Word of the day: Zomborg
Outside of fiction, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints get along famously with fantasy. (By that I mean that there are a lot of famous fantasy writers who happen to be mormons.) Inside fiction, though, they rarely interact. There is somewhat of a taboo in mormon culture about having a story with mormon characters and fantastical elements. To some it is tantamount to equating God with Gandalf. Even urban fantasy set modernly, like Fablehaven, only works for mormon audiences (who it had to succeed with first) because it takes place in another earth where there isn’t an LDS church. (Or at least it isn’t mentioned.) Chris Heimerdinger achieves it in his Tennis Shoes books because the “magic other world” is the world of the Book of Mormon and the Bible, and any “magic” except for the time travel conceit is firmly established gifts of the spirit. This of course doesn’t apply at all to science fiction since the whole “worlds without number” thing works its magic. I often hear tirades about Orson Scott Card’s Alvin Maker series for mythologizing the Joseph Smith Story, by the same people who name Ender’s Game among their favorite and best books of all time. I don’t blame authors who shy away from mixing their religion with fantasy, either because of their own feelings or because they don’t think it will land with their audience. Part of writing is in exploring where you land and speaking to your audience. Nor do I imply that they are cowards when I call Monsters and Mormons brave.
Monsters and Mormons is brave. For the reasons stated above and by virtue of being an indy publication of such size. Editors Wm Morris and Theric Jepson have pulled off a fine collection here, and Jepson make an compelling argument in favor of mormon fantasy. (Although I feel compelled to add that the book could have used three more editing passes. It had a more than usual population of typos and such.) As with any anthology Monsters and Mormons is a mixed bag. The order of the day is usually diversity so you can reach as broad an audience as you can. When it comes to anthologies there is nothing wrong with digging through a little dirt to find gems. Some of the stories were exceptional and have given me much to think about and emulate. Some of them fall flat for me and will probably end up forgotten. In some places I found myself offended. “You can’t do that,” I said to the book in front of me. But that’s all right, getting offended isn’t the worst thing in the world. In fact I think it’s pretty great if dealt with properly. (I have Elder Oaks’s (I think) voice in the back of my head saying something about a rattlesnake.) When something someone says or writes violates one of the boundaries you have set up in your mind it gives you an opportunity to assess that boundary. Is it valid? Should I rethink my position on it? Should I fortify it or discard it? How do I frame my response to it so the offender understands what the issue is? It leaves you with a wonderful self examination. I hated one or two of the stories. I’m working on saving my hate for things that truly deserve it, I’m not there yet but it is my ideal. None of these are heinous enough to deserve my hate. I’ll get around to forgiving them someday. In that spirit I’ll only be mentioning my favorites.
* * *
Using the theme of bravery as a jumping point: The Living Wife by Emily Milner tackles polygamy from an interesting direction, with ghosts. This story explores the dynamics of a multiple wife situation with all the jealousies and supportivenesses and comedy. Four characters means twelve relationships and I feel that each of those got the attention they deserved.
Baptisms for the Dead by C. Douglas Birkhead was hilarious, and a nice diversion from my recent overload of zombie fiction.
Bokev Momen by D. Michael Martindale falls in the funny category as well. There is a fine bit of worldbuilding where it comes to the mode of space travel.
Let the Mountains Tremble for Adoniha has Fallen by Steven L. Peck is kind of a sticky wicket. The central question of the story is questioning authority and not liking the answer you’re given. (Meaning the authority of your church leaders, particularly the prophet.) Now we are told to seek confirmation for ourselves about general authorities, so that’s not at issue here. What if the answer you receive is no. This fits finely into the brave motif I seem to have built. All this of course takes place on a terraformed, colonized Mars that has been separated from the Earth for a long time.
That Leviathan, Whom Thou Hast Made by Eric James Stone won the Nebula award for best novelette in 2011, so if you won’t take SFWA’s advice on it I’m not sure what more I can say about it. Stone tends to write golden age style stories full of big ideas. I find their own blurb about it to be less than satisfactory (as well as spoilery) so I’ll counter with one of my own. The new leader of an LDS branch on the sun has to try to explain the law of chastity to massive, tri-sexed, plasma beings who witnessed the beginnings of our solar system.
The Mountain of the Lord by Dan Wells really hit the spot for me and was a fantastic choice as anchor for this anthology. It is worth further study. A worthy hero story.
* * *
As for myself on the question of LDS fantasy: I’m for it, but I’m not prepared to defend it against someone who is uncomfortable with it. If I ever find a story to tell I’ll write it and market it. Why not? I understand the need to separate reality from fantasy (well, I have a more complicated view of that, but that’s another story) but I also think there is an opportunity to examine ourselves from a distance through the scope of fantasy. I was actually preparing to submit to this anthology. (I knew exactly what I was going to do but I couldn’t get around to keyboard jockeying it. That’s my largest weakness as a writer, when it comes down to actually committing the story to paper my social anxiety kicks in.)