Things Rich and Strange: Mormonism through the Lens of Steve Peck, a Sympathetic Alien

August 14th, 2015

(cross-posted at A Motley Vision website)

Title: Wandering Realities: The Mormonish Short Fiction of Steven L. Peck
Author: Steven L. Peck
Publisher: Zarahemla Books
Genre: Short Story Collection
Year Published: 2015
Number of Pages: 219
Binding: Trade Paperback
ISBN13: 9780988323346
Price: $14.95
Also available as an ebook

Reviewed by Jonathan Langford.

Steve Peck is an alien. A kind of geeky-looking one (wholly appropriate for a professor of evolutionary biology), friendly, congenial, but an alien nonetheless. That’s the only explanation I can come up with for how, in this set of 16 stories, he so consistently manages to provide such startlingly different, yet at the same time deeply insightful, perspectives on the culture and religion he has adopted for his own.

Which is about the only thing these stories — which range from short to long, humor to pathos, realism to postmodernly zany, contemporary to historical to science fiction — have in common. Eight of them have been previously published, in venues ranging from Irreantum to Covenant to the Everyday Mormon Writer contest. Yet the effect is not incoherent. Rather, it provides a sense of the range of Peck’s work, which includes something that will, I guarantee, appeal to pretty much everyone with the slightest interest in reading fiction about the Mormon experience: highbrow or lowbrow, literary or popular, funny or serious, light or thought-provoking. It’s pretty much all here. And while not every story is equally polished, each provides something interesting and (here’s that word again) different.

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Bad Superhero Ideas

June 1st, 2015

Growing up, I wasn’t that interested in superheroes. I’m still not. I mean, yeah, sure, I watched the Fantastic Four on Saturday morning television, but what kid my age didn’t? I certainly never got into the comic books, which at that time was the medium for superhero narrative consumption.

But times have changed. Superheroes have become a major movie franchise, or several. My children debate the classic Batman versus Superman question. My oldest was a fan of The Tick, and (more recently) Doctor Horrible’s Sing-along Blog. And of course no one can escape the impact of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in shaping the esthetics of late twentieth century American culture.

And so it is only sensible that as someone with aspirations to making an impact in today’s storytelling world, I should invent a superheroes series of my own.

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Root Canal

May 6th, 2015

Which kind of says it all, you know? Except, of course, that clearly I’m going to go on and say much more than that…

Last Friday night: intermittent toothache. You know, the kind of thing that makes you wonder if you got something stuck between your teeth. Except that after re-flossing for the fourth time, you clue into the notion that there’s something more going on. I wasn’t even completely sure what tooth it was that was bothering me.

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Wisdom, and the Lack Thereof

March 24th, 2015

February was a hectic month. Multiple deadlines. Multiple projects. Trying to help my family hold onto their collective and individual sanity, at least to the degree that this is still a relevant goal.

Which, naturally, made it the ideal time for me to take on another project: low-income, not all that high importance if I’m to be honest, and nothing I was under any obligation of doing. For no good reason except that it caught my eye, and, well, I wanted to. Did you expect anything else?

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Mortality as an RPG

January 8th, 2015

1978. I’m a 16-year-old college freshman, living in the dorms. Struggling (and often failing) to muster the self-discipline to attend class and do my homework assignments.

And then I hear about this cool role-playing game. Dungeons and Dragons, it’s called. D&D. Really popular, especially among college students, especially among geeks. And I start playing with a group on my dorm floor.


The story doesn’t go entirely the way you might expect. I mean, yeah, I didn’t do terribly well in my classes that semester. But D&D is only partly to blame. Really, I was looking for excuses: something else to do with my time when I should have been studying or sleeping instead. If it hadn’t been D&D, it would have been something else. In fact, most of the time, it was something else: books, or long philosophical conversations with newly minted friends, or (on one or two particularly stupid occasions) sitting up all night watching other people play Risk without using cards. Let me repeat that: watching other people play Risk without using cards (which just about triples the length of a game that’s already fairly tedious if you’re not one of those playing). If that doesn’t show how far I went in my quest to avoid schoolwork, I don’t know what does.

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Christmas 2014

December 25th, 2014

Author’s note: I’ve now officially given up on my occasional “columns” that I was sending out monthly, or at least quarterly, for several years. Sorry to those of you who were following these. In any event, the plan is for me to take up the slack with more frequent posting at this blog. So here we go.

Waking up at 5:00 a.m. Christmas morning with a pounding headache, after only 4 hours of sleep, is not the most promising beginning to things. Excedrin and a mug of homemade hot chocolate have taken the edge off, though at some point today I should probably try and take a nap.

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Fake Persimmons

December 1st, 2014

Since my childhood, persimmons have been one of my favorite fruits. Soft, wet, sweet — almost slimy — and mildly spicy, with a brilliant orange coloring, they are — as I recall reading from a food writer, though the particular source is now forgotten — pretty much a dessert unto themselves. I still fall into reveries on occasion over the particularly large and delicious specimens from the fruit markets in Italy.

This, of course, is the classic persimmon (most commonly known nowadays through the Hachiya cultivar): roughly peach-shaped, flat with a dried calyx on one end and doming to a point at the other end, which is unbelievably astringent (puckery) when firm and only becomes really edible when it is so soft that you would swear it was spoiled and rotten, if it were any other fruit. (Note: If persimmons can become overripe, I’m not aware of it.)

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Writing a Novel

October 31st, 2014

A member of my writing group recently put out a request for those of us who have written novels to talk about our composition process and experiences. As preparation for that upcoming discussion — recognizing that I’m still discovering what worked and didn’t work in my one successful and other not-yet-successful novel-writing efforts — here are some top-level thoughts.

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Gifts of the Earth

October 1st, 2014

(originally written a couple of days ago)

For breakfast this morning I had some leftover bread pudding, with a bit of homemade plum syrup and whipped cream over it. Heavenly. Plus a small pear from our favorite orchard.

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Two Hours a Day

September 22nd, 2014

Spring and early summer were unusually busy for me, workwise. And then the middle of summer was largely taken up with a family vacation, helping my mother move, getting our house ready for my mother-in-law to move in, etc.

All that is mostly settled now, however. And the question now is, how much time can I realistically put into my creative writing? And will that be enough for me to get anywhere?

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