Friday, February 3, 2012

Book Review: Monsters and Mormons

A while back, Dan Wells posted a few blog posts about a short story he was writing for an anthology called Monsters & Mormons. It sounded intriguing... and then my brother requested that the Provo City Library purchase it, and then they did, and then he borrowed it from the library, and then it appeared at the top of the stairs in our apartment. (We live in his basement.) And thus, I got to read it.

Let's start with the basic premise, shall we? The purpose of this anthology is to collect stories about Latter Day Saints interacting with fantastical creatures (aka monsters). Sometimes the Latter Day Saints are monsters. Sometimes they are good monsters fighting bad monsters. In other words, the stories all had to have monsters, and Mormons, and beyond that it was open to interpretation.

Overall, it's a fun anthology, but very eclectic. Due to the very small pool of writers who are LDS and write sci-fi/fantasy and were invited to participate in the anthology, there's a wide variety of formats (mostly short stories, but there are also some graphic stories and poetry, and some of the pieces might be long enough to be considered novelettes) and also some variation in skill level. There are 30 pieces in all.

Rather than go through each one individually (which would take forever), I will summarize my impressions. There were a lot of stories that were okay, some that had a lot of potential and kind of putter out at the very end (or ended extremely abruptly), and a few that were fabulous. I didn't care for the poetry or graphic stories as much (then again, I haven't enjoyed that format of literature as much in the past when I've sampled it, either) but the concepts introduced in some of the stories were quite cool.

One of the things I realized reading this anthology is that it is very tricky to find the right balance in a short story. It's quite easy to tackle too big of an idea (or ideas), get halfway through, and then have to end the story because of length constraints. It's also quite easy to think of a cool idea and then write a story about it, but not include enough other substance to really make it have any oomph. An author must tread a delicate balance between too much and too little for a short story to be satisfying on its own, not leaving the reader feeling lacking (or jilted because it promised so much more and didn't deliver before the end).

Both Eric James Stone ("That Leviathan, Whom Thou Hast Made") and Dan Wells ("The Mountain of the Lord") are excellent examples of authors who did it right. And oh, how deliciously satisfying those stories were. They were my favorites in the anthology.

Others that I thought were decent:
- "First Estate" by Katherine Woodbury (interesting story, though I wanted more)
- "Brothers in Arms" by Graham Bradley (again, I felt it ended a little abruptly)
- "Bokev Momen" by D. Michael Martindale (I actually liked this one quite a bit)
- "Let the Mountains Tremble for Adoniha Has Fallen" by Steven Peck (interesting ideas, strange story)
- "Allow Me to Introduce Myself" by Moriah Jovan (the ending gets weird but I liked the rest of it)

Like any anthology, Monsters and Mormons has its strengths and weaknesses, but if you enjoy reading quirky takes on LDS history and culture (green jello, anyone?), you'll probably find enough in here to make it worth reading. And Provo City Library has a copy that will be available for checking out again shortly...


  1. "Due to the very small pool of writers who are LDS and write sci-fi/fantasy and were invited to participate in the anthology . . ."

    FYI, not all of the authors are LDS (although almost all are), some were writing sci-fi/fantasy for the first time, and submission was open to anyone.

  2. Thank you for clarifying. I should have done a bit more research before making such a statement.

    1. I think it was a pretty reasonable set of assumptions; I just happen to know the folks to put the anthology together so I have the "inside scoop." ;)

  3. .

    Thanks for the review! This is the first one to show up utterly unexpectedly which is, of course, always a happy surprise.

  4. Thanks for reviewing this! From an authorial viewpoint, it was tough making the transition from novel (my primary format) to novella, hence the abrupt ending in "Brothers in Arms." It is definitely its own skill set, and guys like Eric James Stone and Dan Wells have really got it down.

    Glad you liked it.

    1. That transition from novel to novella does seem like it would be tricky. I really liked the setting/atmosphere you developed though, and I also thought you did a nice job balancing an overt plot line (identifying/killing the demon guy) and underlying theme (regaining his faith).

      Thanks for the comment!

  5. Sounds like a very interesting story-- and yea, most time short stories leave me feeling like I want more.