'Mormonish' stories from Peck tap into the subtexts of our faith

Friday , September 04, 2015 - 12:00 AM1 comment

Doug Gibson

A while back, Steven L. Peck, a biology professor at Brigham Young University, wrote “A Short Stay in Hell.” It was a fascinating piece of Mormonish fantasy, with a protagonist sent to hell after being assuaged of fears of burning lakes and pitchforks. The hell he eventually becomes resigned to, however, proves to be more soul-decaying than anything envisioned in the Old Testament or by Middle-Ages artists.

Peck has a spare, to-the-point writing style, with strong dialogue that engages dilemmas. Through plot and the personal motivations of characters, the dilemmas sometimes find surprisingly simple solutions. The determination of the narrator or main characters, is ultimately rewarded.

Peck has published a collection, “Wandering Realities: The Mormonish Short Fiction of Steven L. Peck,” published by the outstanding Mormon-themed house, Zarahemla Books. (zarahemlabooks.com) The short fiction is a mixture of LDS-themed science fiction, fantasy and the contemporary. I wasn’t disappointed by any of the fiction, which varies from a few pages to long stories.

A top offering of the science fiction and fantasy is “Avek, Who Is Distributed,” in which Elder Windle is faced with telling Avek the discouraging news that church leaders have decided that distributed AIs cannot be baptized. As Windle tells Avek, “You must understand. The difficulty is that your intelligence is distributed across three planets in thousands of computational nodes ...”

Avek responds, “And yet I am one thing. A unique individual. Someone that thinks singly. Someone who can feel. Who longs for things. ...”

In the story, “AIs” have long been baptized, with questions of gender long settled. Elder Windle, and church leaders eventually reach a decision that allows a measure of achievement and relief for all him and Avek.

An excellent contemporary short story is “Bishop, Banker, Grocery, Fry,” in which our protagonist bishop is visited by the wife of an active family, a picture-postcard LDS family. Like an attentive spouse, she knows something is amiss with her husband, that there’s a unsettling change in their life. She’s unaware of what it is, and he’s not telling her,

The bishop goes undercover for a day, following the husband through a workday. The very first clue that the wife’s suspicions are on target is that the husband’s career job, the bank, is not on his agenda. Instead they make stops at a grocery and a small restaurant.

The resolution of this tale will resonate with very overwhelmed, working-too-hard career parents who wonders if it’s worth it.

“Wandering Realities” contains the elite of short Mormon fiction. Besides great tales, it enriches the reader with a diverse look at Mormon culture and sentiments. It’s a good deal via Kindle at $2.99 as well.

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