UR by Stephen King – Horror Novella Review

UR by Stephen KingFormat: Kindle
Publisher: Storyville, LLC via Amazon Digital Services
Publication Year: 2009

This was another first for me. Stephen King’s novella UR is available only as an ebook for the Kindle or an audio book. This makes sense, actually, because a Kindle is actually one of the main characters. I’m a Nook user, though, so what to do? Fortunately, I also have an iPhone in my electronic arsenal and the Kindle app is a free download. I often use the Nook app to read on my phone during lunch, waiting at the dentist, or whenever I have some time to kill, so it acts as a backup when I don’t have my Nook handy. UR is probably the longest piece I’ve read on the phone, but I’m happy to report the reading experience was quite comfortable despite the smaller back lit screen. Once I switched back to the Nook the bigger E Ink screen was very welcome, but the iPhone will definitely do in a pinch.

Wesley Smith is a book-loving professor of English Literature who initially bristles at the idea of a digital ebook reader. “There will always be books,” he tells one of his students who has brought a Kindle to class. “Which means there will always be paper and binding. Books are real objects. Books are friends.” Soon, though, in the wake of a messy breakup with his girlfriend Ellen, Wesley orders a Kindle through Amazon.com. “Why can’t you read off the computer like everyone else,” Ellen had said to him, so the purchase is made mostly out of spite. The package arrives suspiciously soon, and the unit is pink, although Wesley is pretty sure it only comes in white. Soon, though, he’s enthralled with not just the quick and easy downloads, but the intriguing experimental features. The pink Kindle can pull in books from countless parallel universes, worlds in which, for example, Hemingway lived several years longer than he did here and used that extra time to add a few more volumes to his bibliography. He also soon learns the unit can download newspaper headlines from these other worlds. Some of the news pieces show terrifying things happening in these parallel worlds, while one foretells a tragedy that is about to happen right here at home, and Wesley must do everything in his power to prevent it.

I was a bit surprised by the blatant product placement, but I imagine it has more to do with King wanting to write about a new piece of technology that fascinates him than turning a quick buck. In a lot of ways this is a modern followup to his short story “Word Processor of the Gods,” which¬† was just called “The Word Processor” when I first read it in the January 1983 issue of Playboy (see, sometimes the naked ladies aren’t the only reason to pick up an issue). In that story King’s character uses a home made word processor built by his nephew that has some features that never made it into the standard model from Hewlett Packard or Smith Carona. Things he writes immediately come true, and things he deletes instantly vanish. At the time, the term “word processor” was so new that I actually remember having to ask someone what it meant. UR puts a similar spin on ebook readers, imbuing supernatural abilities upon a piece of technology so new that it already seems kind of magical to begin with.

It’s also a damn entertaining read. I’ve always liked how King seems equally adept at writing short and long pieces of fiction, and he doesn’t disappoint. Wesley is a likabley unremarkable man thrown into something beyond mortal understanding. There’s some welcome humor too, but once the story turns dark it’s classic King all the way. Amazon sells UR for a mere $3.19 and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

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