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QUESTION:

Do you think that your religion has inspired you to use the fantasy/science fiction genre? (Especially in the case of Alvin Maker) It seems to me that a large number of science fiction stories are written by Mormon authors (Battlestar Galactica, Titan A.E., your books, etc.)? Am I imagining things, or is the knowledge of this fact due to the increased scrutiny given to Mormon authors by the media? Likewise, does the importance of proselytization in the LDS religion, reflect in your writing? Are any of your books conceived of by you as ways, though certainly not offensive nor overly aggressive ways, to expose readers to some Mormon values and stories? (Again with special respect to the Tales of Alvin Maker.)

-- Submitted by Jesse Dungan

OSC REPLIES: - September 30, 2002

I never proselytize in my fiction. To do so would trivialize both proselytizing and fiction writing. Fiction may deal with truth, but it does so by casting it within deliberate fabrications. I find this utterly inconsistent with proselytizing, which absolutely depends on telling the truth as best one understands it, with no fiction allowed.

In my fiction I explore all the issues I care about, and some of those are particularly important to Mormons. I also use various sources and cultural references, some of them for fun (making Ben Franklin a wizard, for instance, or using Joseph Smith's leg operation for my own purposes in Seventh Son), and some of them quite seriously (my use of a real slave rebellion in Charleston in Heartfire, for instance). But I make no effort to expose readers to "Mormon" values. Instead, I do what all fiction writers do whether they mean to or not: I expose my readers to MY values; even though all of my characters have value-sets different from mine to at least some degree, the overall story will always reflect my view of how the universe works and what matters and does not matter within it. Since I am a believing Mormon, there will be considerable overlap between my values and the values of that culture. I couldn't keep that from happening if I tried, and I don't try (though I used to; it simply didn't work, so why bother?). However, as many Mormons can tell you, my values also sometimes differ from views widely held within the Mormon community, and some Mormons are outraged by what I write. Again, I have no program to irritate them, but it's bound to happen, since no two Mormons believe in exactly the same set of doctrines, however much some of them might try to believe that they do, and assume that where there are differences, the other guy is the heretic.

There is also a huge overlap between Mormon values and the values of most human beings, since a religion cannot last as long as ours has, and cannot grow as much, if it does not answer fundamental needs and longings, and correspond in significant ways with reality. This is true of all successful religions, regardless of what an outsider might believe about specific doctrines and practices. But if I expunged ALL Mormon values from my work, I doubt that non-Mormons would find much to value in my work, either.

I don't believe Mormons are overrepresented among science fiction writers, compared to our proportion of the general American public. It's just that the image of Mormons in most people's minds is one that makes it surprising, and therefore memorable, that a science fiction writer could be a believing member of such a religion. Since there are Mormon science fiction writers, the only plausible conclusion is that the general public image of Mormons must be false. And, of course, it is.

Science fiction and fantasy are the only genres where important religious, theological, and cosmological ideas are dealt with seriously and open-mindedly on a regular basis by most of the writers in the field. It's not just Mormons who find that the genre allows them to discuss core metaphysical concerns. This does not indicate they are proselytizing, of course, only that they are writing fiction that deals with issues they care deeply about. Most do what I do - they create characters with every point of view that they think matters, including the views that the author hates most. And most of us manage to disguise this discussion within the story, not because we're doing something "secret," but because we have learned that the entertainment cannot stop just because the ideas are serious, or we'll have no readers <grin>.

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