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.