Thursday, January 19, 2012

Monsters & Mormons & Mayhem, Oh My!

 Monsters & Mormons. Edited by Wm Morris and Theric Jepson. El Cerrito CA: Peculiar Pages, 2011. 510 pp. $29.99, trade paperback. $4.99, Kindle edition.  

Perhaps the most intriguing thing that comes to mind upon reading Monsters & Mormons is the extraordinary range of ideas, themes, images, and tales that fit underneath the general umbrella of “Mormon.” Whether the stories hinge on those unavoidable twin theological imperatives of Utah Mormondom—green jello and fry sauce—or sweep through the distant reaches of time and space to explore the inner workings of alien minds, all offer something that is uniquely ‘Mormon’ without overlaying their narratives with preachments.

Among the offerings are Eric James Stone’s justly honored Nebula-winner, “That Leviathan, Whom Thou Hast Made.” It is overtly “Mormon”; the central character is an LDS bishop whose congregation includes a handful of swales, inhabitants of the sun. On the surface a story of one individual struggling with new thoughts, new beliefs, and new situations, it is ultimately about the age-old conflict of faith colliding with circumstance. In its own way, it is as applicable to social and political questions confronting 21st-century Mormondom as it is to eternal issues of right and wrong…and the complications that emerge as definitions of each become strained.

At an opposite extreme (an rather than the because in the multi-dimensional worlds of the tales included in this collection, opposite can come from just about any direction), Jaleta Clegg’s “Charity Faileth Never” is a delightful homage to The Blob and all amoeboid aliens, placed in the familiar setting of a Relief Society dinner at the local chapel. Its characters and their interactions are accurate (given, of course, the single exception of the sentient jello), their dialogue exaggerated just enough to punctuate the humor, and the resolution perfect.

The thirty stories present pasts, presents, and futures peopled not only by (and not exclusively by (Mormons), sun-dwellers, and motile jello, but also ghosts and other revenants, vampires, werewolves, zombies and cyborgs (and their fascinating combination, zomborgs), trolls, spirits, demons, Lovecraftian horrors, a golem, and alien abductions—a nearly complete encyclopedia, as it were, of things monstrous and horrific. The stories range from deadly serious, as in Erik Peterson’s “Bicho,” to overt parodies of serious elements of LDS history and theology, as in Adam Greenwood’s “I Had Killed a Zombie.” Some reproduce to devastatingly comedic effect speech patterns and cultural norms of contemporary Utah (Lee Allred’s deftly handled “Pirate Gold for Brother Brigham” is a solid example) while others treat the basic trope of Mormonism almost elliptically, as in Katherine Woodbury’s “First Estate.”

The stories are interlaced with several first-rate poems and stark black-and-white illustrations that do much to communicate the essence the various tales.

In all, Monsters & Mormons generally lives up to its title. Most of the tales could stand on their own in any anthology of horror or science fiction, regardless of their Mormon content; many are first-rate, truly exceptional examples of contemporary storytelling. A few venture perhaps a bit too close to the boundary between imagination and reality as they configure worlds in which priesthood powers and demons intersect—I had a couple moments of feeling distinctly uncomfortable—but most of the 500+ pages proved entertaining, intriguing, occasionally enlightening, always thought-provoking. In many ways, this is as definitive a collection of speculative LDS fiction as Fire in the Pasture: Twenty-first Century Mormon Poets (not coincidentally produced by the same publisher) has provend to be.

Strongly recommended.

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