I’ve been a fan of Robin Hobb for many years — her FARSEER, TAWNY MAN, and LIVESHIP TRADERS series are some of my favorite epic fantasies. That’s why I was looking forward to reading The Inheritance and Other Stories, a collection of short stories written by Robin Hobb under that name and her real name, Megan Lindholm.
Why write under two names? She explains this in the introduction to the book: the two authors have completely different styles. As Lindholm, she writes contemporary urban fantasy that’s edgier and more daring than the more traditional fantasy fare she serves up under the pseudonym Robin Hobb. Behind both names, though, her creativity and intelligence shines through.
The Megan Lindholm stories are shorter than the Hobb works. There are seven in this collection and they take up approximately half of the page count:
“A Touch of Lavender” ̶ This Hugo and Nebula finalist is a depressing yet touching tale of a boy being raised in poverty by his single mother. Their life changes in unexpected ways when they befriend an alien. Though it’s full of poverty, drug addiction, child neglect, and hunger, “A Touch of Lavender” is also full of love, and it’s a beautiful story.
“Silver Lady and the Fortyish Man” ̶ Nominated for a Nebula and second place winner for the Sturgeon Award, this is a story about a working woman who’s lost faith in herself and needs to learn how to believe again. I liked the voice here: “My Muse was a faithless slut who drank all my wine and gave me half a page a day.” In the introduction, Lindholm explains that this is a personal story written for her husband’s 40th birthday.
“Cut” ̶ This Nebula-nominated story, which is not a fantasy, has a MESSAGE. I agree with the MESSAGE (how far do we take “the right to choose?”), but the story was so transparent that there was no pleasure or suspense in its telling.
“The Fifth Squashed Cat” ̶ In this bizarre tale, we join a couple of mismatched girls on a road trip. Things get really weird when they pick up a hitchhiker who’s looking for roadkill. It’s kind of gross, but I loved the characters, the magic system, and the moral of this quirky little story.
“Strays” ̶ Another story about roadkill, poverty, child neglect, and drug addiction. “Strays” has some of the strongest characterization in this collection, but was too depressing for me.
“Finis” ̶ It was obvious where this little old-fashioned mystery was going, but it was still amusing.
“Drum Machine” ̶ This Gattaca-type tale about the “dangers” of unplanned genetic variation also has a message, but I liked it anyway. It’s not a new idea, but I like Lindholm’s comparison of genetic engineering to musical composition. This was one of my favorite Lindholm stories.
While Megan Lindholm captures the lives of the dispossessed and finds magic in the mundane, Robin Hobb explores the beauty and terror of new worlds. Only three Robin Hobb stories make up the second half of The Inheritance and Other Stories. Because they’re longer, they give us a little more time to get to know their characters but, best of all, they give us a little more time in Hobb’s well-loved fantasy worlds:
“Homecoming” ̶ This exotic story is set in the Rain Wilds, when humans first tried to settle in its harsh environment. Lady Carillion Carrock, who tells the story via her journal entries, is at first unlikable until she (and we) suddenly realize that she’s been exiled from Jamaillia City because of her husband’s subversive activities. We watch her transform into a hero as we explore the treacherous Rain Wilds. This story was the longest in the book but when I finished it in the middle of the night, I still wanted more.
“The Inheritance” ̶ When her grandmother dies and the inheritance is divided, Cerise seems to get the short stick. But the small bit that she receives turns out to be unexpectedly powerful. This story is set in Bingtown, the politically turbulent place that Hobb fans already know and love.
“Cat’s Meat” ̶ Rosemary is a single mother who’s been abandoned by her baby’s father. She has managed to scratch out a decent way of life in a tiny cottage on a tiny farm. When the baby’s father arrives and announces that he’s back to stay, Rosemary’s cat decides he doesn’t like that idea. This darkly charming story features three common Hobb elements: a strong female heroine, a cat, and “the Wit.”
Lindholm and Hobb have radically different styles, and overall I liked the stories of both authors and enjoyed becoming acquainted with Robin Hobb’s alter-ego. Still, though, I preferred the Hobb stories, mostly because they are set in fascinating worlds that I have enjoyed exploring in the past and am eager to spend more time in. In contrast to the familiar urban, and often impoverished, settings that Lindholm employs, Hobb’s worlds are lush and exotic, and I simply prefer to fantasize about those types of places.
I recommend The Inheritance and Other Stories to all fans of Robin Hobb and to those of you who are not yet fans of Robin Hobb and should be. The Inheritance and Other Stories gives you a glimpse at the other person living in her brain and allows you to spend more time in her fascinating worlds. The limited edition by Subterranean Press that I read is illustrated by Tom Kidd.