Science fiction “invested” in Mormonism:
FIVE FICTIONS

4.2.14 | | 28 comments

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Once again, Dr Hales’s “ignorance” of science fiction has lost him some ethos among the AML crowd and so, now that he’s done dissertation-writing, I think it’s high time we get him some reading.

So here’s the challenge: using Enid’s definition of Mormon literature, suggest five science-fictions that meet your interpretation of her criteria.

Enid Seems to Allow for Science Fiction

In the comments section, I will ask that you either provide your own list of five science-fictions Scott should read or helpful commentary on others’ lists. Ideally, by the end of the comments section we’ll have consensus on what he should read. Although, pause for hilarious laughter, I don’t think we’ll really be able to do that.

Theric’s Five Suggestions for Science Fiction Invested in Mormonism

Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card

Of course, Orson Scott Card has to make this list. And while I am tempted to include Alvin Maker or Lost Boys (neither of which I’ve read) or his Noah story or “Homeless in Hell” (which are terrific), really, the Ender books are so important that my original intention was to blow two of my choices on them; but without Collings as your guide it’s hard to defend Ender’s Game‘s position on this list although of all the Ender books, I’m not sure Speaker best meets Enid’s critera either. But it does meet her criteria and is simply one of the finest novels of the 20th century to boot. It gets my first nod.

“That Leviathan, Whom Thou Hast Made” by Eric James Stone

This is the most important bit of science fiction invested in Mormonism of the last decade by the criteria of how much it’s been spoken about. Anyone invested in Mormon lit ignores it at their own peril.

“The Mountain of the Lord” by Dan Wells

No work of science fiction that I can name is more emphatically invested in being Mormon. That is exactly what this story is about. Plus, bonus, you can get both this and Stone’s story by buying Monsters & Mormons.

Something by Brandon Sanderson

I don’t know what exactly as I haven’t read anything of his, but I’m hoping this gap in my own education will get a good start in the comments.

Matched by Ally Condie

Instead of going old school or a personal favorite, for my final selection I’m allowing myself to be persuaded by William. He had better be right.

28 comments: “Science fiction “invested” in Mormonism:
FIVE FICTIONS

  1. Scott Hales

    I don’t, of course, object to a Mormon sf/f reading list. Please, recommend on…

    I do object to the term “ignorance,” however, even though I recognize that it is here applied in good fun. I admit that sci-fi is not my genre of choice, and I admit that I have not been shy about making that known, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t read and written on it in an informed way. For proof, feel free to look up my reviews of “Matched,” “Red Prophet,” and “A Short Stay in Hell” on the Low-Tech World. Also, there’s my post on Twilight and CleanFlix here on AMV. There’s also my strong support of the sci-fi of William Morris, Steve Peck, and most of the stories I’ve read in Monsters & Mormons–including my recent comments on Leviathan (after reading it) over on the AML blog. True, I haven’t read Ender’s Game–but not for lack of trying (I admit, I couldn’t get into it). I have, however, read Folk of the Fringe and parts of the Alvin Maker and Homecoming series. I’ve also read Parley P. Pratt’s utopian stories and Nephi Anderson’s pioneering work of science fiction, “Beyond Arsareth,” (possibly the first full-fledged pieces of Mormon sci-fi) which is probably more early Mormon sci-fi than most can say they’ve read…

    I know that is not as much exposure as some would like, but–c’mon–I would like to think it takes me out of the “ignorance” bracket…

    But, like I said, I am open to recommendations…

  2. William Morris

    Two questions before I get to recommendations:

    1. What does it mean to be invested in the Mormon community through work? For example, it’s hard to ignore the fact that Sanderson, although he has yet to publish anything with overt Mormon content, has through other actions (teaching at BYU, supporting fellow authors who are LDS) invested in the Mormon community, although not exclusively so. But do those actions mean that, whether he is going to say it or not (and he’s not because doing so is not what a NY Times bestselling author does), we should be more or less inclined to view his work as in dialogue thematically (and via some of his characters) with Mormon thought and community in addition to being in dialogue with the larger field of SF&F?

    2. The objection made in past conversation to SF&F that is written by Mormons but has no overt Mormon content is that the perceived thematic resonances don’t necessarily rely solely/fully on Mormonism (as in: they could have been written by a non-LDS author) and so don’t meet the notion of investment in the shape of Mormonism. That means that any literary criticism that links those works to Mormonism has to rely on thematic interpretation, reader response, sussing out authorial intention, etc. That’s a very different project from a formalist close reading look at a novel with overt Mormon content. So what counts and how does it count or not count?

  3. William Morris

    Brandon Sanderson is highly interested in theosis. What’s interesting (and possibly Mormon-ish) to me is that that often get expressed in a physical AND metaphysical way. That is: Sanderson’s god-like beings tend to be souls (in the JS definition of that word). Part of that is likely a fascination/deep acquaintance with superheroes. But I don’t think you need to stretch far to find Mormon readings of his work. The end of the Mistborn trilogy is quite a remarkable occurrence of theosis in his work, but it takes awhile to get there. So I think the place to start is Warbreaker.

    In a somewhat similar vein would be David Farland’s Runelords series. I think for the purposes of literary criticism, you don’t read more than the first two novels. In addition, in those two novels, Farland lays out an ideology that while could be seen as generic conservative also has Mormon resonances. But I think the most interesting aspects of those novels is that he explores what it means to be a idealist leader in a harsh world who has access to something akin to the Holy Ghost/spirit of discernment.

  4. Theric Jepson Post author

    .

    Incidentally, Scott, did you have to piece “Beyond Arsareth” RSM by RSM, or do you a complete version?

  5. Jonathan Langford

    Invested in shaping the Mormon community…

    I’m going to impose my own set of additional criteria here:
    - The sf&f element has to be essential to the Mormonism of the story
    - The story has to be well worth reading for its own sake
    - The focus of the Mormon definition can be either internal (self-definition by the Mormon community) or outwardly directed (helping to define who we are to others) — based on my reading of Scott Hales’s comments about Leviathan over at the AML blog.

    That said…
    - Folk of the Fringe, by Orson Scott Card, has to go on the list–particularly the stories “West” and “America.” In their enactment of Mormon prophecies of the last days *and* their depiction of what it means to have Mormon faith, they utterly qualify. And as acts of sheer I-didn’t-think-it-could-be-done in terms of telling Mormon missionary stories to a national audience, they demand the attention of anyone interested in how Mormons are trying to assimilate (or not) and present their own identity on the national non-Mormon stage.
    - “For the Strength of the Hills,” by Lee Allred. There’s a fascinating (and disquieting) question for Mormons and non-Mormons both in Lee’s interrogation of how the reasons for the United States’ suppression of the Mormons stack up with the reasons for the suppression of slavery via the Civil War.
    - Tathea, by Anne Perry. I’m taking this one on faith, not having read the novel — but hey, it got an AML award. That’s a fairly decent credential. My inclusion of it on this list has to do with the fact that apparently (based on the reviews) it is, at least in part, a religious allegory using fantasy notions to present Mormon ideas. I welcome pushback from those who have actually read the book…

    I want to put down something by Shayne Bell as well, but I’m only partway through reading/rereading his short story collection, so I’ll hold off for now.

  6. Jonathan Langford

    Re: Runelords, by David Farland: I do know that the “endowment” system in these stories represents (or at least originally represented), for him — doubtless among other things — a critique of free-market capitalism along lines heavily influenced by his reading of Mormon scripture. I didn’t include them on my list because I’m trying for works that have a clear and explicit connection to Mormon identity.

    If we’re doing thematic as well, then a lot more of Scott Card goes on the list, including the Capitol/Hot Sleep/ Worthing Chronicle sequence, as explorations of what it means to be God (and what it means to be Satan) in a highly Mormon-influenced cosmos.

  7. Proud Daughter of Eve

    “Tathea” by Anne Perry is definitely a religious allegory using Mormon themes. I read it a few years ago and the sequel. I didn’t really like it that much, I think it fell flat for me, but the themes are definitely there. (For one, Tathea has a vision in which she sees God and His world… and also meets a spirit whom she knows will be very important to her but who isn’t born yet. When he is born, they meet and unite for a few different meanings of the term beyond and including the romantic.)

    “Elantris” by Brandon Sanderson. No question. His descriptions of the Elantrians sound very much like resurrected beings (only maybe from the Millenium, where you don’t die you just *poof* are transalted).

    I’m surprised I haven’t seen (and I apologize if I missed it) Scott Cards’ “Homecoming” series which is the books of Nephi and Alma science-fictionified.

    L.E. Moddesitt has a whole series of Mormons In Space but he’s blended them with Muslims and, despite living in the Mormon Corridor, shows a really distressing misapprehension of what Mormons are really about. (I had an email conversation with him awhile ago about it because I’d read one of his books and was disturbed.)

  8. Scott Parkin

    For Card I would suggest his short story “America” as a good start (originally published in Analog; anthologized in Folk of the Fringe). It goes at Mormon mind and community in overt ways, and speaks both to a group identity and a direct and irrefutable rise of both Mormon culture and the predictive reality of Mormon prophecy. Of course it seems Dr. Hales has already read that one, so…

    While I accept that Speaker for the Dead carries strong thematically Mormon elements, it requires some interpretational caIisthenics to extract (for me, at least), which begs how effectively it’s “invested in shaping the past, present, and [or] future of the Mormon community.” I feel the same way about Ender’s Game. Informed by Mormon mind, but not evidently (to me) invested in Mormon community.

    Love Leviathan; no arguments on “Mountain of the Lord,” though I think Peck’s short-short “Avec, Who Is Distributed” is the most invested Mormon sf story *I’ve* read recently; own but haven’t read Matched (though my wife has; just moved to the top of my reading list). I really need to read something by Brandon Sanderson someday soon (though his work, like most of Card’s, seems more informed by than invested in Mormon community—at least to me). And I definitely need to find and read Arsareth.

    Looking back a few years at the days of LDSF, the short anthologies under that title contained variably effective Mormon sf short fiction that was definitionally invested in Mormon community and identity. The Millennium File, a short novel by Glenn Anderson, was competent and overtly Mormon sf that I thought was well invested.

    It seems to me most Mormon sf authors make an effort to avoid (or even evade) direct engagement with Mormon community in their fiction so as not to be labelled (and dismissed) as proselytizers, so an sf list under that rubric is a challenge for me. But I may be operating under too tight a filter.

  9. Moriah Jovan

    Quickly, because I only scanned for now and a couple of things got my attention.

    I read FOLK OF THE FRINGE years ago and loved it. Some of the stories still resonate with me. The Alvin Maker series was an interesting concept but petered out about halfway through the second book. And we all know how I felt about “Hamlet’s Father.” I think it’s safe to say I’m generally not a fan of Card’s work. (I also don’t like how he went after Eugene’s book [ANGEL FALLING SOFTLY]. He, of all people, should know how to parse that book.)

    Oh, TATHEA. I wish I could have loved you. My mother is an Anne Perry fan. She’s been pushing her books on me for years and I’m like, “No, thanks. Convicted murderer writing murder mysteries…yeah, no.” “But she repented! Joined the church!” Mom says. “Okay, but she’s writing MURDER MYSTERIES, MOM!!! Write what you know? Does this mean she’s profiting off her crime? Here, Mom, have a bodice ripper.”

    BUT I went ahead and tried TATHEA. It was a slog. It was an allegory, but it was clumsy and rather elementary. I felt like she was trying too hard to convince herself she’s either repented or been forgiven. I quit halfway through because it just started unraveling into nonsense. AND NOW!!! I hear from different sources her writing’s turned a lot darker and more ambivalent and I just can’t go back to that.

    It seems to me most Mormon sf authors make an effort to avoid (or even evade) direct engagement with Mormon community in their fiction so as not to be labelled (and dismissed) as proselytizers, so an sf list under that rubric is a challenge for me. But I may be operating under too tight a filter.

    Insofar as I can (which may not be saying much), I agree with this and have for years. I believe I’ve even said it here.

  10. Theric Jepson Post author

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    I read The Millennium File in high school and really loved it, but the friend I pressed it on thought it was dumb and tropey. That was twenty years ago though. So who knows.

    I had a hard time not including any Peck on my list (I would have gone for his M&M story), but five is five!

  11. Scott Hales

    Scare quotes appreciated.

    I did have to piece together “Beyond Arsareth” from the RSM, but I have recently passed along my pieced-together copy to the folks at the Mormon Texts Project for a future ebook. ScottP, I’ll gladly pass along my pdf of Beyond Arsareth to you on the condition that you and everyone else agrees to stop referring to me as Dr. Hales. Scott or ScottH works well enough. :)

    If I were not me, I’d recommend that Dr. Hales…that is, ScottH….read Emily Milner’s “The Living Wife,” which is one of my favorites in M&M, and Stephen Tuttle’s “The Weather Here,” one of my favorites in Dispensation. (I know he has both of these on his bookshelf). I’d also recommend that he go back and read his own sf short story, “The Curelom,” which was posted on the Wilderness Interface Zone back in February. Finally, I’d encourage him to finish Linda Sillitoe’s supernatural thriller (or quasi-thriller) “Secrets Keep,” despite his general dislike of Sillitoe’s writing…which might also be asking him to ignore the overall goofiness of the way the supernatural plays out in that novel.

  12. Scott Hales

    By the way, I’m happy to provide a copy of “Beyond Arsareth” to any interested party. It is about a wander who takes up with a group of Norwegian whalers, gets marooned in the arctic, and ends up discovering the lost ten tribes in a temperate land beyond the arctic circle. It shares a lot of DNA with classic hollow earth fantasy stories from the nineteenth century, but the technological advances and trauma of World War I are also apparent throughout the novella. It’s not Anderson’s best work, but it is an important lost Mormon text.

    Email me at scotthales80ATgmailDOTcom if you’d like a copy.

  13. Scott Parkin

    As a cheat I would recommend anything in M&M (treating the antho as a single title). I didn’t like (or more accurately, wasn’t engaged/moved by) a fair few of the individual stories, but I love the attempt. Same with the old ldsf anthos.

    On Peck…I think it’s hard to wrong with much of anything he writes. Then again, I’m a shameless fan.

    On Tathea…it’s an important book where a very popular author chose to claim solidarity with her culture at great personal risk. But important or not, it didn’t entertain me. At all.

    Gerald Lund’s The Alliance and The Freedom Factor were a couple more invested sf titles that just turned me off. Adequate as Mormon tale; very weak as sf.

  14. Theric Jepson Post author

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    I liked The Alliance when I was a kid but I hated Freedom Factor.

    If Steve stops by, I would love to know when we can expect a short story collection from him. With his M&M story, the flashes he’s written for EMW, the terrific Talmadge steampunk that was in Irreantum’s final issue, and the story in the new Sunstone (which I haven’t read yet), we’re very close. Add in what I’m not thinking off and voila.

  15. Scott Parkin

    The Alliance was better, but it was still sf for people who don’t read sf (or are new to it). I came to it after reading in the genre for more than twenty years, so his emphasis on basis tropes seemed excessive.

    Otherwise it was the Satan’s Plan story that was tapped out back in Nephi Anderson’s time.

    If he can’t get a bigger publisher I can say with confidence that ArcPoint Media would jump at the chance to do a Steven Peck anthology.

  16. Sarah Dunster

    I read the first hundred or so pages of Tathea. (I hope Anne Perry doesn’t read this blog. Probably I’m safe.) It was hopelessly wordy. In fact, I feel her work got wordier and wordier as she got famouser and famouser. Sometimes having the muscle to keep what you want in your stories isn’t always good for your writing…

    I stopped reading Tathea at a description of “turquoise pools waxing limpid” somesuch. I’m sorry. I’m not tolerant of prose that doesn’t seem to mean anything other than, these words sound pretty, I’ll put them together.

    Having said that. I really adore several of Perry’s novels. In particular the Cater Street Hangman and Defend and Betray. But those aren’t sci fi.

    I definitely agree with Condie’s Matched.

  17. joy

    Sci-Fi Fantasy isn’t my genre of choice either, but I don’t feel like I’m “ignorant” about Mormon Sci-Fi either. There’s several of the recommendations I’d be interested in reading too. I’m not sure about Orson Scott Card (he’s just so uneven of a writer), but there’s several authors here I know I need to read just to stay somewhat informed about the books being published in the “Mormon” Sci-Fi/fantasy genre. Scott, Beyond Arsareth” sounds interesting.

  18. Theric Jepson Post author

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    Card has written some of the best books of his generation.

    He’s also really wasted our time.

    I think that counts as “uneven.”

  19. Jonathan Langford

    Part of why Card seems so uneven to individual readers is that he’s written in so many modes and even genres. This makes it more than usually difficult to say which differences in a reader’s experience of his work are due to variable quality, and which are due to individual taste. Even those things by him that are most outside my area of sympathy find their champions.

    That said, of the works mentioned so far in this discussion, it’s my personal opinion that Folk of the Fringe, Ender’s Game, Speaker for the Dead, and the first two Alvin Maker books need make no apology to anyone.

    A “best of Orson Scott Card” question would be a different (but very interesting) discussion. Or (ore likely) multiple discussions.

  20. Luisa Perkins

    Elantris is profoundly but subtly Mormon.

    I agree with all my heart that OSC is uneven. Lost Boys is one of his best, as is Folk of the Fringe, but my favorite with profound-but-subtle Mormon stuff is Treason.

    Anne Perry’s mysteries are beautifully written and compelling stories. Tathea, on the other hand, I found unbearable.

    What about Zenna Henderson’s Pilgrimage or The Anything Box?

  21. Scott Parkin

    All of Zenna Henderson’s fiction was flavored with an “enlightened people lost in the wilderness” vibe that was commonly read as Jewish, but is more properly understood as Mormon (she was raised Mormon until she left the church after marrying a devout Presbyterian). Strongly invested in community, but not specifically ours.

  22. Sarah Dunster

    I know I’m probably the only one who feels this way, but I really kind of despised cards “Saints.” But I loved Ender’s Game and I love a lot of his short stories. And, I want to read Lost Boys but am worried it will tap into way too many anxious fears. The Lovely Bones was harrowing, for instance.

    My favorite Anne Perry Mysteries (and I was an addict for years): Sins of The Wolf. Cain, His Brother. Defend and Betray, The Whitechapel Murders. And I will assert that her very very best was, I think, her very very first. The Cater Street Hangman. I LOVE serial mysteries. I want to write them someday. Maybe it’ll be the reverse problem for me–I’ll do OK with fantasy (I hope) and write unbearable serial mysteries….

    Luisa, you should be on this list. I’d put you on it. I loved “Dispirited” and, when I’ve offloaded a lot of my to-read list, I’m going to read your others.

  23. Gamila

    So, I am kind of glad that I am not the only one that just didn’t get Tathea. I liked some of the beginning sequences of the novel and then it got all random and weird. I’ve been wanting to read That Leviathan for ages. Also, I love how Mormon Brandon Sanderson is sometimes. I laughed out loud when the Lord Ruler made a bunch of food storage caverns in the event of the world ending. Yet, this very Mormon culture thing fit very well into his book, and played major parts in the plot.
    I recently read Chaos of the Stars by Kiersten White wherein a daughter of Isis has to reconcile the fact that her immortal parents made her mortal. In several instances the main character struggles to understand the perspective of immortality and when she does reconcile it in her mind I think the author reveals very interesting perspectives on divine parents that feel very Mormonish to me.
    To plug several lesser known authors I remember enjoying Jeff Wheeler’s The Wretched of Muirwood because of how the magic system worked on faith and belief. I found several themes in that book to have a very Mormon feel.
    Also, my husband Kindal Debenham wrote and published the novel Wolfhound in which he tells the story of a young Ensign, Jacob Hull, whom is basically Captain Moroni. He was fascinated by the idea of a very young leader being propelled into the highest office of his county’s military in so short a time like Moroni was and wrote that story arc in a science fiction setting.

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