Time, the Mormon Consciousness, and SF&F

Among the aspects of existence that sf&f plays with is our experience and perception of time. Most obviously, this is the case with time travel, a trope that belongs more or less exclusively to science fiction and that can be used in such a variety of interesting ways that it is always a disappointment when it becomes nothing more than an authorial restart button.

But there are many other takes on time as well. Consider, for example, the trope of progress, which science fiction both celebrates and critiques. Similarly fundamental to much of modern fantasy is presentation of the past as key to the present and future, so that the hero’s quest becomes in part a kind of detective story for finding out the secrets of the past, whether the history of the One Ring or the story of the Deathly Hallows or Severus Snape’s personal history with Lily Evans. (So enmeshed are Harry and the others in dealing with the shadow of the past that effective action in the present often seems to escape them.)

For that matter, the heroic quest itself is a way of organizing time, both with respect to the protagonist’s own story and on a meta-level: there is something fundamentally homogeneous and stable, or at least recurring, in a universe where archetypal patterns manifest. The same is arguably true of historical cycles, which might be considered as the equivalent of archetypcal patterns for civilizations. Thus, Isaac Asimov’s evocation of the history of Roman empire (as explicated by Gibbon) as a template for his Foundation series suggests something universal in the evolution of societies.

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New Voices #4: Literary Novels

This is the fourth “New Voices” collection of reviews from Shelah Miner’s Mormon Literature students at BYU-Salt Lake. These four reviews are from the second assignment, reviews of “literary novels” by Mormon authors. The reviewers are Kristian Ciarah Cook (Lost Boys, by Orson Scott Card), Tanner Arnett (A Short Stay in Hell, by Steven L. Peck), Russell Peck (The Backslider, by Levi Peterson) and Amelia Ence (Aspen Marooney, by Levi Peterson). Please be encouraging towards the students, most of whom are new to college-level writing assignments.

91a63z3+M+L._SL1500_Lost Boys, by Orson Scott Card

Reviewed by Kristian Ciarah Cook

[Cook begins with a detailed summary of the novel, which has been redacted.]  I have nothing but good and emotional things to say about this novel. It was probably the most disturbing thing that I have ever read. Partly because of the deeply evil ambience the prologue set and partly because, if it were not for the prologue, you could honestly be reading a simple book about an LDS family dealing with the heartache of changing jobs, financial insecurities, children not getting along and having and hard time at school, and dealing with strange neighbors and coworkers. A story of every day life, yet, you knew the whole time that something was seriously wrong. And there was no way of figuring it out until the very last page. By that time, I was in tears. I ended up crying for weeks after I finished this story, and would start to think about the characters that you grow to love or despise. You become frustrated with Step and DeAnne, even though you know they are trying so hard, because they always get distracted and never sit Stevie down or investigate his mysterious video games or imaginary friends. There were so many times that Step almost goes over to find the game or DeAnne almost gets a moment to connect to her son, then some other crazy thing comes up and Stevie just becomes more and more lost. Continue Reading →

The Business Side of Writing: Honing Your Craft and the Best Books on Writing

I’ll begin by saying that I of course will not present an exhaustive list of the best books on writing. I’m going to list the best books I know of on writing, and would love to have people add onto said list in the comments. One thing about being a writer is that no matter how long you work on your craft, you are always competing against people who are older and have been at it much longer than you have. You can never stop improving if you want to stay in the game, and while there are a lot of ways to hone your craft, reading good books on writing is probably the cheapest way – in terms of money, at least. You still need to put in the time to apply what you learn. So here are the books that I recommend.

Wanderings on Writing by Jane Lindskold

WanderingsOnWritingNook

I may be the first person to blog about this one, because it just came out. Some would say there’s no Golden Key, no magic word that you can learn to get yourself a writing career. Lindskold begs to differ. There is a Golden Key, the only catch is, you have to forge it yourself. So, while she can’t present you with a Golden Key, she can tell you how she forged hers. This book is a compilation of essays she’s written over the years on topics ranging from how to write a sympathetic villain to how to keep from driving your family insane as you pursue your dreams. The book is written in accessible, conversational prose. Once you pick it up, you may have trouble putting it down. Continue Reading →

Orson Scott Card: Mormon Literary Pioneer

Quick: What author has arguably done more than any other to explore multiple ways of being Mormon, across multiple genres and audiences? Answer: Orson Scott Card.

Which you already knew, because you read the title of this column. It’s a point well worth making, particularly now when he’s returning once again to Provo next week to be part of Life, the Universe and Everything this coming Feb. 13-15.

You can’t read around for very long in Mormon literature without stumbling across Card’s name. As a young playwright, he was the author of several well-regarded plays on Mormon themes, including Stone Tables and Father, Mother, Mother & Mom. He also started a repertory theater company which experienced popular success but (as so often happens in endeavors of this sort) had to close because it ultimately failed to pay the bills. As an author of historical fiction, he was awarded the 1985 AML best novel award for Saints (originally published as A Woman of Destiny), featuring a composite female character from the early days of the Church, and more recently, he has authored several historical novels based on the lives of Biblical women. His stories have appeared in LDS church magazines (back when they used to publish fiction). He wrote scripts for scriptures on tape and revamped the script of the Hill Cumorah Pageant. He even tried his hand at an epic poem based on the life of Joseph Smith, though I don’t know if that was ever published.

All this aside from the science fiction and fantasy that he’s best known for — which, from a Mormon literary perspective, I think includes some of his most interesting work.

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Thankful for five

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‘Tis the ticornbookme of year we engage in exercises of our gratitudinal capacity. I though I would share five books that have shaped my conceptions of Mormon literature for the better. I encourage you to share your own beloved books in the comments.

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Mither Mages

Orson Scott Card has often taken aspects of LDS belief and used them to build stories: the life of Joseph Smith for the Alvin Maker series, the events of the Book of Mormon in the Homecoming saga, and so on.  Card continues that trend with his Mither Mages young adult fantasy series.  The first two books of the planned trilogy, The Lost Gate and The Gate Thief, have already been published, and I highly recommend them.  [Some minor spoilers follow.]

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Incidentally Mormon Literature

Some literature is Mormon to the bones. This includes — maybe is identical to — literature that is to some important extent about the experience of being Mormon. The story turns out the way it does partly because the main character is Mormon; being Mormon influences his/her key choices. The work may take a variety of stances toward being Mormon, from home literature (old or new) to lost generation, faithful realism, or ex-Mormon satire, but when you read the book there’s no question that if you threw out the Mormon element, the story would change in some noticeable way. This is what people are advocating when they say that if you make a character Mormon, it should make a difference.

And then there are those stories that are only incidentally Mormon. I’m thinking, for example, of Steve Peck’s A Short Stay in Hell, in which the main character’s Mormonness is played up for laughs a few times, but could be from basically any background. It’s possible, of course — likely, even — that at some deep level Peck’s construction of his main character includes his Mormon background as an important element, but if so, it’s not something we as readers are aware of.

So is the mention of Mormonism a weakness in Steve Peck’s story? A distraction to the reader? I don’t think so. Indeed, while books about Mormonness may be centrally important for the development of Mormon literature, books with characters or settings that are only incidentally Mormon probably provide a clearer index to penetration of Mormonism as part of American literature.

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Imaginary Mormons

The first time I read Ender’s Game I loved it, of course, but I hated one very specific thing: Ender’s mom was Mormon. It bothered me, as a child, that Mormons could exist in a universe where Mormonism, as I understood it at the time, was not true. I believe my specific reasoning was that the insectile aliens were obviously not created in the image of God, which said to me that God didn’t create life, which meant that God either wasn’t real or I was wrong about Him, but that’s beside the point. The existence of non-humanoid sentience in Mormon theology is an awesome topic, but it’s not the one I’m here to discuss today. I want to talk about Mormons, and a belief system I believe to be “real” inhabiting a world where much of the metaphysical underpinnings are completely imaginary.

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Storytelling & Community: There’s Always a Message

(A disclaimer before you begin: This little essay should not be construed as a response to Darlene’s essay, “Coward, or What is Not Art.” I’m not like most of the other bloggers here who can toss off a few hundred words of keen analysis with barely a thought. I’ve spent days–off and on–trying to word this thing just right so that there will be no misunderstanding of my point, but I despair that I’ll ever be clever enough to be that clear. What I’m saying is, my thoughts about propaganda preceded Darlene’s by several days and have nothing to do with what she said.)

Most artists I know–perhaps I should say, artistes–abhor the thought of creating propaganda; they wouldn’t be caught dead using their work to further or perhaps even damage some institutionalized cause. Although I’m not sure where the notion comes from that only institutions use art to further or damage a cause, this seems to be the understood source of all that can be deemed propaganda. Apparently only oppressive monolithic organizations have agendas.

Right.

Oh, and, I used the phrase “wouldn’t be caught dead,” ironically, because in truth, after an artist dies is when the knives are truly sharpened and institutionalized critics are free to dissect an artist’s work and assign all sorts of intent–whether to further or damage–whatever pet cause it is to which the critic happens to adhere. What? The critics aren’t institutionalized?

Right.

Think about it now…just for a minute or two.

Everyone has an agenda. Everyone is institutionalized.

Ev. ‘Ry. One. Continue Reading →