Within the last thirty years, many Mormon writers have worked within the genres of science fiction and fantasy. Orson Scott Card and Stephenie Meyer, of course, are likely the most famous among them. I’ve read and reviewed works by both authors, and while I have been critical of Meyer’s Twilight series, I have always had a great deal of respect for Card’s work.
Still, I’m not a big reader of science fiction and fantasy. Last year, for example, I read only three novels that I would label certifiably science fiction or fantasy (Interview with the Vampire, Breaking Dawn, and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader) and one that I would label as borderline (Slaughterhouse-Five). I don’t know why, but I’ve never been able to get into sf&f—even though I like a good sci-fi film or TV series. Maybe I’ve had too many students approach me with the first twenty pages of their lousy fantasy novels, begging me to give them my “expert opinion” on their work.
I’ve always drifted towards realistic fiction. While my friends in high school were reading Robert Jordan and writing stories about guys named “Xyff,” I was reading Hemingway and writing “gritty” stories about a kid named “Steve Wyler” who spends a summer canoeing with a suicidal girl named “Karen.” Of course, I tried to read and write the kinds of speculative stories my friends liked, but they never hooked me. Even today, I prefer stories about normal people with relatively normal problems.
This might make me an exception among Mormon readers. Mormons, after all, love speculative fiction, and there are many fantastic Mormon writers out there who work wonders within the genre. Of course, I’ve heard many theories as to why this is the case. Once, for example, at a conference dedicated to the Twilight series, I heard a panelist argue that Mormons prefer to write fantasy because they can’t face the realities of life. At the same time, she also speculated that Stephenie Meyer has not yet been excommunicated because the Mormon hierarchy wants her tithing money.
Obviously, the panelist who spoke at the Twilight conference based her claims on a rather superficial awareness of Mormonism and what’s going on in Mormon literature. While the best-known names in Mormon literature—Card and Meyer—are science fiction and fantasy writers, I’m not sure their work is typical of Mormon literature in general, which is surprisingly polygeneric. Moreover, I think it’s silly to suggest that speculative fiction, because it’s based on a highly stylized presentation of reality, does not face the realities of life. Such a claim says more about the reader than the genre.
Still, as much as I admire the work of Mormon sf&f authors, I doubt I’ll ever become their avid reader. Part of me feels this way because the stuff I really value—the realistic Mormon fiction—is not getting enough attention. Maybe I’ll change my mind when realistic Mormon fiction starts selling as many copies as the latest Fablehaven novel.