The Inheritance and Other Stories: One person, two different authors

fantasy book reviews Robin Hobb Megan Lindholm The InheritanceThe Inheritance and Other Stories by Robin Hobb & Megan Lindholm

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsThe Inheritance and Other Stories offers up one-stop shopping, collecting into one volume three stories by Robin Hobb and seven by Megan Lindholm. There’s no doubt these are two different authors, despite being the same person, and so there is a good mix of style and genre here. I’m a huge Hobb fan, believing her work to be substantive and subtle with world-class characterization and plotting, so I was pleased to see the Hobb stories set in one my all-time favorite worlds — that of the Liveship Traders / Rain Wilds. I hadn’t ever read her Lindholm works, though I’d always been curious. Unfortunately, I turned out to be much more a Hobb fan than a Lindholm fan, and though one of her Lindholm stories was one of my favorites in the book, I found myself wishing the balance between the authors had been reversed (though in terms of number of pages they are roughly equal as the Hobb stories are much longer). And, as is almost always my experience with anthologies, the overall reaction is muddy, with the stories varying greatly in enjoyment level.

The first story is “A Touch of Lavender,” which was a finalist for both the Hugo and Nebula, and for good reason. It was, I thought, by far the stand-out of the Lindholm stories. It’s told from the POV of a young boy named Billy and is set in a world where aliens have come to Earth (their reasons are somewhat foggy at first) and are given government benefits in hope of learning the secret of interstellar travel. But the preferential treatment, as well as plain old xenophobia, also makes them (and the humans that get too friendly with them) the target of abuse and resentment. The aliens have two especially pertinent qualities: one is they are remarkable musical mimics (using sound sacs on their bodies) and the other is that they secrete a highly addictive drug-like substance. Billy’s mother, unfortunately, is lured to both. Like nearly all the Lindholm stories, “A Touch of Lavender” is grittily realistic and puts us into the world of the lower-classes and the spurned, the ones getting by week to week and eating Mac and Cheese so frequently they have to just swallow it whole because they’re so sick of its taste and consistency. Lindholm presents all this vividly and without an ounce of condescension or any sense of an author going by what she sees on TV or in the occasional drive through the “bad” section of town. “A Touch of Lavender” is sad, complex, and moving and draws you in fully, with all the characters from Billy to his mother to the alien they take in, and even to the short-lived side characters, all etched in wonderfully full form and vision.

Unfortunately, as I said, it was the stand-out of the Lindholm pieces and the rest just didn’t do it for me. “Silver Lady and the Fortyish Man” had that same great sense of time and place, with the main character a middle-aged woman stuck in a Sears mall job — but the story itself just wasn’t particularly compelling or surprising. “The Fifth Squashed Cat” had a nicely unique concept of magic, again in a seemingly trademark gritty kind of Lindholm fashion, and the resolution was effective, but I can’t say it grabbed me. And I found the main character’s interior monologue a bit too on the nose in terms of telling me what I was supposed to think or react to. “Cut,” dealing with female circumcision and a world where “choice” is the law for good and for bad, was too blunt in its exploration of the idea, and the dialogue (usually a Hobb strength) seemed forced and stilted. “Drum Machine,” set in a future where babies are designed and parents get to pick their options, was also a bit too obvious and the scenes and dialogue, as in “Cut,” felt scripted to make a point rather than let the point rise naturally. “Finis” is a story that I think is supposed to have a twist at the end, but it was so easy to spot that I’m not quite sure: it was structured for a reveal, complete with wrap-up final sentence, but it’s hard for me to imagine anyone who didn’t see that coming.

The first Robin Hobb story in the collection is “Homecoming,” and this was my favorite of the book. It is told via journal entries written by Lady Carillion Carrock and it tells the story of the first settling of the Rain Wilds territory, though one needn’t be familiar with that world and those books to enjoy this story. The true pleasure here is in the slow evolution of Carillion from aloof unlikable noblewoman to, well, I don’t want to spoil it — let’s just say character development is what makes this story more than plot. The following story, “The Inheritance,” set in the same world but generations later, focuses on Cerise, a young woman who comes into a very important inheritance from her just-dead grandmother, though perhaps not the inheritance she or the reader thought. The story moved along smoothly, but it was the least successful of the Hobb stories I thought mostly because Cerise is relatively passive (taking instruction from a mentor more than doing on her own) and the end is somewhat predictable. The final story, “Cat’s Meat,” similar to the first two, focuses on a young woman who undergoes a transformative event. For Carillion it was being marooned in an inhospitable land, for Cerise it was her grandmother’s death and what it brought her, and for Rosemary it is the return of the man who abandoned her while she was pregnant three years earlier. It also involves a cat who decides to get a bit more involved in events surrounding him. More compelling than “The Inheritance,” but not as strong as “Homecoming,” it is an enjoyable read, darker than one might expect, and displaying a complexity of character and human interaction.

Each story in The Inheritance and Other Stories is briefly introduced by the author, offering up some interesting tidbits on the story’s genesis or the writing process. Even better is the introduction, where Hobb explains why she chose to use a pseudonym, and then not, and how the two authors are really quite different despite being housed in her single mind.

Inheritance and Other Stories
is about 375 pages long, 140 of which are made up of the two longest stories, which perhaps not coincidentally are also the two stand-outs. (Hobb seems to do better when she has time to slowly develop characters). The other two Hobb stories, though not as strong, are still good and deserving of a read, and they total about 110 pages or so. That’s about two-thirds of the collection that is well worth reading, which is actually not at all bad for an anthology in my experience. The other stories aren’t particularly strong or memorable. They aren’t bad; they just left me unaffected. Though I was mostly disappointed in the Lindholm half, I’m going to recommend the book based on the percentages and also because the two best stories are just so good that they alone I think make the read worthwhile. If you don’t think 2/3 is good enough to warrant a purchase, then I certainly recommend a visit to the library.

~Bill Capossere


fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsfantasy book reviews Robin Hobb Megan Lindholm The InheritanceI’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.

~Kat Hooper

The Inheritance — (2011) Publisher: Megan Lindholm (Wizard of the Pigeons) writes tightly constructed SF and fantasy with a distinctly contemporary feel. Robin Hobb (Assassin’s Quest) writes sprawling, multi-volume fantasies set in imaginary realms. These two writers, apparently so different, are, of course, the same person, each reflecting an aspect of a single multifaceted imagination. Inheritance gathers the best of Hobb and Lindholm’s shorter fiction into one irreplaceable volume containing ten stories and novellas (seven by Lindholm, three by Hobb), together with a revealing introduction and extensive, highly readable story notes. The Lindholm section leads off with the Hugo and Nebula-nominated novella ‘A Touch of Lavender,’ a powerful account of love, music, poverty, and addiction set against an extended encounter between human and alien societies. Other memorable entries include ‘Cut,’ a reflection on the complex consequences of freedom, and the newly published ‘Drum Machine,’ an equally absorbing meditation on the chaotic nature of the creative impulse. Two of Robin Hobb’s contributions revisit the world of her popular Live Traders series. ‘Homecoming’ enlarges the earlier history of those novels through the journal entries of Lady Carillion Carrock, while ‘The Inheritance’ concerns a disenfranchised young woman who comes to understand the true nature of her grandmother’s legacy. And in ‘Cat’s Meat,’ a long and wonderful story written expressly for this collection, an embattled single mother reclaims her life with the help of a gifted — and utterly ruthless — cat. Inheritance offers the best of two separate but related fictional worlds. Whatever their differences, the Hobb and Lindholm stories have certain crucial elements in common: their intelligence, their attention to detail, and their instant, almost effortless accessibility. Together, these beautifully crafted tales constitute a unique and important collection that offers both offers both intellectual pleasure and pure narrative excitement on virtually every page.

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BILL CAPOSSERE, who's been with us since June 2007, lives in Rochester NY, where he is lately spending much of his time trying to finish a book-length collection of essays and a full-length play. His prior work has appeared in Colorado Review, Rosebud, Alaska Quarterly, and other journals and been recognized in the "Notable Essays" section of several Best American Essay anthologies. When he's not writing, reading, reviewing, co-writing the Malazan Empire re-read at Tor.com, or working as an English adjunct, he can usually be found with his wife and son on the frisbee golf course, the ultimate frisbee field, or trying to keep up with his wife's flute and his son's trumpet on the clarinet he just picked up this month.

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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6 comments

  1. I love the Liveship Traders world, too, Bill!

  2. I really like the insight that Hobb and Lindholm are “different authors” despite being the same person!

  3. I do not believe I’ve read anything by this writer under either name. She’ll have to go on the “list.”

  4. I really enjoyed the one Lindholm book I’ve read — but like several of the stories you describe, it was incredibly sad. Oddly, I’ve never read Hobb. Probably heresy, that.

  5. Love Hobbs, not a Lindholm fan. Two pseudonyms makes perfect sense I’d say

  6. You’re right, Bill. The styles are surprisingly different.

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