Review: Wandering Realities by Steven Peck

Not an actual image of the author.

It’s hard to write reviews of Steven Peck’s fiction. Those who are unfamiliar with his work will probably not believe you, and those who know Peck’s writing are already fans and have little need for a review. It’s also hard to write a review because you run out of useful words: there are only so many superlatives out there. For example: Peck is the best LDS science fiction currently out there. And so it is no surprise that Wandering Realities: Mormonish Short Fiction is an immensely enjoyable and powerful collection of short fiction, one that highlights both the possibilities and inevitablities of Mormonism. I know you don’t believe me, but it’s true.

Peck has a special knack for writing about commonplace events in the midst of strange, even bizarre surroundings; or, conversely, bizarre events in the most mundane of circumstances. His prior books, The Scholar of Moab and A Short Stay In Hell also capitalized on these thematic explorations (and both books are truly excellent – though A Short Stay In Hell is far shorter and far more haunting). Wandering Realities is a compilation of some of Peck’s shorter stories, some of which we’ve seen before (whether on Facebook or as award-winners with the Association for Mormon Letters). However, even those familiar with some of his stories will find new ones here, not just as filler but as equally enjoyable and thought-provoking as his classic “Two-Dog Dose” or “Let the Mountains Tremble, for Adoniha Has Fallen” (this latter story mixes Mormonism with Edgar Rice Burroughs with a tale of interplanetary religious schism). The organization here reflects Peck’s two primary thematic twists: the first half consists of science fiction settings (“Other Worlds”), and the second half deals with fantastical events in the world, primarily — but not exclusively — the world of Utah Mormonism (“This World”).

I am not sure which of the two halves I enjoyed more. “Other Worlds” gives Peck a chance to explore terraforming and the cybernetic singularity and shared consciousness, but “This World” is where Peck is able to be truly devious and fun with the world of Mormonism, illustrating what might happen when truly odd things happen to familiar surroundings. A fine example is his Pleasant Grove story about what happens when a no-rules pinewood derby goes completely off the rails – local leaders are locked in closets, pandemonium ensues as the cultural hall is turned into Thunderdome. It is wondrous and rich, feeding off of our familiarity while showing us new vistas and new depths.

Like I said, it is hard to write a review of Peck’s work. Wandering Realities is perfectly satisfying, a treat from beginning to end. This is the sort of book one hopes to receive; it is alternatively touching and funny and poignant, with horrors and wonders. Steven Peck is a gift to Mormon literature, and any opportunity to read his stories is not to be missed.

Comments

  1. I went to begin reading it on the Kindle and saw that someone already had already started. I found my daughter and said “Did you sneak read Steven Peck’s newest book on the Kindle tonight?” She responded, “Yes, and I’m almost done, they are that good. And so far only one has made me cry.”

  2. Steve is an ingenious storyteller. I’m anxious to begin this one. I know every one says it, but Short Stay in Hell still haunts me for so many reasons.

  3. Yes, WVS–that book blew my mind.

    I’m very much looking forward to reading this one. Thanks for the review.

  4. Dave K. says:

    Another book to recommend is “The Rifts of Rime” – one of my kids favorite bedtime stories. This weekend I started reading “Wandering Realities” to the older ones. They may never look at our bishop the same again.

  5. Dave, I confess I haven’t read it! I should.

  6. Steve is the best. I like that he continues to surprise both at the conceptual level and the sentence level.

  7. It would be terrific if one of the book cover images linked to the author’s website or even a favorite bookseller’s site–that would be so helpful for Steve and all the authors you so thoughtfully and insightfully review.

    True confessions: I’m co-publisher at Torrey House Press, proud home of The Scholar of Moab. We adore Steve and all his fantastic work.

  8. Dave K. says:

    Steve, imagine medievel warfare as conducted by a matriarcharl society of squirrels. I’ll try not to spoil things, but the underlying theme is learning to love your (squirrel) body. And learning to love books made from squirrel-chewed pulp paper.

  9. Kirsten, I pretty much roll with Amazon. I don’t have a favorite bookseller. (and does Steve have a website???)

  10. “I pray every 30 picoseconds.” Yeah, I’m already reading it.

  11. So far the image of a Mormon using a tethered daemon to grant wishes has been the most lasting.

  12. Thanks for this great review — now off to get the book!

  13. Lew Scannon says:

    Who published it, Steve? That’s rule number one when reviewing a book.

  14. Coincidentally she just started talking about it again while I was reading these comments: “Mom, did you read the Steve Peck book yet? I finished it last night. There was one that made me cry, then the one right after it made me laugh really hard. Then the last story is a detective story, but instead of a detective, it’s a bishop. Oh, the first one almost made me cry too.” #fourteenyearoldapproval

  15. Lew Scannon says:

    Don’t bother. I looked it up. Zarahemla.

  16. Lew, I don’t live by your “rules”. I’m a loner. A rebel.