Star Kvetch: The Next Generation; A Musing on Community over Time

A meander in two-and-three-halves parts.

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Life, the Universe, and Everything 30, the Marion K. “Doc” Smith Symposium on Science Fiction and Fantasy will be held February 9-11 (Thursday-Saturday) in the Sorensen Student Center at Utah Valley University. Membership is free for students; non-students can purchase one-day passes for $20 or a full three-day membership for $30 if they register before January 23—after which prices will go up. Please register early.

Guests this year will include James A. Owen (author of Starchild and Here There Be Dragons), Richard Paul Evans, Brandon Sanderson, Mary Robinette Kowal, Dan Wells, James Dashner, David Farland, and many, many others. Special guest Chris Schoebinger is an acquisitions editor for Shadow Mountain.

Visit ltue.org for more information on guests, venue, banquet, and more. You can also visit the LTUE Facebook page.


===

For those who have not attended the symposium, I can recommend it highly as both a useful and informative venue for writers and artists of all kinds, and as a safe and interesting introduction to sf fan culture. LTUE focuses on the practical business and theory of storytelling and publishing (with a distinctly science fiction/fantasy/horror bent), but also includes hand-on demonstrations of medieval fighting techniques, crafts, costuming, and live-action role playing.

As one of a relatively few “ser-cons” (serious conventions) LTUE has gained a strong reputation nationwide as a great value and a friendly event. Guests tend to be easily accessible, fans tend to be friendly, and programming covers a wide variety of interests. Now in its thirtieth year, LTUE is also one of the longest running events of its kind anywhere.

If you’re in Utah during the week of February 9-11, consider stopping in. You’re guaranteed to meet someone interesting, and the hallway conversations are often at least as interesting as the scheduled events.

===

LTUE is one of the two most visible manifestations of the Utah phenomenon in science fiction and fantasy (the other being ConDuit, an annual convention held in Salt Lake City, and featuring many of the same organizers and attendees as LTUE).

I first discovered this extended community my freshman year at BYU, when the first named iteration of Life, The Universe, and Everything was held in February 1983 (what I think of as Card-Con I; Orson Scott Card was a regular guest early in its history). While I had read sf for most of my life it had never occurred to me to seek an organized fandom, so the symposium was a strange, new experience for me. I found it fascinating to discuss art, science, and creativity with other LDS, and I became totally and completely hooked. Between the symposium, the campus sf club (Quark), and the campus sf magazine (The Leading Edge), the community offered a face for all interests.

The fact of that community was transformative for me. As a relatively shy person who had always felt generically outcast, this place where I could be LDS, a writer, and an sf enthusiast all at the same time was a more solid anchor for me than either religion or course of study. As a Chicago transplant I was still very leery of the whole Utah social/cultural experience; this was the first place where I felt truly comfortable since coming to Utah.

After a mission to Germany, I came back to BYU and got involved in the magazine (I was an aspiring writer who wanted to see how the acquisition process worked), which inevitably meant involvement with the symposium. It was an interesting time in the evolution of the community. Many of the initial organizers had started to move on to other things (graduate work, real jobs), and a new generation of participants had begun to take over the institutions they started.

As a representative of the first generation to come completely from the outside—after those three early institutions were created and had become essentially self-sustaining—I watched the painful transition away from original enthusiasm to next-gen operation. For us those institutions had always existed and the challenges were less about self-definition than about ongoing maintenance. We lived in the shadow of the founders, but (with very few exceptions) were not specifically beholden to them.

We were building on a foundation already established, not creating the foundations ourselves. That’s a powerful inflection point, and many organizations don’t make the turn. Evolving is a different skill set than creating.

I’ve ended up attending all but two of the LTUE symposia, and have been involved in organizing the last twenty-five of them. I’ve seen that transition play out time and time again, and have seen an entire generation of people (my own children among them) who take that solid institutional foundation as a given—unlike those who started it, or those of us who shepherded that first, difficult evolution.

Not unlike the AML or any other organization that has lasted beyond its first decade. The challenge of self-definition never goes away; it just changes shape.

===

Last year I participated on a radio show at KBYU with Dave Doering (the principle organizer of that first generation of sf institutions at BYU) and Howard Tayler (a successful local comic artist and podcaster). The host asked why Utah had such a powerful sf community, and I promptly launched into a preachment on how Mormonism was a storytelling religion and our interest in both true science and building communities offered fertile ground for the development of this particular subculture.

At that point, Howard somewhat impatiently explained that the real reason was that there was a large and well-established fan base from which the institutions naturally evolved. It had nothing to do with religion, but rather with a self-sustaining monoculture of sf writers, readers, and artists. The discussion moved on to other topics, but I was left a bit unsettled by Howard’s apparent contradiction.

At first I thought we were answering different questions—Howard spoke to why the community continued, where I spoke to how it originally formed. Still, that wasn’t quite right, because Howard seemed to discount the role of LDS roots in creating that community in the first place and placed full credit with the sf-ness of it.

Ultimately, I’m not sure it matters. Of course it was existing interest in sf (specifically writing sf) that caused people who happened to be attending an LDS university to gather and create a formal community. I tend to put a lot of store in the fact that it all coalesced at BYU a few short years after an injunction by LDS general authorities to be more engaged in the arts—which helped inspire LDS authors such as Orson Scott Card, who were just beginning to make a splash in the national market at the time.

The fact was that while there were pockets of fandom (especially in the Salt Lake City area) who ran reading groups and attended conventions together, there were few of the more visible and permanent manifestations of an organized sf community in Utah prior to that particular BYU class’s decision to create a club, a magazine, and a symposium. Those visible institutions enabled a more formal community to coalesce, catalyzed others to act to create their own recurring events. While those newer institutions owed no allegiance to LTUE or its companion groups, that doesn’t change the fact that a spark did come from LDS people at an LDS university that valued both creativity and community.

Not caused by LDS religion, but facilitated by it. Not controlled by LDS theological constructs, but enriched and encouraged by a religion that could tolerate the sf fan’s mindset, fascinations, and interests at the same time that it allowed authors to speculate on core existential questions without a crisis of faith. Not an LDS community, but a community that LDS could join (or form) without an unreasonable sense of cultural conflict.

Howard was right; the institutions formed because of interest in sf. I was also right; formal organization came because the predominant culture actively encouraged the formation of communities regardless of social or religion interest, and that seed helped catalyze the critical mass of general interest across a wide variety of otherwise unrelated subcultures. It’s unlikely that the mass of organization would have coalesced in this place if that had not been a strong value of the predominant culture. Once created, a different dynamic governs evolution than the one that sparked creation.

===

Healthy communities are in a constant state of evolution, self-definition, and fundamental transition. This interaction of old and new ideas is critical to retaining meaning and relevance, at the same time that such evolution can be painful for those invested in their current incarnations.

Whether discussing markets, venues, technologies, or techniques, the fact is that Joseph Smith had it right from the beginning—start with good principles, then let communities develop and govern themselves. If the communities you inhabit don’t meet your needs…then go create a new one.

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28 Responses to Star Kvetch: The Next Generation; A Musing on Community over Time

  1. Jonathan Langford says:

    Great thoughts. I second Scott’s endorsement of LTUE as an event not to be missed if you’re in Utah and have the slightest interest, and only wish my schedule made it feasible for me to attend this year.

    Whether the Mormon connection has been an important part of the formation of a science fiction and fantasy community in Utah (which I have definite opinions about; see below), it’s definitely a substantial phenomenon, deserving of more attention than it sometimes gets from those with an interest in Mormon literature generally but not science fiction/fantasy/horror specifically.

    As someone who was about half a generation earlier than Scott — either the last of the founding generation, or a transitional forerunner of the Next Generation — I have a slightly different take on both the genesis of what I will unabashedly call the Mormon sf&f community and its relationship to other fandom in Utah. Sf&f fandom (centered in Salt Lake City) existed in Utah prior to The Leading Edge, LTUE, et al., but there was almost no contact between that group and what started out as a student-centered group at BYU. Even after the start of LTUE et al., for a number of years contact between the two groups was sporadic at best. Many of us were more likely to attend Worldcon than the Salt Lake conventions.

    One of the sources of that difference was that the BYU-centered community had a strongly Mormon flavor, whereas the Salt Lake community was largely non-Mormon (with a few noteworthy exceptions such as Kathleen Woodbury and Brook and Julia West). There was a sense of mission in the BYU-centered group that came not merely from being sf&f people, but wanting to prove (to other Mormons and to the sf&f community both) that Mormons could “do it”: could become decent writers and artists, produce a magazine, put on a good convention/symposium (without benefit of beer). There was also an energy level and focus on *doing* things that I think owed much to Mormon social patterns and activities, and that seemed to me fairly atypical of sf&f fandom as a whole. The BYU sf&f community, I used to say, had people in it who wouldn’t typically have been involved in fandom anywhere else.

    Inevitably, that has changed over the years, as some of those originally affiliated with BYU have drifted away from the Church and as non-Mormon writers from across Utah have been pulled into participating. Without ever (until this year) abandoning its BYU home, LTUE has become a regional convention, as much as a university-based symposium.

    And now it’s at UVU, whether for this year only or permanently is yet to be seen. If permanently, then some fairly significant questions will have to be answered. For one thing, who has governance over the event? Who will do the work? Up to now, the relationship between Mormonism and LTUE has been implicit, a function of its venue and sponsoring organization(s). Will that relationship continue — indeed, can it continue — if UVU becomes its permanent home? On the other hand, if LTUE does indeed return to BYU, will that in some way limit its ability to serve the broader Utah sf&f community? All tough questions.

    • Scott Parkin says:

      We’ll have to see what the university affiliation will be going forward. To a very real degree, despite its 30-year history, the symposium has always existed on the ragged edge of disaster and has had to scramble to seek sponsorship by one college or another. This year that sponsorship did not come through in time to book facilities, so the organizing committee was left with a difficult choice: cancel, postpone, or move to a different venue.

      As a matter of self-definition, the association with BYU has been important to distinguish LTUE from a regular convention—it at least tries to be a more probing, questioning discussion of not only what’s happening in sf overall, but what it means from both a generic artistic/sociological standpoint, and from a specifically LDS view. Academic papers and presentations (and the accompanying Proceedings volume) are as much a part of that definition as the more pragmatic panels on writing, or the more inquisitive panels on authors, media, and fandom.

      The discussion of why is every bit as foundational as the discussion of how, and having that discussion in context of BYU strikes me as both useful and valuable as an expression of a unique community with particular resonance to the larger LDS community. Otherwise, it becomes just another ser-con that could as easily be run in Wisconsin as Utah.

      But that’s just my take. As Kathleen pointed out, the number of LTUE organizers and participants who have crossed over into the AML group is notable. That intersection of sf and LDS ideas and ideals is what’s drawn me to both groups, and is a significant part of what drives my own creative mind as a writer. I would hate to see that union weaken by losing that explicitly LDS institutional co-sponsor.

      • Jonathan Langford says:

        I agree. Losing that Mormon connection would lose a big part of what has made LTUE unique, and what engages my ongoing interest in it. I also still feel that original sense of mission, of wanting to celebrate (and even accomplish) in sf&f as part of my Mormon identity — for reasons very similar to my own involvement with AML (which also was originally at your invitation, Scott, as I recall).

        I’d like to keep the Mormon connection, even if LTUE ultimately leaves BYU. That’s tricky, though, for a variety of reasons. The best solution (as I see it) would be to stay at BYU. Sadly, I don’t have a departmental sponsor in my pocket…

        • Scott Parkin says:

          Lee Allred (a fellow sf enthusiast) is who first pointed AML out to me, and invited me to attend their annual conference more than 15 years ago. The communities are very tightly knit, and it’s that LDS foundation that links them.

          University politics being what they are, consistent sponsorship will always be a challenge. Right now BYU is not in a mood to facilitate the symposium (or sponsor LDS literature as a distinct area of study, for that matter…).

  2. Jonathan Langford says:

    A follow-up comment:

    Who owns an event like LTUE? Ultimately, whoever pays the bills and does the work. For the last few years, LTUE has been financially self-sustaining. To some degree, then, it’s owned by those who pay for tickets and those who do the organizing.

    And here’s part of why I say LTUE is a hybrid event, and not merely another sf&f convention. So far as I can tell, although it draws guests and attendees from across Utah, so far the core organizers have consistently been current BYU students or former students with a strong ongoing connection to the university. (I stand ready to be corrected on this by someone who’s been more involved more recently than I’ve been.) So far as I know, there is no student organization at UVU that’s able to do heavy lifting for LTUE. It’s also unclear how many of the past and present nonstudent organizers would maintain interest in continuing to put on the event if it permanently moves away from BYU and/or some kind of Mormon connection. Hence my comment that “Who will do the work?” is an as-yet unanswered question if LTUE moves away from BYU permanently.

  3. I left Utah in 1977, but I know there was something going on in the form of SF conventions in Salt Lake before then. I attended a book discussion led by Julia West (though she may not have been a West that early) in the main library before I left, but was put off from further SF activities in Salt Lake until I returned in 1982. Because I’d become involved in SF cons while away, I was more interested in participating in those in Utah once I came back.

    I was also there at that 1983 LTUE, but couldn’t attend the next year because I’d just had a baby. I was never actually part of the organizing for LTUE, though I certainly attended.

    I was involved when ConDuit got started, though, after the Salt Lake fans had been embarrassed by certain people in the early 80s, and everyone more or less backed off for a while. The name was partly an allusion to Spencer W. Kimball’s motto: “Do it!” (I know, because I was there when it was suggested and accepted.)

    Incidentally, I became involved with AML through the SF people I knew who were also involved (Scott Parkin, Lee Allred, Scott Bronson, to name some).

  4. Marny says:

    FYI, you can listen to the Thinking Aloud KBYU program that Scott mentioned here: http://www.classical89.org/thinkingaloud/archive/episode/?id=2/16/2011

  5. I’ll be there, as well–I’m on the Special Guests page, but not on the front page of the site. Also, they misspelled Chris Schoebinger’s name, and I’m seeing it perpetuated across everything mentioning LTUE now.

  6. (Also note that on the Special Guests page, my bio is about two years out of date. These things are the little quirks we come to accept from LTUE, but the conference always ends up working smoothly despite the website never really reflecting the list of people who will be there.)

    • Scott Parkin says:

      Sadly, the Web site has always been a weakness of LTUE. It’s often done as an afterthought rather than a primary organizing task—especially this year, where core organization was delayed substantially by inability to book facilities at BYU.

  7. Scott Parkin says:

    Jonathan and Kathleen—thank you for the correction on the prior existence of the SLC community. I edited the statement in the post to recognize that fact a little better. My intent is not to name LTUE as the granddaddy of Utah fandom, but rather to suggest that visible institutions tend to create a more active community that can survive the inevitable transitions from one group of key organizers to another.

    Part of that was that there was not only a symposium, but also a magazine which helped develop a relatively formalized community of writers that sprang up beside the community of fans. That initial communal support helped develop many of those fans into pro-quality authors in somewhat higher concentrations than normal—which then fed back into the conventions to showcase local talent succeeding at the national level. Expectations for success increased because we had multiple visible manifestations of it.

    More than regionalism played there, I think. The underlying propensity of the predominant culture to band together and develop itself made the phenomenon both larger and more effectively self-sustaining than similar communities in other places.

    I’ve commented before on the differences between the Oregon Trail and the Mormon Trail westward migrations. For the Mormons it was a group effort, with all families part of a larger community, as opposed to the more competitive effort to the north where one group’s failure meant more bounty for the remainder. That cooperative effort enabled equivalent communities to be established faster, more efficiently, and with a smaller failure rate than their northwestern cousins. The communitarian approach facilitated a density of engaged players that accelerated a game already played elsewhere.

    A similar phenomenon seems to have played out in the Utah sf writing and fandom communities. Not better, but perhaps a tad more resilient in the early years when most institutions tend to rattle themselves apart during those initial generational transitions.

  8. I wish I still lived in provo, and/or knew about this sooner. I agree that sci fi/fantasy has an attraction for LDS readers and writers because of religion. Though that is a funny thing, because you see the devout in other religions (evangelicals I have known :) eschew this category of fiction. Perhaps what makes us more open to speculative fiction is the somewhat more speculatuve nature of our religion…while some in our faith view doctrines as black and white many in the gispel hold to a few absolute truths and consider the rest fair game for discyssion and persinal revelation and realize the scriptutes carry many layers of meaning and applucation.

    • Jonathan Langford says:

      One of the distinctive aspects of Mormonism, as I see it, is that we literalize concepts that the rest of the Christian/religious world allegorizes, such as the fatherhood of God. Science fiction and fantasy similarly literalize dimensions of literature that are dealt with more metaphorically in mainstream literature, such as the notion of personal godlike power (one that specifically resonates with Mormon ideas).

    • Scott Parkin says:

      It’s always fun to discuss 2001: A Space Odyssey from an LDS standpoint with generically atheistic sf fans. Clarke intended the novel to be a humanistic response to religion that essentially debunks concepts of god by showing that a technologically advanced man appears magical (or even deific) to a technologically declined man, and that everything we attribute to God can be explained through technology.

      Of course as a Mormon the idea that God is (merely) a hyper-advanced man is not only acceptable, but is a core tenet of our belief. Which is also our prime heresy for the Evangelicals and traditional Christianity—that we dare to raise Man as potentially equivalent to God, rather than a mere creation. For us it’s completely natural to speculate on both the reasons for, and methods of, creation as a point of personal interest and potential utility.

      David Brin took a similar (though less directly confrontational) approach with his Uplift series, where advanced races actively guided less advanced races into the community of worlds. When he came to the symposium at BYU, he seemed delighted to find an actively religious audience who were both fans and thoughtful critics of his work.

      LDS lore allows for Bigfoot, spiritual possession, other worlds, non-humans who know and appreciate God, outlandish demons, and the ultimate power of ordinary people to overcome. I’ve written fiction that features sentient planets, Christian ferrets, cats as temporal saviors, ghosts, magic, and more—and feel comfortable with each of those stories as being at least metaphorically (and often literally) compatible with my understanding of gospel truth.

      As Mormons we can use all these tools and more to either reveal truisms or just tell an interesting story without requiring that we separate ourselves from our faith. It’s fun, fun stuff, and very much worth getting together to discuss.

      • So true. So, so true. I still haven’t peeked at a copy of Monsters and Mormons yet. I’m a newbie to these discussions. But I plan to, soon… those sorts of things need to happen far more often than they do!

  9. Sorry for phone keyboard mistakes :/

  10. That is a great thought. You’re right that Mormons literalize God while Evangelicals do not… the same way Evangelicals literalize other parts of scripture the way Mormons do not (eg, creation theory, the garden of eden and fall as a symbolic allegory, etc.)

    Have you ever read the “Left Behind” series? My husband and I read it about five years ago and enjoyed it immensely (and I’ll admit, some of that enjoyment was at the expense of writer/writing style/improbable plotline and character development.) But it fascinated me, how LITERALLY the author (an evangelical Christian) took those prophecies of the last days, and how the events in his books, no matter how improbable, followed them literally and exactly, instead of making some of them a symbol of something else, and thus, more relatable.

    And it was also funny to me to see those books lined up in a special glass case in the chapel of the building our homeschooling group uses. (The church is protestant.) There they were, lined up right there next to the bibles.

  11. Lee Allred says:

    (Lee bangs head on desk. Thunk. Thunk. Thunk.)

    LTUE not Mormon-centric?!? Howard, bless your little Schlock heart … Not Mormon-centric?!?

    (Thunk. Thunk. Thunk.)

    Read Judith Moffett’s very pointed essay on the unique moral dimenisions of the Mormon-centric sci-fi scene in Provo (specifically, LTUE and the Provo writing group Xenobia made up of LTUE’s founders) in the annual anthology volume NEBULA AWARDS 31.

    Or look over the progam schedule of the two years I co-charied. Guests included LDS film composers Merrill Jensen and Arlen Card, LDS authors like Susan Evans McCloud (lyricist for all those soft rock LDS Seminary records like LIKE UNTO US), and iirc Jack Lyon of Deseret Book. Co-chair Scott Bronson put on several LDS plays of the fantastic (I particularly enjoyed the play reading where Marvin Payne voiced the dragon character).

    LUTE not Mormon-centric or LDS gospel doctrine influenced? Rather like saying SCHLOCK MERCENARY is non-Star Trek influenced. (“Pay no attention to those gold/red/blue tunics and black trouser uniforms. These are not the Roddenberry motifs you are looking for.”)

    Not Mormon-centric?!?

    (Thunk. Thunk. Thunk.)

    • Ouch! Lee, please be careful. Howard hasn’t been around as long as the rest of us, so he doesn’t really understand.

    • Scott Parkin says:

      Howard was not suggesting that LTUE was not Mormon-centric, but rather that the larger Utah sf community is sustained because of general sf interest and fandom rather than from any particular inherent aspect of Mormon thought or community. It is a generally ripe environment that (now) naturally generates the institutions that express that sf interest.

      I believe that while the sf fandom existed independent of BYU and the symposium (and would have grown like any other regional fandom), the (distinctly Mormon) communitarian ethic of those early organizers at BYU added a breadth and depth of supporting communities (and a deeply committed organizing spirit) that helped the overall community to grow both faster and larger, and to specifically support writer development and engagement—which then further enhanced the vibrancy of the general community.

      In other words, it’s not a Mormon phenomenon per se, but the distinctly Mormon communitarian components have had a significant and positive effect on the breadth, depth, and longevity of the broader sf community. Like BASF, we didn’t cause the sf community, but we made it bigger, richer, and more formally organized that it likely would have been otherwise. And our distinctly Mormon approaches to story and community continue to influence that larger identity.

      So I think Howard was right. But I think I’m right, too, and that the LTUE sub-community that was founded with a distinctly Mormon mindset and ethic has infused and expanded the overall community—as well as related communities (such as AML).

      Thirty years later, that LDS-specific ethos may be fading in visible intensity as a driver of either community or organization, but I hope that LTUE will continue to investigate that part of both its own roots and its influence on a significant part of both the specifically LDS and the generally sf communities.

      • Scott Parkin says:

        I stand corrected—Howard explicitly recognizes the LDS influences on the formation of the many of the supporting sf communities, but seems to argue that those roots are less critical now than the fact of those established communities. I struggle to separate them, at least partially because I was involved very early on.

        Different experiences at different times in the ongoing lifecycle of a thriving community. Maybe we really were answering different questions after all.

  12. D. Michael Martindale says:

    Howard wasn’t right. Yes, perhaps the science fiction community existed in Utah prior to the incarnation of LTUE, but the Utah community consists primarily of Mormons. And Mormons represent a disproportionately large number of prominent SF/F authors compared to their perentage of the general population in America. Something is going on here.

    A community of SF/F fans in Utah who glom onto an LDS-sponsored SF/F symposium and make it successful most certainly is an LDS phenomenon. Furthermore, it takes no great leap of genius to figure out why. Although the unique perception of God among Mormons certainly plays role, there are more obvious influences within the religion that make science fiction and fantasy a natural interest for Mormons.

    To the nonbelieving outsider, a great deal of Mormon theology and supernatural history reads as fantasy. The believer won’t think of it as fantasy, but still the fantasy-friendly tropes are there, with all the literal, pragmatic, casual visitations of and conversations with angelic individuals appearing from the past, “magical” artifacts like the Urim and Thummim and Liahona, and miraculous powers of prophets and leaders.

    And the Book of Abraham? Chock full of science fictional concepts. Long before the likes of Asimov, Heinlein, and Clarke speculated about planets, aliens, the evolution of superbeings, and the cosmos, Joseph Smith was dispensing theology that covered these areas in a manner reminiscent of some of the most basic tropes of science fiction.

    What other religion names the star which resides nearest to the throne of God and tells us what its rate of rotation is?

    The LDS member with any interest in scientific or fanciful exploration and speculation (and a little bit of courage to ignore the idiotic cultural suspicion toward doing such things) finds a familiar home within the concepts of science fiction and fantasy.

    • Scott Parkin says:

      While I don’t disagree with much of anything you say here, I still don’t believe Howard was wrong. Beyond the question of original organization is the life of the broader community after its formation.

      He might have been wrong thirty years ago when many of the current institutions and communities were either small or non-existent (and suggests as much in the radio show), but for the third and subsequent generations of fans the LDS-specific origins (or LDS-influenced assumptions) of many of those institutions and communities is neither known nor specially valued—they simply exist, and that’s what matters.

      But over the last decade or so that Mormonness has become sufficiently diffused into the broader fandom as to be essentially invisible for a great many current participants in those institutions and communities.

      Howard doesn’t seem to see those roots as a meaningful influence on his current participation or experience—those weren’t his draws; I see them as critical components of my participation. In that sense, I think we’re both right, because we’re both speaking to our individual experience.

      Would the sf community exist in anything like its current form if it were not in Utah, and not directly impacted by the dominant culture here? Of course not. But for many participants that’s ancient (and irrelevant) history when considering the community as it is today, because Mormonness is not a prerequisite to engagement—even though its influence suffuses nearly everything.

  13. Katya says:

    I think Howard is getting a bad rap from people who haven’t listened to what he actually said, so I transcribed a couple of his more pertinent comments from the program:

    At ca. 23 minutes:

    “I’m going to play devil’s advocate and say that you don’t have to be a Latter-day Saint to write fantastic science fiction and you certainly don’t have to love science fiction to be a good Latter-day Saint. . . . It’s not that there’s something in the water, it’s not that we have a common belief system, it is that we are a monoculture, here in Utah—we don’t like being told that, but we are. We are a monoculture and when something comes up that catches our interest, it goes viral very, very quickly and as we see authors succeeding in this genre, as we see symposiums, like Life, the Universe, and Everything which has been around for almost 30 years, it goes viral and many of us look at this and think “I would love to do that.” And so we see a rising generation. In 1983, there were not a disproportionate number of Latter-day Saints participating in fantasy and science fiction. In 2010, there are and I would blame Life, the Universe, and Everything, The Leading Edge, and the fact that in our monoculture, these things have the opportunity to go viral.”

    At ca. 27 minutes:

    “There are a lot of people in the world who believe in miracles and if I had to draw a distinction between those folks and their love or not of science fiction and my own, I’d say that it’s because, as Latter-day Saints, we’re able to embrace the paradox. We’re able to believe in a higher power and still study the sciences. The sciences are not our enemy and religion is not dumb and we can hold both of those ideas and love them and embrace them and science fiction and fantasy both are great for exploring that.”

    • Jonathan Langford says:

      Katya,

      Thanks for adding this to the discussion.

      Certainly what Howard describes in his first quote is a big part of the evolution of the (largely Mormon) Utah sf&f community, though I’d argue that it’s always been largely the oddballs among Mormons (as among many other groups) who are drawn to sf&f. I’m not sure I’d say that Mormon culture in general is infatuated with science fiction and fantasy — but that there is a certain mindset among a substantial subset of believing Mormons that resonates with sf&f, partly for social but also largely for doctrinal reasons.

    • Scott Parkin says:

      Thanks for posting this, Katya. My intention was not to cast Howard as a villain (we appear to violently agree on LDS influence in establishing the broader community), but to show that different people approach the community (and express their relationship to it) from different angles and for different reasons. Thus the musing on changes in community over time.

      Whatever the origins, the community has long since continued to evolve, change, and grow, creating new and different hooks for an increasingly diverse group of people who approach it because it exists, not because its formation was directly influenced by either Mormon culture in general, or the efforts of a specific set of Mormons in particular.

      • Katya says:

        >My intention was not to cast Howard as a villain . . .

        No, and I never got that from you, but I listened to the Thinking Aloud program when it originally aired and I remembered the exchange, so I figured others deserved the chance to hear (or read) his original words, as well.

  14. Scott Parkin says:

    Programming note—

    It appears that Richard Paul Evans has a scheduling conflict and will not be a guest at the symposium this year after all.

    Also, please register early so we can get as clean a count as possible (and you can get a significant discount on the entry fee).

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