Today, with the ebook market exceeding $5 billion in the US and $10 billion worldwide, it’s hard to remember the resistance that e-readers faced back in 2007 when Amazon released their first ugly duckling Kindle.
In 2009, when Amazon released the slightly less ugly Kindle 2, they decided to give it a boost by asking Stephen King to write a story exclusively for the Kindle platform.
King agreed to write the story as long as he could write one about the Kindle itself.
The result was ‘UR’ a story about an English professor in a minor college in the US who, in a fit of pique with his girlfriend, decides to buy one of these new-fangled Kindle things to show her how up to date he is. What arrives isn’t quite what he ordered. For a start, it’s pink. In 2009, all Kindles were white (why did they ever think that was a good idea?) and the pink Kindle gave access to books that weren’t available anywhere else. No, not ‘Only On Amazon’ exclusives, but books written by writers in other realities.
What follows is a classic Stephen King story where he makes just one small change to the world by supplying one object that shouldn’t be there to a man who is ripe for change and then extends and extends the consequences until that object becomes the trellis that the fate of his characters twists around.
This starts off feeling like a ‘What a great idea! Wouldn’t that be fun?’ thing and slowly becomes something that can wreck, end or perhaps save lives.
I’m sure it’s no accident that the power of the story comes not from the new, other-worldly Kindle, but from how clearly drawn and how believable the people are. Their fears, their hopes, their choices are all ones we can understand and connect to so that what happens to them is more important than the resolution of a logical paradox or a colourful explanation of how the multiverse works.
I’ve never read King’s ‘Dark Tower’ books. I could see that they were being referenced here but my ignorance of them didn’t get in the way of the story.
‘UR’ is a good read in its own right but what makes me smile most is that King wrote a story for Kindle about Kindle that really tells us that people and books are always more important than the technology we use to read them.
I read the Kindle version of ‘UR’ on my trusty old iPad Mini 2. That also made me smile. I take it as proof that there are still more Gods than Amazon.