The Inheritance: And Other Stories

The Inheritance: And Other Stories by Robin Hobb/Megan LindholmAuthor: Robin Hobb/Megan Lindholm
Publisher: Harper Voyager (2011)
Number of Pages: 374
How long it took me to read: 1 week, 1 day
Where I got this book: public library
ISBN: 9780061561641

Like a Moth to a Flame

Robin Hobb is responsible for some of the best books I’ve ever read; namely, The Farseer trilogy and its sequel, The Tawny Man trilogy. I don’t think a book has ever captured my spirit as adroitly as those books did. So when I saw The Inheritance: And Other Stories on the bookshelf in the library, I was quick to pick it up.

Favorite Five

I propose that the top 5 quotes from this book are:

5. “I yelled for Mom. I heard the splash as she rolled out of bed in the only bedroom and then her cussing as she waded through the water to pick me up. Her current musician took the whole thing as a big joke, until he saw his sax case floating. Then he grabbed up his stuff and was out of there. I don’t remember seeing him after that.” ~A Touch of Lavender (p.6)

4. “All I did amazed him. But mostly we talked and laughed. His laugh reminded me of a giant grasshopper chirring. Once he told me that Skoags had never laughed before they came to Earth, but the idea of a special sound made just to show happiness was so wonderful that now it was the first thing that all exiles were allowed to do…Then he told me that my laugh was one of the best ones he’d ever heard. That first day, when he’d heard my laugh in the street, he’d known that anyone who could create so marvelous a sound had to be very special indeed. And then he laughed my own laugh for me to hear, and that set me laughing; and we laughed together for about ten minutes, in harmony, like a new kind of song.” ~A Touch of Lavender (p.20)

3. “As I followed him into a dim chamber, light flickered around me. My son sat at the head of a long table of guests in exotic dress. There was laughter and music. Then I blinked and empty chairs lined both sides of the table. The feast had dwindled to crusty stains in the crystal goblets and plates, but the music played on, choked and strained. I knew it from my dreams.” ~Homecoming (p.219)

2. “It was a simple cottage, with a flagged floor and stone walls and a single door and one window. On the sill of that window, an orange cat slept, slack as melted honey in the spring sun.” ~Cat’s Meat (p.289)

…and my pick for the No.1 quote is…

1. “Kids ask the questions that adults swallow. ‘Why do you want to live with someone who threw you through a window?’ ” ~Strays (p.123)

Conversation with the Reader

While I read, I write, and as I write, I read. Here’s some of what I wrote while I read this book:

“The first half of The Inheritance: And Other Stories is filled with short stories written by Lindholm, while the second half’s stories are by Hobb. The two personalities are, in fact, the same individual. In the preface, Hobb/Lindholm says that she used two pseudonyms to keep her separate writing styles distinct. And they are quite different.

“The books I’ve read previously by Hobb were fantasy, while this first story by Lindholm entitled, ‘A Touch of Lavender’ is straight up science fiction. Not only does ‘A Touch of Lavender’ take place in the future, but it has aliens in it! Aliens! I feel like I’ve just gotten ice water splashed on my face, so different does this story feel to me from Hobb’s trilogies. I read a great quote by Miriam Allen de Ford that defines the two genres: ‘Science fiction deals with improbable possibilities, fantasy with plausible impossibilities.’ Clever turns of phrase aside, to me, there’s a particular flavor to each of these genres. Science fiction is metallic, filled with futuristic technologies, aliens, spaceships, time travel, and a hint of what might be possible in our future. Fantasy, on the other hand, is made up of magic and dragons, dark taverns, minstrels on street corners, and worlds that exist only in the pages of books. Of the two, I prefer fantasy. Ironically enough, fantasy stories feel more realistic to me.”

“Lindholm includes a preface before each short story where she shares what inspired it. As a writer, I really appreciate seeing the inner workings of a great writer’s mind. I’m always interested in learning where people get their story ideas, the origins of which are often hard to pin down. My ideas tend to drop into my consciousness out of nowhere, which is great, except when I’m staring at a blank page. In those instances, I would very much like to know where I could go to pick up some fresh ideas.

“In the preface to ‘Silver Lady and the Fortyish Man,’ Lindholm reveals that she never shares her writings with her husband. She says that he reads too much into them, that he reads straight into her soul, seeing memories where Lindholm subconsciously placed them. This makes me pause. How could the person closest to her be the only person who doesn’t read her work? I completely understand not wanting anyone to read your writing—the words a writer creates are her flesh; rearrange them and she’ll bruise; cut them out and she’ll bleed—but to bare yourself to the rest of the world and not share yourself with your husband? She did write ‘Silver Lady and the Fortyish Man’ specifically as a gift to him, though—the only one of her stories he’s allowed to read—which is romantic, considering.”

“Short stories bring me back to literature class—stories by O. Henry were my favorite. Edgar Allen Poe also comes to mind, as well as The Red Badge of Courage for some reason. One short story, in particular, always stays with me, though I only have a vague recollection of it: in an apartment building, a man sits hard at work, writing on what I’m pretty sure is yellow paper. He opens a window, only to have his notes fly out with the breeze. He’s filled with horror and, when he sees that the paper has caught on a ledge, climbs out the window after it. Many terror-filled moments pass until eventually, the man reclaims his notes only to find his window has shut, leaving him hanging on the ledge. Somehow, he manages to get back inside. Relieved, he puts the paper back down on his desk, steps aside…and watches it fly away again, this time for good.

“I’ve always had a soft spot for short stories. When you’re reading a short story, you’re not catapulted into someone’s head; instead, it’s dark and you’re crouching in the bushes, peeking into the characters’ windows to get a glimpse of their lives before they briskly draw the curtains on your Peeping-Tom eyes. These brief kaleidoscopic scenes have all the emotion and magnitude of a life-sized novel, condensed into a mere few scraps of paper.”

“It’s just one depressing story after another. ‘The Fifth Squashed Cat’ is probably the worst so far. I don’t find any of the characters likable and the core of the story is sickening: a vagrant spends his life searching for cats killed by cars, and every fifth cat that he finds he cooks, removes its bones, and places a specific bone in his mouth. It serves as a kind of fountain of youth for him, erasing years and adding vitality that he’s lost. It’s distinctly unappealing and makes a good argument for the quality of one’s life as opposed to the number of years one lives—if you’re going to spend your life on the lookout for road kill in the hopes of stewing and dismembering the animal once you find it, that’s not much of a life at all.

“Interestingly, I don’t think less of Hobb because of this story or any of the other depressing stories in the book thus far. Hobb seems quite distinct from Lindholm; I’ve come to regard her as two separate writers, as she sees herself. I prefer Hobb over Lindholm—though Hobb’s stories are often also depressing, they don’t reek of desperation in quite the same way. The characters that people Hobb’s stories don’t have sugar-coated lives by any stretch of the imagination, but they persevere with a greater strength of character than Lindholm’s characters can muster.”

“Why is it that stories set in the future inevitably portray a world where freedom has been stripped? Since history began, individuals and societies have only enjoyed more freedom, not less. I realize there are large parts of the world that still suffer under tyrannical leaders, but as a collective group, I think we’ve come a long way. And yet, the short story ‘Drum Machine’ is set in a future where prospective parents get pre-approved fetuses. Can I interest you in EagleScout12? How about DutchDoll7? There are terrible real-world stories of parents who mistreat their children, parents who kill their children even. In the past, I’ve jokingly said that there should be some kind of test you have to pass in order to be a parent. But if that actually happened, it would be terrible. Can you imagine having to make a request if you wanted a baby through random conception, and then hearing this:

“I’m very sorry, Ms. Kelvey, but neither you nor your sperm donor is genetically qualified to reproduce” ~Drum Machine (p.166)

“What gives someone else the right to determine whether or not you would be a suitable parent? Lindholm’s logic is put forth in a frighteningly rational and forthright manner:

“Why should your neighbor’s taxes go to supporting your substandard child? Why should you be allowed to gamble genetically for the sake of your own ego? Suppose you give birth to an idiot, or someone with such a ‘melancholy temperament’ that he cannot be a productive member of society? Why should we have to extend health benefits to such a person, let alone continue to support him or her after you are dead?” ~Drum Machine (p.169)

“The scenario isn’t so far-fetched. I could picture it happening, but I don’t think it will. I’d like to have some hope for humanity. I don’t think we’re going to turn into a society of clones, where everything is metallic and we wear the same spacesuits. I like to imagine a little more diversity in our future, a little more color, and a whole lot more choice.”

“How terrible people sometimes seem:

“…everywhere I saw the depredations of the treasure seekers. Like angry boys, they had destroyed what they could not take, prying tiles out of mosaics, breaking limbs off statues too big to carry, and using fine old furniture for firewood. As much as the city frightens me, still I grieve to see it plundered and ravaged. It has prevailed against the swamp for years, only to fall prey to our greed in days.” ~Homecoming (p.237)

“We tend to do that sometimes, don’t we? Human beings have been known to destroy things. But everything is double-sided: as much as we tear down, we also build up. I must keep in mind the goodness that people exude. I only have to flip back a few pages to earlier in the story to see what people are capable of: the protagonist, Carillion, looks at swampland and envisions a settlement where homes are strung on treetops and nets catch wayward children. People build cities and lives. We create art and beauty. We bring hope and light into the darkest corners.

“This argument brings me back to a conversation I once had with a friend of mine. She doesn’t like cities; she doesn’t like the asphalt we pour over wild land to claim it as our own. But I love it. I love city life. I’m a fan of nature, too, mind you, but I believe the world is here for us to use. Yes, we should be respectful of our ecosystem (recycle, don’t litter), but we have to live in it. I don’t understand the people who think the world would be better off without us—what would be the point of it? Human beings can appreciate the world like no other species can.”

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