Today and tomorrow I’ll be at the LDS Storymakers conference in Salt Lake City, Utah. “LDS” is short for “Latter-Day Saint,” itself a shortened form of “member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints,” which most people preferentially shorten to “Mormon.”
Yes, I’m a Mormon. This shouldn’t surprise anyone who has been paying attention, but every time I mention it somebody pipes up and says “I had no idea!” They often follow it with “but that makes sense. Lots of Mormons write Science Fiction and Fantasy.”
Which brings us around to a question that gets asked a lot: why? Why do so many Mormons write genre fiction?
This may be the wrong question. It’s probably better to ask “why does it seem like Mormons are better represented among genre-fiction writers than are other denominational demographics?” That question is one that a good statistician can start digging up data on, and it’s possible that the data will yield facts like “Mormons are NOT better represented, but they’re more visibly denominational.”
But that’s not where most people like to go with this question. Most people like to hypothesize that something in the nature of Latter-Day Saint beliefs, something intrinsic to Mormon doctrine makes an authorial career in one of the escapist genres appealing. Some folks suggest that after having wrapped their brains around the acceptance of modern-day prophets and golden books of scripture, Mormons are somehow better at writing Science Fiction and Fantasy than the average person.
It is not difficult to find this hypothesis offensive. Occasionally non-Mormons present it in a condescending manner, as if to say “you’re already a little crazy, you might as well make a career out of it.” More than a few Mormons present it rather self-righteously, as if to proclaim that anyone adhering to a set of teachings purporting to enable exaltation in the eternities must needs be really good at world-building here in mortality.
I have an alternative hypothesis. I call it “Meme in a Monoculture.”
Back in 1980 a few Mormons at Brigham Young University thought to start a creative writing class focusing on science-fiction and fantasy. This article describes the event
, telling the story of what some of us call “the class that would not die,” and crediting a librarian, a professor, and a couple of students for getting the ball rolling.
Brigham Young University is the spiritual heart of Utah County, and Utah County is a monoculture. If an idea springs up or is planted at BYU, if it is an attractive idea, one which resonates with the culture (or at least which isn't anathema) that idea is likely to spread like wildfire. Once Utah County has been infected with the meme it is not going to take long for it to sweep through Mormondom at large.
The creative writing class mentioned above, "the class that would not die," taught (among other things) that Science Fiction and Fantasy are tools for teaching true principles, and that it is possible to make a living as a writer. Those concepts are pretty healthy ones, and do well throughout the genre.
What were the results? In the early 1980's Orson Scott Card and Tracy Hickman were among the only well-known LDS sci-fi and fantasy writers, but today the ranks of LDS genre-fiction writers include (and I’m rattling these off the top of my head) Dave Wolverton, Brandon Sanderson, Stephanie Meyer, Dan Wells, Virginia Baker, Shannon Hale, Julie Wright, Aprillynne Pike, Jessica Day George, James Dashner, Brandon Mull, Eric James Stone, Dan Willis, Robert J. Defendi, Larry Correia, and John Brown.
Oh, and me. And lots more. Like I said, I rattled that list off the top of my head. I see these people all the time at local events.
In support of my hypothesis I present the following data points:
- There are lots of multi-level-marketing companies headquartered in Utah. Multi-level marketing is its own meme, and NuSkin, Neways, Tahitian Noni, USANA, and Nature's Sunshine have done well in this monoculture.
- Utah is the “reddest” state in the Union as regards party affiliation. Republicanism is a meme, and it has done well here. (This is not a statement of my own political affiliations, nor those of any of the above writers, just so we're clear.)
- I know plenty of Mormons who look at Science Fiction and Fantasy and regard them not just as a waste of time, but as dross of possibly negative literary value. And yes, they may cite scripture when making their claims. And no, they’re not illiterate. Practicing Mormonism does not automatically make one a genre-fiction aficionado.
- This weekend I’ll be attending a conference for LDS writers, the vast majority of whom are not interested in writing Science Fiction or Fantasy. Genre is not my common ground with these folks. Faith is. Oh, and writing.
If any of you feel inclined to test this hypothesis using actual science rather than anecdotal folderol, some statistics are probably the best place to start. You will likely need to gather all of them. In the meantime, I’m going to keep writing and illustrating Science Fiction, not because I’m Mormon (though I am) but because I love it, and seem to be good enough at it to make a living. That statement may undermine my whole argument.
Somebody fetch me an objective observer right away, please.