Call for Papers — Mormonism & Spec Fiction (LTUE 2017)

The Association for Mormon Letters is calling for papers relating to the connections between speculative fiction and Mormonism, to be delivered at Life, the Universe and Everything 2017, to be held February 16-18 in Provo, Utah.

Presentations can be shorter (10-15 minutes) or longer (20-25 minutes), and can address any area of intersection between speculative fiction and Mormonism, including any of the following:

  • Works by LDS authors of speculative fiction
  • Depictions of Mormons and Mormonism in speculative fiction
  • History of the Mormon speculative fiction community
  • Thematic and cultural affinities, connections, and tensions between Mormonism and speculative fiction as ways of viewing human life and the universe in general

Student papers are welcome.

Proposals are due by August 31, and complete papers are due by October 1. Papers can be submitted without previously submitting a proposal, but we prefer the advance notice. Papers will be considered for publication in Deep Thoughts, the proceedings volume for LTUE.

In addition to submitted papers, there will be a panel on the appeal of science fiction and fantasy for Mormons. Please let us know if you would be interested in being on that panel.

Queries, proposals, and papers should be sent to Jonathan Langford, email jonathan AT langfordwriter DOT com.

The Appeal of Science Fiction for (Some) Mormons

The other day, I woke up and wound up writing — well, this. And so I decided that I might as well share…

Science fiction as a genre has a high and holy calling of engaging us in dialogue with science, the future, and technological change (corresponding to fantasy’s calling to engage us in a dialogue with history, mythology, and the unconscious, but that’s a topic for a different essay). Like most such callings, it is a potential caught mostly in glimpses, seldom if ever fully realized. Yet for all the protestations one hears of simple storytelling with no pretense of oracular or legislative responsibility (Shelley notwithstanding), it is a vocation pursued with remarkable persistence by most of the genre’s writers and never really forgotten by the bulk of its readers. (I speak now of literature. Movies are a different thing entirely.)

Continue reading “The Appeal of Science Fiction for (Some) Mormons”

Revisiting The Reluctant Blogger

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Reluctant-Blogger-The_2x3Those of you with excellent memories or a fetish for reluctant bloggers may recall that two years ago today I posted, simultaneously here at AMV and over at MMM and at the AML blog, three takes on Ryan Rapier’s then recent novel. In writing this post, I’m intentionally not reviewing those reviews, but I suspect if you added them up and divided by three you would get a moderately negative take. And if I were to reread them now, I would probably remember all the things I complained about and I might lose my way in this remembrance of the novel.

See, for all its flaws of structure and point of view, I still think about the characters of The Reluctant Blogger all these years later. I think mostly of the protag’s father’s second marriage and of the pain the protag causes his love interest. These things—or, rather, these people are still with me. I think of them regularly.

And, in my opinion, the most important aspect of good fiction is characters who live on in the mind. It’s why Jane Eyre might be my favorite novel. Because I still think about Jane. I love Jane. She’s, like, my very good friend.

And The Reluctant Blogger also provided me with new friends.

So with that in mind, regardless of whatever I’ve said in the past, I recommend it.

Mormon alternate history anthology: background reading

Interested in contributing to (or reading) the Mormon alternate history anthology I am editing (deadline for submissions is March 19!)? Curious about what alternate historical fiction is all about? Here are some works to consider reading:

Mormon Alternate History

For the Strength of the Hills” by Lee Allred. This novella is one of the most re-printed stories in Mormon literature and one of the earliest (if not the earliest) iterations of the sub-sub-genre.  

“Traitors and Tyrants” by John Nakamura Remy and Galen Dara in Monsters & MormonsThis short comic mixes pulp adventure tropes with steampunk and features Erasmus Snow and his plural wives on a trip to Japan.

City of the Saints by D.J. Butler is also a Mormon alternate history steampunk story. It features such characters as Orson Pratt, inventor of the airship, Sam Clemens and his steam truck, and Egyptian antiquities exhibitor Edgar Allen Poe.

Note: Orson Scott Card’s The Tales of Alvin Maker is considered to be alternate history, but it doesn’t really fit with what I’m asking for because it involves the use of magic. Alternate technologies are okay with me (e.g. steampunk/dieselpunk) but magic isn’t something I’m interested in for this particular anthology.

Other Alternate History Works/Resources

The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick. A key text in alternate history, the novel takes place in a 1962 America that has been partitioned in two by the Axis powers Japan and Germany. All the more remarkable in that it is also a meta-narrative about alternate history.

The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by American Michael Chabon is a key influence on my own alternate history story “The Darkest Abyss in America”. It take place 60 years after a (in our actual timeline rejected) proposal to temporary settle WWII-era Jewish refugees in Sitka, Alaska is passed.

Uchronia is the go-to online database of alternate history works.

The Sideways Award is the major aware in the genre.

There is a lot more out there, but this is a good start. Anybody have other reading suggestions?

His Right Hand (the conflicted review)

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Not so many pages into my reading of Mette Ivie Harrison’s new sequel to The Bishop’s WifeHis Right Hand, I decided I was going to write two reviews of this novel: His Right Hand — The Positive Review and His Right Hand — The Negative Review. I wasn’t sure which I would publish first vs which I would let sit on top, but it seemed like a good method to praise what I like and discuss directly what I don’t.

But I can’t write those reviews. By the time I reached the end of the novel, I’d realized that the good and the bad of the Linda Wallheim mysteries are too interwoven to cleanly separate. My concern, however, is that by interweaving them I will be giving the negative more weight. We’ll see how it goes. Ready? Continue readingHis Right Hand (the conflicted review)”

Questions and Answers: Dave Farland’s In the Company of Angels

Earlier this summer, I helped start a book club among some of the more mature couples in our ward. (Yes, I’m aware that I don’t necessarily qualify. On more than one count. Don’t even go there.)

For our second meeting, I proposed three Mormon lit titles: In the Company of Angels, Dave Farland’s (aka Wolverton’s) historical novel about the Willie handcart company; Bound on Earth, by Angela Hallstrom; and The Tree House, by Doug Thayer. The consensus went to Farland’s novel. So that was the one we read and discussed.

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Things Rich and Strange: Mormonism through the Lens of Steve Peck, a Sympathetic Alien

Title: Wandering Realities: The Mormonish Short Fiction of Steven L. Peck
Author: Steven L. Peck
Publisher: Zarahemla Books
Genre: Short Story Collection
Year Published: 2015
Number of Pages: 219
Binding: Trade Paperback
ISBN13: 9780988323346
Price: $14.95
Also available as an ebook

Reviewed by Jonathan Langford.

Steve Peck is an alien. A kind of geeky-looking one (wholly appropriate for a professor of evolutionary biology), friendly, congenial, but an alien nonetheless. That’s the only explanation I can come up with for how, in this set of 16 stories, he so consistently manages to provide such startlingly different, yet at the same time deeply insightful, perspectives on the culture and religion he has adopted for his own.

Which is about the only thing these stories — which range from short to long, humor to pathos, realism to postmodernly zany, contemporary to historical to science fiction — have in common. Eight of them have been previously published, in venues ranging from Irreantum to Covenant to the Everyday Mormon Writer contest. Yet the effect is not incoherent. Rather, it provides a sense of the range of Peck’s work, which includes something that will, I guarantee, appeal to pretty much everyone with the slightest interest in reading fiction about the Mormon experience: highbrow or lowbrow, literary or popular, funny or serious, light or thought-provoking. It’s pretty much all here. And while not every story is equally polished, each provides something interesting and (here’s that word again) different.

Continue reading “Things Rich and Strange: Mormonism through the Lens of Steve Peck, a Sympathetic Alien”

A brief look at Heaven Knows Why!

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When Taylor’s novel was first serialized in 1948 as The Mysterious Way in Collier’s (see the layout of parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6), it passed before the eyes of millions of Americans. This was the first nonpioneer Mormon-charactered (contemporary) novel published for a national audience. The action takes place a long-day’s drive from Salt Lake City and when it first came out, its geography became a matter of some debate among the Saints as to who was whom and where was where. Taylor, of course, rolled his eyes and happily defined the word fiction for any who asked.

Anyway. Millions of readers did not translate into bestseller status when it was rereleased under the “improved” title in book form (though it did fine and got good reviews). It would be republished a couple times over the decades. My copy (pictured) is a 1994 Aspen Books rerelease which Taylor says he was talked into by Richard Cracroft (though I suspect his intro was originally penned for a c. 1980 publication). Cracroft called it “the best Mormon comic novel to date” and he says that it’s still the only humorous Mormon novel. (This claim is why I think the intro is older than the publication date. By this time Curtis Taylor‘s The Invisible Saint was out not to mention Joni Hilton’s Relief Society novels and Orson Scott Card’s Hatrack River was publishing stuff like Paradise Vue. So 1994 would be a crazy time to make that claim. But whatever.)

The important question though is this one: Does the novel hold up, almost seventy years later?

The story has a brilliant bit of innovation by starting with a deus ex machina, then having the characters work through the mess that engenders. Old Moroni Skinner is up in heaven (heaven, incidentally, is a satire of midcentury American capitalism and has not aged as well as the rest of the novel) concerned with his grandson who’s grown up to be the valley trash. He files the paperwork to make a visitation and so he does, making it up as he goes, dropping in on the town apostate and telling his grandson to marry the bishop’s daughter (who is engaged to be married the very next day, unbeknownst to Moroni). And this descends chaos in the form of crazy and coincidence, capturing the very best elements of the comedies of Dickens and Shakespeare. It is exquisitely engineered. The characters are sharp and tear off the page in into the imagination. The hurdles to our protagonist’s success just got greater and greater. And somehow—comedy!—it all works out in the end. (Unless you include the final chapter which returns us to heaven and adds on a painfully heavy dose of predestination to the mix.)

In short, this is a terrific look at midcentury Mormon-corridor Mormonism with its uncertain relationship with the Word of Wisdom and heldover pioneer-era Church hierarchies and living breathing human beings.

Sp does it hold up? Yes. Most certainly yet. I may not have laughed on every page like Cracroft, but it was a fun, fun ride.