UR, by Stephen King

If you don’t personally have a Kindle yet, chances are you’ve seen somebody on the net raving about how they can’t live without theirs.  In theory it’s right up my alley – I like to read, I would read more if I could have a book in front of me more often, but I pretty much only get my content in audio or ebook form because I’m just not into carrying books around, and ordering new ones and waiting for them to be shipped to me.  With a Kindle, getting a new book is as easy, very literally, as saying “I want that book.”  It just shows up for you. I do not have one, no, but I have the next best thing – the freely available Kindle reader for my iPhone.  Yes, yes, I know that physically it’s not the same thing at all.  But if we get back to that idea of “I would read more if there were always a book in front of me”, then this fits the bill perfectly.  I can now get modern content, not just the public domain stuff, and have it available to me all the time on a device that I have with me anyway, all the time. Anyway.  In celebration of the launch of Kindle, Stephen King himself wrote a short story called UR.  Let’s get the review out of the way first – it’s a neat idea but a lousy story.  It is 100% product placement for the Kindle (I’m not kidding, there are characters saying things like “I love my Kindle I thought with features like these it would cost double what it did!”  Just like an infomercial).  And King’s normal depictions of reality that draw you in to the story are replaced with his own personal political leanings about the most recent political election.  He certainly phoned this one in. But, back to the idea.  The author’s kindle arrived mysteriously, and has this weird experimental feature that allows him to download books from alternate universes.  It doesn’t take him long to realize that he can tap into literature from worlds where Kennedy wasn’t assassinated, or Hemingway wrote a dozen more novels than he did, and so on.  The book refers to these parallel worlds as “URs”, hence the title. “What does UR mean?” I saw people ask in the forums.  Well, the author explains it in the story – it’s either a place in the Old Testament, or else a prefix meaning basic or primitive. At one point in my reading just now, King used the phrase “the ur-Hemingway.”  And then it hit me – could he have had the ur-Hamlet in mind the whole time?  Is that perhaps where he got the idea?  I wonder.  Early in the story the characters do a bit of exploration into alternate universe Shakespeare, but that doesn’t seem to be the main point of the story (the narrator character is more of a Hemingway type). I’m not done with the story yet, but that just sort of leapt out at me today.  I don’t often associate King with Shakespeare (except maybe when making Titus Andronicus jokes), so the idea that he got the premise of this latest story from Hamlet is amusing to me.

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