I picked up a story called UR during the same short fiction shopping spree where I got Mile 81. UR is also by Stephen King, but I didn’t find it as satisfying. As in Mile 81, the premise was pretty goofy, but this time it had a commercial element to it as well (more about that in a minute).
Wesley Smith, the central character of UR, is a thirty-something college literature professor at a small ‘mediocre’ university in Kentucky. Wesley is in love with books, and the coach of the university’s highly successful women’s basketball team. Prior to the story opening the two had a falling out that started with her throwing his first edition copy of Deliverance into a wall and ended with “Why can’t you read off the computer, like the rest of us?” After a similar encounter while teaching freshmen literature he decides to pull the trigger and get a Kindle.
At first all is well, it’s a bit strange that Wesley’s Kindle is pink when everyone else has a white one, but color isn’t important so long as you can read on it. Then Wesley discovers the ‘ experimental’ menu choice that every Kindle owner has wondered about. Eventually Wesley realizes that his Kindle not only has books from our world, but thousands of alternate realities called Urs. Not only that, but in some Urs authors like Poe and Hemingway where more prolific than in our own world. For a bibliophile and college literature professor the chance to read more works from his long dead favorite authors is a dream come true. King describes his increasing obsession with the pink Kindle until the reader thinks he knows what’s going to come next. Then King takes a hard left turn when Wesley finds another experimental feature.
I’m not going to give away the rest, but suffice to say it’s a compelling little story. There is no outright horror as is in much of King’s work, but it does maintain a consistent ‘creepy’ vibe. It does get a bit predictable once you get past the aforementioned hard left turn, but I couldn’t help but keep reading just to see how horribly wrong it would go. I can’t decide if this was because of King’s reputation or just the writing itself, but in the grand scheme of things that distinction is irrelevant. King does also give a nod to his long time fans with a brief tie-in to his Dark Tower series near the end.
My only serious problem with the story is the use of the Kindle itself. The story would have worked just as well with a generic ereader, and you quickly get the impression that Amazon may have commissioned the story. (That impression was confirmed by a few minutes of cursory research after I finished reading it.) I started reading with no knowledge whatsoever, so the product placement aspect was pretty jarring. It might have been a little more acceptable if I’d known what to expect beforehand. He even addresses the classic book snob criticism of ereaders, ‘Reading just isn’t the same without a book to hold and pages to turn.’ Though King has a history of expirementing with digital delivery of his stories that goes back well before the Kindle so that scene most likely comes from King himself rather than any attempt to legitimize Kindle. (Given his past success, I suspect his agreeing to do the story in the first place is more about his interest in electronic distribution of books rather than any money Amazon threw at him.)
I don’t consider this to be nearly as good as Mile 81. It’s a quick, fun read once you get adjusted to the product placement but it is fairly predictable to fans of science fiction in general or King in particular. While I enjoyed it, I’m on the fence about whether to recommend you spend $3.19 for it. Given their prominence in the story, Amazon really should be offering this one for free.