Robin Hobb and Megan Lindholm are one and the same! Might as well get that out of the way first. She explains the use of two names in the preface and there is nothing sinister about it. Each story is prefaced with an introduction from the author in which she tells something of its origins. The book is more or less evenly split between the pseudonyms but there are seven stories by Megan Lindholm and only three by Robin Hobb. That’s because the Hobb persona tends to write epic fantasies of greater length while Lindholm tells shorter modern urban tales. So let’s have a look at Megan Lindholm first.
‘A Touch Of Lavender’ is about an exiled alien race on Earth and the interactions of one of their number with a poor human female whose mother is a music fan. The Skoags are very musical and are given generous benefits by the authorities in the hope that they may reveal the secret of interstellar travel. By the end it occurred to me that this had similarities with Heinlein’s ‘The Star Beast’ except that he would never have portrayed sympathetically helpless characters on welfare. This excellent story was a finalist for both the Hugo and Nebula awards.
It was the best of the Megan Lindholm yarns but the others were pretty good. ‘Finis’ was too predictable for anyone who has read a bit of fantasy but nicely told. ‘Strays’ was snuck into an anthology about warrior princesses where it must have seemed a bit quirky as the protagonist is another kid from the wrong side of the tracks in modern America, though she is Queen of the Strays. It was sad but oddly triumphant. The author is big on cats which seems de rigueur for a female fantasist nowadays. Maybe she’s a witch. ‘The Fifth Squashed Cat’ was distinctly odd but again showed that the writer has some familiarity with being poor in the United States of America.
With our cosy European socialism, I think we don’t appreciate how tough it is at the bottom of the heap over there. Stephen King and Albert E. Cowdrey are among the other fantasists who give us some idea. I hasten to add that being poor is getting harder over here, as food banks flourish.
Men under twenty-five will be disappointed to learn that they are not worth the powder to blow them to Hell. At least, that’s the opinion of the narrator of ‘Silver Lady And The Fortyish Man’, a touching fantasy romance with some autobiographical elements, it seems. Certainly the would-be writer in a dead end job whose given up trying might come from the author’s own experience. Happily for us, she kept going and we get these pleasing stories. ‘Cuts’ is not from her own experience, one hopes. It’s set in a near future where anyone over fourteen has the right to do what they want with their bodies, even to the extent of mutilating them in the name of fashion. Tricky moral issues about freedom and responsibility are raised.
I enjoyed Megan Lindholm, I adored Robin Hobb. ‘Homecoming’ is a novella set in the Liveship Traders world about an aristocratic lady cast out from civilised Jamaillia because her husband has plotted against the Satrap. With other exiles, they are sent to colonise the inhospitable Cursed Shores and our narrator has to mingle on equal terms with the lesser born. The tale is written in her journal and it’s clever how we see her growth from a spoilt rich girl to a woman of some use. It’s clever, too, that skills gained from her art, sculpture, which is disdained by her brutish husband, turn out to be almost essential in the new land. Best of all, though, are her moody, atmospheric descriptions of the haunted underground city they discover. This was like a classic from ‘Weird Tales’ of old and might have been written by Lovecraft or Clark Ashton Smith.
‘The Inheritance’ is the title story of the collection and while it’s okay, it didn’t mean much to me. A young lady is conned out of her money by a naughty man. A similar male brute features in the final Hobb story, ‘Cat Meat’. Pell got Rosemary pregnant and then left her in the lurch. She made the best of it and is coping, if not prospering, when he comes back to take over her life and claim his son. A great story with a cat and one that might usefully be read by all young ladies apt to fall for big eyes, pretty curls and charming words. Men do that, too, of course, but we have the biological advantage of not getting pregnant by our mistakes.
This is the first time I’ve read Megan Lindholm and I enjoyed the experience very much. I especially liked Robin Hobb. Despite being wary of those gigantic fantasy trilogies which take so much time to read. I may search out one of hers.
(pub: Subterranean Press. 392 page signed limited hardback. Price: $45.00 (US). ISBN: 978-1-59606-438-6)
check out website: www.subterraneanpress.com