12 December 2007

It's not all about Card: Mormons and Science Fiction

All right, all right. After much harassment from Ben, I've been compelled to post something on my blog about what I've been up to. I just handed in a final paper with the title "Of Saints and Starships: The History of Mormons and Science Fiction." No, it is not all about Orson Scott Card. Seriously people. It's a twelve page long beast listing many of the intersections of Mormonism and science fiction. Here's some interesting excerpts, none of which include the ever delightful Card:

There are two strains of thought on the relationship between religion and science fiction. One view is that these two are inevitable partners because of their scale and themes, a view best represented by C. S. Lewis: “If you have a religion it must be cosmic; therefore it seems to me odd that this genre [religious science fiction] was so late in arriving” (Lewis 125).

. . .

The first [Mormon science fiction] is a short story/play by Parley P. Pratt in 1844 entitled “A Dialogue between Joseph Smith and the Devil,” which portrays a conversation between two regarding the success of the Restoration. . . . . As a work of science fiction, it must be admitted that the piece is fairly shallow. Most of the speculative fiction elements fall into the accusation that religious science fiction is primarily allegorical—the story exists primarily to convey a barely veiled ideas attempt to preach the Mormon message. However, this story undeniably represents an attempt by a Mormon to represent the tenets of his religion through speculative fiction framework.

. . .

Ironically, the short stories of inactive Mormon Zenna Henderson from the same period [1950s-1960s] show a more obvious LDS influence. In 1951, she published the first of her “People” stories. Her stories featured an alien race, dubbed “the People,” forced to emigrate to Earth because of the impending destruction of their home planet. Landing in the southwestern United States (Henderson spent most of her life in Arizona), the People established a society separate from humanity both to preserve their unique culture and to prevent harassment because of their unique psychic gifts. The analog to the establishment of Utah by the early Mormons is obvious, though it has apparently never been commented on by scholars . . . .

. . .

Additionally, three collections of specifically Mormon science fiction were published during the late 80s and early 90s entitled LDSF: Latter-Day Science Fiction (Thousand Oaks, CA: Millennial Productions 1982). These collections were inextricably tied to Mormon culture: the second volume contains an introductory essay by Hugh Nibley and stories that speculate on missionary work involving time travel and a future church where only women have the priesthood. (A copy with margin notes by Hugh Nibley can be found in the BYU library’s Ancient Studies room.) These collections are of mediocre quality and are generally little known . . . .

. . .

Six main themes of science fiction which coincide with the interests of Mormon theology:
1. The identity of the human race and possibilities for human progression
2. The identity of the individual; questions of destiny and free will
3. Explanations for the “homesickness” of the human soul
4. The identity of God; the conflict posed by discovering other belief systems
5. Responsibility for personal actions; the ability to atone for mistakes that affect others
6. The ideal structure of society; the treatment of fellow beings

. . .

Michael R. Collings studies several mainstream science fiction stories with prominent references to Mormonism, the most notable being the satiric “Fosterite Church of the New Revelation” in Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land (New York: Berkley, 1961); the sexually repressed hypocrite Nephi Sarvant in Philip Jose Farmer’s Flesh (New York: Signet, 1986); and the attempt to theologically sanitize Mormonism in Piers Anthony’s Planet of Tarot trilogy (New York: Jove, 1979) (Collings). In other words, . . . many of the Mormon stereotypes of the 19th century had survived intact in genre fiction, and specifically science fiction.
If you're interested in this stuff you might check out the following websites:

3 comments:

Ben Crowder said...

:)

The Girl in the Other Room said...

Sister, if I wasn't afraid of upseting George (praise the snowglobe) I would kill you in an attempt to steal your genius. Why can't I write like that or think of things like that to say???? Boo hoo ... you rock ...

Liz Busby said...

Cause you didn't spend 20 hours in the last week in the library reading every article every published on the topic. Not to even mention online research. :D

Sister! Guess what? I finally finished the Alaska scarf!