Future Mormons in Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey

A couple of weeks ago, I read and/or listened to Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey. (WhisperSync for Voice, which allows almost seamless transition between reading the Kindle ebook and listening to the Audible.com audiobook, is awesome.)  It’s a science fiction novel set a few hundred years in the future, after humanity has settled most of the solar system:

One moon of Uranus sported five thousand [colonists], the farthest outpost of human civilization, at least until the Mormons finished their generation ship and headed for the stars and freedom from procreation restrictions. (p. 8)

That seemed like just a throwaway reference to Mormons, but to my surprise, it actually became quite relevant in the plot. Note that there will be some plot spoilers below, although I will also leave many twists unrevealed, and the book is worth reading in any case (in 2012 it was nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Novel and the Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel).  Also, quotes from the book may contain some crude language.

Some of the major characters travel to Tycho Station, where the generation ship is being built:

The vessel it was constructing dwarfed the station. Ladar returns told Holden the ship was just over two kilometers long and half a kilometer wide. Round and stubby, it looked like a cigarette butt made of steel. Framework girders exposed internal compartments and machinery at various stages of construction, but the engines looked complete, and the hull had been assembled over the bow. The name Nauvoo was painted in massive white letters across it.

“So the Mormons are going to ride that thing all the way to Tau Ceti, huh?” Amos asked, following it up with a long whistle. “Ballsy bastards. No guarantee there’s even a planet worth a damn on the other end of that hundred-year trip.”

“They seem pretty sure,” Holden replied. “And you don’t make the money to build a ship like that by being stupid. I, for one, wish them nothing but luck.”

“They’ll get the stars,” Naomi said. “How can you not envy them that?”

“Their great-grandkids’ll get maybe a star if they don’t all starve to death orbiting a rock they can’t use,” Amos said. “Let’s not get grandiose here.” (pp. 180-181)

So far so good on the Mormon references. We’re depicted as still being around in a few hundred years, faithful, family-oriented, organized, and possessing enough money and power to build humanity’s first interstellar ship.

But something awful has happened to the humans on the asteroid Eros, and if it’s not contained, all of humanity may die.  The major characters of the novel decide there’s only one solution:

“…You drive Eros into the sun.”

“Into the sun,” Fred said. “Do you have any idea how much mass we’re talking about here?”

Miller nodded to the wide, clear expanse of window, to the construction yards beyond it. To the Nauvoo.

“Big engines on that thing,” Miller said. “Get some fast ships out to the station, make sure no one can get in before you get there. Run the Nauvoo into Eros Station. Knock it sunward.”

Fred’s gaze turned inward as he planned, calculated.

Fred’s breath grew slow and deep, his gaze flickering as if he were reading something in the air that only he could see. Miller didn’t interrupt, even when the silence got heavy. It was almost a minute later that Fred let out a short, percussive breath.

“The Mormons are going to be pissed,” he said. (pp. 451-452)

It’s at this point, unfortunately, that (in my opinion) the book goes a little astray in its portrayal of Mormons.  When next we hear of them, it’s because they’re tying themselves to things so they can’t be dragged off the Nauvoo, and singing a song that’s in the LDS hymnbook (but I didn’t recognize it, so I consider it to be obscure).

“Rise up, O men of God, in one united throng,” the resisters sang. “Bring in the days of bro-ther-hood, and end the night of wrong…”

Miller took off his hat and ran fingers through his thinning hair. It wasn’t going to be a good day.

A generation ship was a statement of overarching ambition and utter faith. The Mormons had known that. They’d embraced it. They’d constructed a ship that was prayer and piety and celebration all at the same time. The Nauvoo would be the greatest temple mankind had ever built . It would shepherd its crew through the uncrossable gulfs of interstellar space, humanity’s best hope of reaching the stars.Or it would have been, if not for him.

If the Mormons had chosen violence, it would have been a bloodbath. If they’d put on environment suits, the protest would have lasted hours. Days, possibly.

A new voice broke in. A human voice shaking with rage.

“Antichrist!”

Miller blinked, returning to reality, and thumbed off the Eros feed. A prisoner transport wound its lazy way through the dock, a dozen Mormon technicians bound to its restraint poles. One was a young man with a pocked face and hatred in his eyes. He was staring at Miller.

“You’re the Antichrist, you vile excuse for a human! God knows you! He’ll remember you!” (pp. 463-464, 466)

Now, it’s possible that in a few hundred years, “Rise Up, O Men of God” will be a hymn most LDS men learn in Priesthood Meeting.  And maybe calling people “the Antichrist” will be more in vogue among future Mormons than it is now.  But what annoyed me was that the Mormons are portrayed as unthinking zealots, providing a (very minor) obstacle to the plans of the protagonists. The Mormons are so stupid in their zealotry, they didn’t even bother to put on environment suits, and so Miller has them knocked out with sleeping gas.  Problem solved.

I just wish the authors (James S. A. Corey is a pseudonym for Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck, two authors whose work I admire) had been willing to give Mormons credit for being rational human beings. So I’m going to indulge in a little Leviathan Wakes fan fiction, to write what I think should have happened, a couple of hours after Fred said, “The Mormons are going to be pissed.”

The silver-haired man entered Fred’s office.  He didn’t have the lanky build of a Belter, so Miller pegged him as coming from Earth.

“Elder Fielding, thank you for coming,” Fred said, shaking the man’s hand.

“My pleasure, Colonel Johnson,” Fielding said.  “I hear work on the Nauvoo is proceeding a little ahead of schedule.”

Fred winced at that.  “I don’t believe you’ve met Detective Miller.”

Fielding’s eyebrows rose.  “Detective.” He shook Miller’s hand, then sat in one of the chairs.  “Is there a problem I don’t know about?”

“I’m pretty sure you do know about it, but not how it’s relevant to you,” said Fred.  “You’ve seen the feeds from Eros?”

Fielding nodded.  “A terrible tragedy.”

On the high-definition screen behind Fred, the Nauvoo floated in place.  “Yes.  But what would be even more tragic is if what caused the infection on Eros were to get out.  Imagine that happening on Ceres.  Mars.  Earth.”

“It’s a bioweapon,” Miller said.  “Sure, we can try to quarantine Eros, but the big military players will all want a sample.  How soon before it gets out?”

Fielding pursed his lips for a moment.  “I take it you have a plan, and the fact that you’re talking to me means it must involve the Nauvoo.”

“We use it to drive Eros into the sun,” Miller said.

“We’ve run the calculations, and the numbers work,” Fred said.  “The Nauvoo is the only ship that can do it.”

“I see,” said Fielding.  “And how much of a delay in schedule would this little side trip cause?”

Miller cleared his throat, but Fred spoke before he could answer.  “I’m afraid we’d have to start over.  The Nauvoo will need to ram Eros.”

“Ah.”  Fielding sighed.  “Since you would be appropriating our starship for your own uses, would Tycho give us credit for what we’ve already paid toward the construction of a replacement?”

“I can’t guarantee that,” Fred said.  “As you know, it’s a huge expense.  It’s possible some Earth or Mars might agree to compensate you for the loss, but it’s out of my hands.”

“So, what you’re saying is that this ship–” Fielding waved toward the Nauvoo on the screen. “–which was paid for out of the tithes and offerings of faithful Latter-day Saints so that we might build a future for ourselves, must now be used to save the very people who oppress our religion.”

Before Fred or Miller could respond, Fielding held up a hand to stop them.  “Jesus said, ‘Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.’  I would not want to see what happened on Eros happen anywhere else.  The original temple at Nauvoo was destroyed, and eventually we built it up again more beautiful than before.  And maybe the Lord inspired us to build this ship so that it would be available when all mankind needed it.”

“So you agree?” Fred said.

“I would like to consult with church leaders in Salt Lake City before any final decision.”

“I’m sorry,” said Fred, “but we can’t allow any hint of what we’re doing to get out until it’s too lake for anyone to stop us.”

“Very well.  In that case, can I take some time to pray about this decision?”

Fred nodded.  “Get back to me in an hour.”

Fielding rose and left the room.

“What will you do if he says no?” Miller asked.

“Take the ship anyway,” Fred said.  “But it will be easier if he tells his people to let us have it.”

“Come, come ye saints, no toil nor labor fear,” the Mormon workers sang. “But with joy, wend your way.”

Miller took off his hat and ran fingers through his thinning hair. This day wasn’t going as bad as he thought it might.  Thanks to Elder Fielding, two hundred Mormon workers were helping to prepare the Nauvoo for launch.  Miller would still have to sweep the ship to make sure none of them got a fancy idea to sabotage her.  But things would have been a lot tougher if the Mormons hadn’t chosen to cooperate.  If they’d put on environment suits and spread throughout the ship in protest, that would have taken hours to clear. Days, possibly.

Miller looked at his security team, which numbered fewer than three dozen. Men and women more unified by the OPA-issued armbands than by their training, experience, loyalties, or politics. If the Mormons had chosen violence, it would have been a bloodbath.

Of course, this doesn’t really make any difference to the overall plot of the novel.  But I would have been much more satisfied with a portrayal of Mormons as faithful but also rational, rather than as stereotypical religious zealots.

I mean no offense to Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck.  I just think they didn’t flesh out the Mormon bit characters enough to realize that maybe Mormons have enough rationality that they would be willing to sacrifice their ship in order to save humanity.  But that’s one small flaw in an otherwise excellent book.

Finally, as an exercise for commenters, I want you to ignore my bit of fan fiction and think about one simple change to the original text: What would have been a more likely song than “Rise up, O Men of God” for the Mormon protestors to sing?

UPDATE: The SyFy Channel is turning this book series into a TV series. Hopefully the series will do a bit better in its portrayal of Mormons.  The creators of the series are welcome to use anything in this post for free without crediting me.

About Eric James Stone

A Nebula Award winner, Hugo Award nominee, and winner in the Writers of the Future Contest, Eric James Stone has had stories published in Year’s Best SF 15, Analog, Nature, and Kevin J. Anderson’s Blood Lite anthologies of humorous horror, among other venues. One of Eric’s earliest memories is of seeing an Apollo moon-shot launch on television. That might explain his fascination with space travel. His father’s collection of old science fiction ensured that Eric grew up on a full diet of Asimov, Heinlein and Clarke. While getting his political science degree at Brigham Young University, Eric took creative writing classes. He wrote several short stories, and even submitted one for publication, but after it was rejected he gave up on creative writing for a decade. During those years Eric graduated from Baylor Law School, worked on a congressional campaign, and took a job in Washington, DC, with one of those special interest groups politicians always complain that other politicians are influenced by. He quit the political scene in 1999 to work as a web developer in Utah. In 2002 he started writing fiction again, and in 2003 he attended Orson Scott Card’s Literary Boot Camp. In 2007 Eric got laid off from his day job just in time to go to the Odyssey Writing Workshop. He has since found a new web development job. In 2009 Eric became an assistant editor for Intergalactic Medicine Show. Eric lives in Eagle Mountain, Utah.
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11 Responses to Future Mormons in Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey

  1. Andrew Hall says:

    Awesome fan fiction.
    I’d probably sing The Battle Hymn of the Republic, but that would not be “Mormon” enough for an author who would want to play up our idiosyncrasies. Come, Come Ye Saints would surely be sung by someone in that situation, but maybe the author knew that Robert Heinlein had already used that a symbol of Mormons fighting back.

  2. Jonathan Langford says:

    Nice fanfiction. Miller is nicer about it than I would have been.

    I live in a stake that emphasizes the “men’s” hymns for priesthood meeting, so I’m pretty sure I’ve sung “Rise Up, O Men of God.” But even I didn’t recognize the lines you quoted.

    There’s always “Up Awake, Ye Defenders of Zion,” though I wouldn’t have been any happier with seeing that in a story. Fortunately, that hymn seems to also be dying a well-deserved death. Even more fortunately, the lyrics are considerably tamer than they used to be. “When the God-hating foe is before you, stand firm and be faithful and true…”

    How about “Onward, Christian Soldier”? Not particularly Mormon, but better known–though probably still not well enough for people to sing without a hymn book. For that matter, there aren’t that many hymns that a typical group of Mormon men would know well enough to sing without books (which would kind of ruin the effect). Maybe “The Spirit of God”? Not terribly martial, but I could see “us” singing it in these circumstances.

    • Lee Allred says:

      Jonathan wrote: “Even more fortunately, the lyrics are considerably tamer than they used to be. ‘When the God-hating foe is before you, stand firm and be faithful and true…’ ”

      Given that the premise is that religious tolerance on Earth has dropped so drastically that the Saints are attempting an uncharted exodus to the stars rather than submit to political dictates of the God-hating, I’d expect that original verse to be restored in that timeframe’s current hymnal.

      Probably ditto with the Hymn of Thanksgiving’s “We all do extoll Thee, our Leader in battle” (rather than “Leader triumphant”) and I’d imagine the obscure third stanza of the Star Spangled Banner (“Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps/No refuge could save the hireling and slave/From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave”) — last seen in the 1950 hymnal — would also make a comeback in that situation.

      Even money on whether Praise to the Man’s original stanza about Illinois atoning for the blood of “that man” would also return.

      There are reasons hymns with martial lyrics are prominent in times of life-and-death strife. Hymn of Thanksgiving was originally a Protestant Dutch resistance song during their struggle for independence from the Catholic Spain and their inquisition.

  3. Wm says:

    FWIW, Franck and Abraham did have at least one (if not more) LDS beta readers of the novel. And the third book in the series has a person of faith (a minister) as a POV character. I found her interesting and the depiction of her respectful (caveat: she is a mainstream protestant so her approach to things is more in line with social liberalism).

    Also: I like your fan fiction rewrite a lot, Eric.

  4. I agree “Come, Come Ye Saints” is probably the most likely choice.

    I was thinking “Shall the Youth of Zion Falter” (a.k.a. “True to the Faith”) is one of our more martial songs, particularly the first two verses and chorus.
    http://www.lds.org/music/text/hymns/true-to-the-faith?lang=eng

  5. Lee Allred says:

    For this situation, if the mood you’d be going for is resigned loss of the ship and delay of the exodus, I’d go with “Though Deepening Trials” (one I used in my “Hymnal” story for somber mood).

    If the mood is more upbeat — willing obediance to a challenging preisthood decision — I’d probably go with “Come We that Love the Lord” particularly 4th verse or “Come, Let Us Anew” which is less familiar (at least to me) but the concept of beginning anew (to build another ship) fits nicely.

    Parenthetically, in my fictional Republic of Deseret alt history story world, the Deseret national anthem is “High on a Mountain Top” (listen to the 1990s NAUVOO BRASS BAND CD instrumental version — very national anthemy, especially when combined with lyrics about planting/unfurling flags/banners on a new land), not the expected “Come, Come Ye Saints.”

  6. Mark Penny says:

    Armies of Helaman?

    What about just nuking Eros? Don’t they have nukes then?

  7. Emily Tippetts says:

    Yeah, I didn’t beta read these novels much (if I’m who you’re referring to Wm). I introduced Daniel and Ty, but really never cared to read this series. Wish I could say I was surprised at the portrayal, but I’m not. Both have on several occasions made tactless anti-religious remarks to me. Ty’s a former Jehovah’s Witness, and I think doesn’t distinguish other religious groups from his own experience, and Daniel once told me he wished he could “Cure me of my Mormonism.” So, yes. ‘Nuff said ;-)

  8. Isaac says:

    Eric–I loved Leviathan Wakes, but this little bit of the novel never sat well with me for reasons you mentioned. The Mormons never felt like real Mormons to me because they didn’t act like Mormons. They acted like religious zealots from an episode of X-Files. So, I appreciate your fanfic a ton! And wish your bit of rewriting would have been how this part of the book played out.

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