterable boredom and weaves them into a story that is always, inevitably, about the writer’s own life.”

The major downside of this collection is that most people buying it are doing so for Robin Hobb stories. Of the three, only one is new, and the other two are readily available in other forms. The real treasure here is the Lindholm stories, most of which have been out of print for years, and the author forwards. This should not be a deterrent, however, if you’re a hardcore fan or simply unfamiliar with her works as Megan Lindholm. Each story here is of the highest quality, and you may find (like me) that you enjoy many of the Lindholm stories even more than Hobb.

So if you’re looking for some quick fantasy to read, want to try some of her earlier work as Lindholm, or are just looking for a sample of the author in general – The Inheritance is a moving, thought provoking collection that deserves a place on any fantasy reader’s bookshelf.

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Selling Your Soul for HBO

HBO is pulling all the stops to get people and keep people hooked on the massively expensive Game of Thrones series. Between the food vans and free ride Iron Thrones rolling through the streets, I don’t think anyone didn’t know this show was coming. And I really have to applaud HBO for it. I can’t help but wonder how a few other shows would have fared in the past, if only their network put this kind of dedicated force behind their marketing. Firefly, anyone?

Alas.

More recently, they’re offering an opportunity to watch the seventh episode of the series directly after the sixth airs in exchange for signing up for their HBO GO service. HBO GO is basically their version of Hulu Plus, which allows you to stream movies, shows and clips after they air via your iPad, iPhone, video game console or computer. Unfortunately, this service is only available to HBO subscribers.

Which brings me to what I’m less happy with HBO over, and subscription based networks in general.

The entertainment industry is moving forward, embarking on new and exciting territory to settle ground on the internet. More and more readers are making the leap to e-book devices every day. You can stream movies from the comfort of your own couch with services such as Netflix, Playstation Network, and Xbox Live. And with Hulu Plus, you can watch your favorite basic network TV shows the day after they air. The draw for all of these services, funnily enough, isn’t being able to watch TV on your smartphone. People are paying for the freedom to choose what they want to watch, when they want to watch it.

In February 2011, Borders announced the liquidation and closing of 226 stores. (Jeff Kowalsky/Bloomberg)

In February 2011, Borders announced the liquidation and closing of 226 stores. (Image: Jeff Kowalsky/Bloomberg)

Companies who aren’t keeping up are going to… well, be left behind. Hollywood Video went out of business, and Blockbuster is struggling. Barnes & Noble is seeing success with their Nook device, while Borders is filing Chapter 11.

 

Will HBO find itself among the casualties of the on-line revolution? I don’t see it happening any time soon, but if they continue to stubbornly cling to a dated format it will happen. HBO GO is a step in the right direction, but it’s not enough. I know that I’m not the only one that cut my “cable ties” years ago. I watch everything on-line, and I gladly pay for Hulu Plus, Netflix, and I would jump at the opportunity to subscribe to HBO GO. But I will not purchase a digital cable package – full of channels I will never watch – to subscribe to HBO and additionally register for GO. Even if I did choose to do that, it feels to me like a deal with the devil: I get my Game of Thrones streaming whenever I want, but I’m supporting an archaic system that I feel should be left in the past. Is that really something I want to do?

HBO, I’m begging you. Step outside of the box and make GO available to those without cable service. I guarantee your ratings will shoot through the roof for it. Locking everyone out isn’t bringing you new business – it’s encouraging piracy.

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UR and Gerald’s Game, by Stephen King

Stephen King is an author I’ve never been particularly fond of. While I’ve enjoyed a number of movies he’s been involved in – either directly or as the source material – most of the actual written work I’ve read seemed really hit or miss to me. Some good short stories, some really unmemorable ones. Dreamcatcher. The Gunslinger. Overall, my impression of Stephen King has been that he’s a bit of a self-absorbed author that enjoys writing himself into his work a little too much. Any author’s life is going to affect how and what they write about, and I think him being such a high-profile person actually works against him. I know why this story is set where it is, and I know why that character was hit by a van and almost died. Instead of picturing the main characters, I find myself picturing King there instead and my knee jerk reaction is, “Dude, get over yourself.”

So after The Gunslinger, Dead Zone, and Kingdom Hospital sequentially unimpressed me, I avoided the name Stephen King.

A few weeks ago, however, I was looking for something quick to read and stumbled across a novella he wrote exclusively for Kindle. Having nothing better to suit my mood, I decided to give it a whirl.

And I didn’t move from my seat for a good three hours, until the novella was done.

In UR, a college professor orders a Kindle out of spite after his girlfriend pokes fun at his old-fashioned reading habits. He receives an ugly, hot pink thing, and reluctantly explores what he can do with it. Eventually, he finds that – not only does it download books from Amazon – it can purchase books from something called “The UR.” And not just one Ur, but thousands of them. Millions. In exploring the various Urs, the professor finds that he has access to libraries from endless alternate realities. Realities where classic writers such as Shakespeare, Hemingway, or Poe may have lived just a little longer and released more work (six novels, in the case of Poe). Or realities where they released a different sort of work entirely, such as Hemingway’s murder-mysteries.

The story escalates when he realizes that the UR also has access to newspapers from these realities as well as his own, and eventually ties into The Dark Tower. The actual relevance of this went over my head, but regardless, I found UR a fascinating read and had my imagination running wild.

Of course, there was some obvious product placement, which I found unnecessary since it’s a Kindle exclusive anyway. “The Amazon Kindle automatically remembers where I left off, and lets me purchase books within seconds anywhere I go!” Yeah, I know. I have one.

That aside, the audience targeting for this story really works: anyone enthusiastic enough about books to purchase a Kindle is likely just as excited about the device as the main character, and the very premise of the novel is like a wet dream for literary fans of that sort.

Amazed that something was able to hook me enough to get me reading more than I did all last year, I went on the hunt for my next read from Stephen King, hungry for more. I selected:

Gerald's Game, by Stephen King

Gerald’s Game begins with a couple getting away to their vacation home near a lake during an off-season. Wasting no time, they immediately tear off their clothes and embark on Gerald’s little sex game. He cuffs her to the bed and, just as he begins to get started, Gerald has a heart attack and falls off the bed. Dead on the floor, with her still cuffed to the bed in their cabin in the middle of nowhere.

After a few failed attempts to escape, Jessie finds herself with nothing left to do but to think. It’s not long before she begins to die of thirst and, in the middle of the night, she wakes to find that she’s not alone.

Fuck that shit.

I did enjoy this book, a lot more than I did my previous efforts at King. It’s an excellent character study, and has some really chilling moments (“I don’t think you’re anyone! You’re only made of moonlight!”). Throughout the whole thing, I kept thinking about how much it reminded me of Dolores Claiborne – not realizing that Dolores Claiborne was based on a Stephen King novel. I later found out that the two stories are indeed connected, and were originally intended to be part of a single volume.

Which brings me to my primary complaint about the novel: it’s fascinating yes. But there’s only so much you can do with your main character chained to a bed the whole novel. I think this story would have worked much better with either a hundred less pages or as a novella preceding Dolores Claiborne. There are points where King gets needlessly wordy, rambles off into the past and the story drags. But then it picks back up again, and I forget that I was ever bored.

My second and only complaint is more about the Kindle edition rather than the novel itself (I think): this book is littered with embarrassing typos, line breaks from out of nowhere, and suffers from a general lack of editing. I don’t have the physical version of the book with me to compare, but I’m assuming this is an issue with the digitalization process. Just a word of warning.

All in all, I would recommend Gerald’s Game to more patient readers looking for something character driven. If you’re not into a lot of internal dialogue and flashbacks, you’re not going to enjoy this at all. This would make a great movie for that sort of reader. If only it didn’t involve a woman splayed out naked the whole time…

Does this mean that I’m suddenly a fan of Stephen King? I’m not sure. What I can say is that for the last few years, it’s taken me months to finish anything and I blew through these in a couple days. That’s a pretty nice change of pace for me, and if Stephen King is the man to make it happen then I may be in for quite the marathon…

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Dead Until Dark, by Charlaine Harris

This book amazed me for so many different reasons, I don’t even know where to begin.

  • How did this get published?
  • What was Alan Ball smoking when he read this book? How much of it did he have to smoke before he said, “Wow, this would make a great TV show”? And where can I get some?
  • How can a TV show that follows the book so closely be so much better?
  • How did I make it to the end without attempting suicide?

Spoilers within!

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