M. Shayne Bell has done an amazing job of obtaining top-quality stories from a talented and diverse group of writers. The contributors to this anthology represent a wide range of viewpoints, from very mainstream Latter-day Saint authors who teach at BYU and have books sold by Deseret Book (Glenn L. Anderson), to people who are Latter-day Saints but interestingly "unorthodox", to people who have never been Latter-day Saints but live in the region. The stories run the gamut as well. Some could be published without causing a stir in the New Era. Others are definitely "subversive" (to use the word from the book's back cover blurb). But none of them are simply mean or "anti."
Many stories contain plot points and ideas and speculations about future that many Latter-day Saints would find offensive. But there is nothing that readers widely read in either science fiction or Latter-day Saint fiction will be driven to apostacy by. The viewpoints are so diverse, there are only two "messages" a person could take away from the anthology as a whole: Utah/Latter-day Saint writers are an extremely talented, diverse bunch and Utah/Latter-day Saint culture is unarguably unique. A book of this sort, so bound to place and so culturally marked, never has been and never could be produced by "science fiction writers from Ohio," for example.
This book isn't for everyone. It's really not meant for young kids. No sex, but two stories (Wolverton's "Wheatfields Beyond" and Baker's "Songs of Solomon") contain graphic, but not gratuitous, violence or injury. Some characters smoke or drink (but they aren't Latter-day Saints). Illegal drugs are mentioned in one story (cocaine, in Glenn Anderson's "Shannon's Flight"), but the person who uses them is such a loser that their use is hardly glorified. None of the authors exhibit racist, sexist, or otherwise prejudiced attitudes. Some stories have vulgar or profane language. (Based on the language alone, the book would probably be MPAA-rated PG-13.)
But, really, Washed is almost mild compared to particularly challenging Latter-day Saint literature such as Backslider, and has far less potentially offensive language and violence than Dave Wolverton's On My Way to Paradise. The typical full-time seminary teacher would probably hate most of it. The typical bishop would probably love most of it. The typical non-Latter-day Saint science fiction fan, if they don't know any Latter-day Saints personally, would probably like the book, and be shocked at how many of these stories' authors are practicing Latter-day Saints. A reader unfamiliar with Utah may not recognize most of the places and institutions described (Bonneville Salt Flats, U. of U., Temple Square, Timpanogos Cave, Deseret Industries, etc.), but these aren't any more unfamiliar than Genosha, Tatooine, or Bajor. Prior knowledge of the culture isn't necessary to enjoy the book.
The most exciting, fast-paced story was "The Shining Dream Road Out," by M. Shayne Bell himself. It features a realistic and ethical everyman reminiscent of some other Bell characters. The story is marred by one totally out-of-place, inexplicable use of the F-word, but is otherwise one of my favorites.
The funnest story was Diana Lofgran Hoffman's "Other Time." The main character is a busy Utah County mother whose husband is in graduate school. The story has her finding a strange device which freezes time around her, letting her have countless unencumbered hours to do things like housework, studying, photography, etc. Obviously the premise is ridiculous -- she just finds the thing by a dumpster in downtown Provo. But the story itself is so well executed and so fully realized and so thought-provoking and compelling that one completely forgives the unreasonableness of the premise. (After all, it's science fiction, right?)
"Songs of Solomon" was definitely creepy. Virginia Ellen Baker is usually a poet and horror writer, not a science fiction writer, and it shows. The story is the anthology's most poetic and most horrific piece.
Elizabeth H. Boyer's "A Foreigner Comes to Reddyville" came as a complete surprise to me. Boyer is a nationally prominent author with many published fantasy novels to her name. But she seems to be a very private individual who isn't known for producing endless self-revelatory editorial writing (a la OSC). And all of her published writing is set in a fictional fantasy world, so it can be hard to gauge what she thinks about this world. I found her story, set in Idaho circa 1930, to be enchanting, warm and revealing. Maybe I now know more about Boyer, or maybe I only know the story's characters. But I feel I should try reading at least one of her novels (something I've never done before).
Charlene C. Harmon's "Pueblo de Sion": This was delightful! And very sweet. I would read a novel-length version.
One of my least favorite stories was Melva Gifford's "Scrap Pile." I loved the writing, the characterization, and the humor. I was just annoyed by the ending. After reading this story, I felt I would be the first to buy a novel by Gifford, but if this was the kind of short story she writes, she's probably better in long form. I've long appreciated Brigham Young's saying "It's better for a man to dig a ditch and fill it up again than to do nothing at all." This is apparently the morale of the story, but I think if Brigham Young read "Scrap Pile" he would have expressed the idea differently. (He would have liked the starship captain, though.)
Finally, I must say something about Diann Thornley's "Thunderbird's Egg." One reviewer called this story "politically correct" because it features a Navajo protagonist and has some feminist themes. "Political correctness" had nothing to do with the story and there is no reason to presume that because a story features Native American mysticism it's going to be like all the lame, politically correct literature with similar subject matter. I admit to being a big Thornley fan, having read her "Unified Worlds" novels, but I think I can still objectively say that "Thunderbird's Egg" displays a viewpoint which is both very unique and feels very realistic. I was intrigued by the way in which Betsy Ablehorse was very much a citizen of the twenty-first century, while at the same time a serious believer of her People's traditions. I'll grant that the story includes nothing earth-shattering, but it also has nothing gimmicky. It's a very literary story which will probably appeal to a broader number of people than almost any other story in the collection. Yes, the story is "inoffensive," perhaps even daringly moderate in its political sensibilities. But Thornley here seems only concerned with telling a story. "Thunderbird's Egg" is not the most shocking or most exciting or most clever story the book, but it is the most authentic.
The anthology purports to publish stories by nearly all of the Utah/Idaho science fiction writers in the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association of America at the time it was compiled. Unfortunately, nothing was included by some of the great, deceased Utah/Idaho science fiction writers such as Zenna Henderson, Raymond F. Jones or Samuel W. Taylor. This is partially understandable, as they couldn't have been asked to write something specifically for the book. But Orson Scott Card's "Pageant Wagon" was certainly not original to this volume, and I think appropriate works by Henderson, Jones or Taylor could have been included. Some fantastic science fiction authors from the region who became prominent after the anthology was published include David Zindell and Kenny Kemp. Their absence is certainly understandable. There's nothing by Track Hickman -- I don't know why. Another disappointing omission is Jack Weyland. It would have been interesting to see his contribution to this volume. Maybe Weyland wasn't included because he mostly writes contemporary Latter-day Saint fiction instead of science fiction. But without him, well, it's like "Phantom Menace" without Jar Jar.
If Bell had included science fiction by non-Latter-day Saint people not from this region, I would nominate Avram Davidson's "Pebble in Time," which is a great story about the arrival of the Saints in Utah, and is so pro-Latter-day Saint in outlook that it could be read in Conference, although the author was Jewish/Shinto.
The table below lists the stories, their authors, and a very brief description of the plot. The sentences refer only to what happens. No effort has been made to explain what the stories are about thematically. Certainly these capsule descriptions may seem laughably inadequate to those who have read the stories. But most of the stories are only 10 to 20 pages long. Rather than writing longer descriptions which could give away to much of the plot, we suggest people read the stories themselves.
|Story Title||Author||Capsule synopsis|
|Wheatfields Beyond||Dave Wolverton||Jewish lawyer in Provo helps apparently crazy homeless man. They meet again many years later, after a nuclear war.|
|Solitude||Carolyn Nicita||U. of U. student finds ancient, mostly-dormant alien in a tree while working at Solitude ski resort.|
|Outside the Tabernacle||B.J. Fogg||At General Conference with his grandmother, a Latter-day Saint man reflects upon his experiences with the Church's "temporal marriage" program: trial marriages that last 3 months.|
|Space People||James Cummings||A married couple and their friend go on a trip from Utah to California.|
|The Shining Dream Road Out||M. Shayne Bell||Pizza delivery boy encounters battered woman on the Salt Lake Valley virtual reality driver training net. He and his parents help rescue the woman in real life.|
|Other Time||Diana Lofgran Hoffman||Utah County woman (nurse, wife of a graduate student, mother of 2 children) finds device that apparently makes time stand still, granting her limitless extra hours in a day.|
|Rise Up, Ye Women That Are At Ease||D. William Shun||All the women in Salt Lake City (and everywhere else in the world) suddenly leave.|
|You Can't Go Back||M.W. Worthen||Utah County native working in the asteroid belts creates a virtual reality simulation of Utah.|
|Thunderbird's Egg||Diann Thornley||Navajo girl finds meteorite, goes to BYU, becomes air force fighter pilot.|
|Scrap Pile||Melva Gifford||The space fleet's most famously dangerous and rickety spaceship comes to the starbase in Zion National Park for repairs.|
|Signs and Wonders||Kathleen Dalton-Woodbury||Tongan Latter-day Saint and his grandson create huge lava rock image on the Bonneville Salt Flats: a message visible from space.|
|Songs of Solomon||Virginia Ellen Baker||The technocrats in power in a near future U.S. control people through their dreams.|
|Pueblo de Sion||Charlene C. Harmon||After Southern Utah is flattened by the blast of an experimental weapon accident, survivors survive in an ancient pueblo with the help of a Latter-day Saint anthropologist from Mexico who is an expert on the Anasazi.|
|A Foreigner Comes to Reddyville||Elizabeth H. Boyer||A sheep herder in Idaho helps an alien visitor who makes an unusual addition to the nativity scene he is carving.|
|Snooze||David Doering||Latter-day Saint chemist invents a way to keep kids quiet in church.|
|Shannon's Flight||Glenn L. Anderson||Woman discovers ghost horses near Moab.|
|Rumors of My Death||Lyn Worthen||A Salt Lake Tribune columnist reads his obituary in the newspaper. But he's not really dead.|
|Finale||Pat Bezzant||People act weird at the Year 2000 New Years Eve party of a Salt Lake City law firm.|
|Dealer||Michaelene Pendleton||America has become isolationist. Foreign art is criminalized.|
|Pageant Wagon||Orson Scott Card||A professional band of "road show" entertainers travel through the re-emerging society of post-apocalyptic Utah.|