Category Archives: Speculative Fiction

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

8.14.15 | | 3 comments

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.

more

Dark Watch and other Mormon-American stories is available for pre-order

5.7.15 | | 6 comments

Cover of William Morris collection Dark Watch and other Mormon-American stories

6/1/15 Note: it’s now available on all four platforms:

PURCHASE: Amazon | Kobo | Nook | iBooks

———-

I’m delighted to announce the forthcoming publication of my short story collection Dark Watch and other Mormon-American stories. It’s available for pre-order right now at: Amazon (Kindle) | Kobo (epub files). It’ll also soon be available at Barnes & Noble (Nook) and iBooks (iPad/iPhone). It’ll officially go live on Saturday, May 16 (which is when pre-orders will be delivered).

I’ve published it myself under the aegis of A Motley Vision. The main reason for that is that I want as much of the proceeds from sales as possible to go to support AMV and related projects. I go into more detail below about that decision and a lot of other things.

Oh, and here’s the pitch for the collection:

In Dark Watch and other Mormon-American Stories, William Morris explores how Latter-day Saints navigate the challenges of living in the modern U.S. and participating in the modern Church. Spanning from the early 1980s to the present and into the next century, these 16 stories portray moments that are uniquely, thoroughly and sometimes bittersweetly Mormon-American.

Now on to the gory details…

ON THE STORIES
The book collects 16 stories that take place from the early 1980s through the 22nd century — 6 take place in the future (they’re science fiction! [of sorts]).

9 of the stories are less than 2,000 words in length; Dark Watch is just over 8,000 words. The rest are between those two numbers. The total collection comes in at 40,000 words, which is about 120 print pages.

A big chunk of the stories were published in either Dialogue, Irreantum or the Mormon Lit Blitz. The rest are unique to the collection.

The stories were all written 2006-2013 and coincide with the bulk of my non-fiction writing about Mormon literature and culture. All of the stories are very Mormon and are about the current Mormon-American experience and range from the almost devotional to the almost heretical. That almost is important for me to accomplish (see: my series on the radical middle).

A couple of the stories that were previously published have been slightly edited from their previous state. I don’t think I did anything major, but there are differences.

ON PRICING & PROCEEDS
At $4.99, the collection is deliberately priced on the high end of the (very few) comparable ebook volumes of Mormon short stories out there. I figured $1 for each 10,000 words plus another buck for more than a decade of free literary criticism here at AMV and elsewhere. Plus, it feels to me like an EP and EP’s are/used to be $5.

Proceeds from sales of the collection will go to fund Mormon literature projects. Specifically, I hope to bank enough to cover the bulk of the costs for the Mormon alternate history mini-anthology I plan to edit. And by costs I mean token payments (at least $15, hopefully more like $25) to contributors. I hope to also subsidize some of the web hosting costs for AMV and its sister blogs.

Anyone who can’t justify the spend right now but really would like to read the collection should email me at william at motleyvision dot org. Be sure to indicate if you’d like a .pdf, .epub (for Nook, Kobo, Sony Ereader, etc.), or .mobi (Kindle) file. I know what’s it like to not have the funds to buy books even though you’d really like to support the author. It’s more important to me that you experience my writing. I’m not going to just make it free on Amazon or whatever, but email me, and I’ll shoot you back the format of your choice no questions, no judgement.

ON THE COVER
I created it myself in Adobe InDesign. I thought about using a striking black and white photo like one does with short story collections, but I also wanted to tie it into the A Motley Vision branding. Plus I like minimalist book covers. In fact, my preference would be to have no words on the cover at all, but in the end I bowed to convention.

The maroon color is the exact same color as the one I’ve used for AMV since moving it to WordPress many years ago. That would be #3d0807 or R=61, B=8, G=7. The typeface is Avenir. I’ll let you figure out what the squares represent.

ON SELF-PUBLISHING
The calculus is simple: the only publishing house that would potentially be willing to take this on is Zarahemla Books. I’d be happy to be part of that list. It’s great company. But a) there’s no guarantee that Chris Bigelow would want it; b) since proceeds would be split with ZB, that’d dilute the net income from sales; and, c) it just seemed like this project was an AMV one. Future projects might not be.

My sister Katherine and father-in-law Tim provided editorial work. I did everything else.

ON A PRINT VERSION
Probably won’t happen—at least not anytime soon. Yes, I have friends who I could convince to do the layout for free or at a reduced price. Or I could take the time to up my InDesign skills enough to do it myself, but at the moment I’m not inclined to spend that time or good will. Sorry. If a print version does happen, it won’t be until after the alternate history anthology, which means late 2016 at the earliest.

So those are all the details. I’m happy to answer questions in the comments. Stay tuned for more here (and elsewhere) on the stories, my future projects, etc. And thanks, as always, for your support of me and everybody else involved with A Motley Vision and the MormonLit community.

A note on Mormon cosmology in Shannon Hale’s Dangerous

8.15.14 | | 9 comments

This image from the Mormon Artist interview with Shannon Hale. Click on over..

Something I haven’t talked about in the main posts on this novel (question, answer) is the nature of the aliens invading Earth and just what makes them so dangerous that Earth needs saving.

Here are their physical details:

They’re pink (if you can see them—and only the person with the Thinker token can see them).

They are repelled by gravity.

They “inhabit . . . and move through solid substances, just as humans can move only through gaseous or liquid environments” (314).

So why are they here? Based on the evidence, Maisie hypothesizes that they

“. . . [take] over all the human body’s functions. After people are possessed by the aliens, it looks like they mostly spend their time eating and seeking out adrenaline rushes.”

“Seriously?” said Luther.

“They’re here to enjoy physical bodies,” said Wilder.

What’s so interesting when doing a Mormon reading of Dangerous? These aliens sound like someone we know. And where Maisie wants to send them also sounds familiar:

“I think if the ship isn’t nearby to suck them back in, the ghostmen would keep floating right out of Earth’s atmosphere into space’s vacuum, where they’d be helpless. That’s where we want them.” (324)

But sending that third to Outer Darkness isn’t just a fun Easter egg. Some more serious and immediate questions come out of it. For instance, when Maisie speaks with one of the ghosts through its human avatar, it poses an interesting—and brutally stated—question:

“So . . . you’re hijacking humans in order to eat apples.”

He shrugged.

“You’re destroying people, taking away lives.”

“Now, now, all we take is your shell.”

“But what if the flesh of our bodies is the extent of our matter? What if you take our bodies and there’s nothing left?”

He seemed to have never considered the possibility. “Why would such a creature matter at all?” (309)

This basic theo/philosophical question haunts Maisie through the rest of the novel. When she risks her death, she simply does not know if there will be anything left of her should she fail:

I was too conscious of my mortality, I guess. . . . Who knew if there was a part of me that never ended, like the ghostmen themselves? I’d . . . found [outer] space. Maybe there wasn’t anything else to find. (372)

Later, plummeting back to Earth and certain that she will die:

My stomach hurt . . . my head pained to cracking, my muscles so tense I wondered if my skin would split open. . . . All I knew was fear and panic.

. . . Even battling terror like being strangled in slow motion, I wanted to experience it. This was life, these few minutes were all that I had left. I didn’t want to die halfway down. I wanted every single second I had left. (379)

Maisie does not know if she will “be sucked up into a God-touched place . . . . Or . . . simply cease to be” and that feels like “a catastrophic hole in [her] education” (380), but she has decided that regardless, this moment of mortality matters and that every single second she has left is worthy of her full attention and shall give her experience—which shall be for her good—whether she lasts another ten seconds or the fulness of eternity.

Of course, Mormon cosmology posits that ETERNITY is the accurate description, but we are a practical people who feel that the temporal world is important and thus we should experience each ten seconds with the same vigor with which we imagine eventual rewards.

Something like Maisie Brown.

 

====Shannon Hales :: Dangerous====

Just how dangerous is Shannon Hale? (intro)
///// August 13, 2014 \\\\\

Just how dangerous is Shannon Hale? (post)
///// August 14, 2014 \\\\\

A note on Mormon cosmology in Shannon Hale’s Dangerous
///// August 15, 2014 \\\\\

 

Just how dangerous is Shannon Hale?
(part two)

8.14.14 | | 2 comments

This image from the Mormon Artist interview with Shannon Hale. Click on over..

Yesterday, I talked about Shannon Hale’s apparent attempt to make a mainstream success of a novel staring a character who was not “white, male, able-bodied, straight, not too young . . . and not too old“—you know, what we all expect a protagonist to be here in these United States. We discussed the basics of the plot and posed this question:

Does Dangerous succeed at making us identify with Maisie Danger Brown, its home-schooled, geeky, one-armed, half-Paraguayan female protagonist?

Sure. Of course it does. Humans are humans, whatever, no problem. Maisie is fine and we, excepting Klansmen, like her as much as we would a white male two-armed protagonist.

But what’s interesting is how much the novel hedges its bets on our openmindedness—it seems to be a little lacking in confidence that the audience will accept her. more

Just how dangerous is Shannon Hale?

8.13.14 | | no comments

.

NOTE: This is a work of cultural and literary criticism, and not a review. Please adjust your expectations accordingly.

This image from the Mormon Artist interview with Shannon Hale. Click on over..

From Shannon Hale’s website,

When I was in the rewrite stage of Dangerous several years ago, a Smart Person read the first 50 pages and immediately let me know her concerns. She said, “Your main character is unrelatable. You made her a home schooled, science geeky, one-armed, half-Paraguayan.” Until this person said all that I had never thought it. I mean, of course I knew knew those things about her, but I’d never strung together all those adjectives in my mind, maybe because the decisions about her character came about piece-by-piece while writing the story, not all at once. . .  more

BYU Studies review of the Matched Trilogy

12.9.13 | | no comments

My review of Ally Condie’s Matched trilogy is now available as a free download at the BYU Studies website. If you are not a subscriber, but would either like a print copy of the entire journal or a PDF download, check out the table of contents for the issue (52.4).

And here are the AMV posts that helped inform my approach to the review:

Correlation, Top Tens and Ally Condie’s Matched

A nod to Mormon history in Ally Condie’s Reached

The Matched Trilogy: Teenagers and correlated media

Liner Notes: Dark Watch

11.12.13 | | 4 comments

The fall 2013 issue of Dialogue went live yesterday to electronic subscribers. Print editions are in the mail (or will soon be). I’m delighted and a bit awed that this issue devotes more than 20 pages to my story Dark Watch–it’s my longest published story to date. The way I usually describe it is: post-apocalyptic Mormon fiction told in alternating second person.

Dark Watch began as 8 or 9 lines of verse hastily scribbled at least a decade ago, perhaps longer. It continued to percolate. I think I added a second stanza. At some point it turned into the beginnings of a story. Sadly, I can’t find the original source material nor the notes that transitioned it into a science fiction story. I can picture the scraps of paper in the faded manila envelope I had collected them in, but I can’t find that envelope. I can say this the initial image–one member of a couple watching a storm flow across a broken plateau, her spouse startling himself awake–is where it all began and made it all the way through to the final product. more