Discussions of Mormons and Mormon life, Book of Mormon issues and evidences, and other Latter-day Saint (LDS) topics.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Two Thoughts from The Disappeared: Clean Fiction is Possible, and an Analogy to Gospel Culture Clashes

My latest "just for fun" reading, after Cornelius Van Dam's book on the Urim and Thummim, was an equally clean book, a sci-fi novel, The Disappeared by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, the first book in her Retrieval Artist series. Orson Scott Card's endorsement on the cover caught my eye - very glad I read it. Well constructed and thought-out for the most part.

This interesting novel gave me two thoughts that I'd like to share today: (1) Clean fiction is still possible! and (2) great care must be exercised when dealing with cultural practices from other cultural groups that we may find offensive or even contrary to the Gospel.

The Disappeared is about a future when humans interact with multiple alien cultures. In this lawyer-filled future, legal agreements between the various alien species allow alien justice to be meted out to humans when they commit transgressions on alien worlds or against aliens. Depending on the offended species, grotesque killings, enslavement, or kidnapping of the human offender's children may occur to repay humans for crimes they may not have known they were committing. Petty mistakes or innocent actions made in ignorance may be viewed as horrific crimes by the aliens, and the law leaves the guilty parties no recourse but to accept the punishment in order to keep the peace between the world. No recourse but escape, disappearing with the help of a "disappearance agency" to start a new life somewhere else under a carefully constructed new identity. Unfortunately, some of the people paying the top disappearance agency for its help are being betrayed and turned over to the aliens who are after them. A detective, Miles Flint, runs into the aftershocks of several related cases of betrayal, begins piecing things together, exposes the crooked company and takes on the unjust law in his own renegade way. Fun novel but filled with some huge gaps, like how do these disappearance agencies avoid the wrath of the aliens?

One thing that impressed me right away with this novel, though, was the fact that the writer could communicate and convey stress, fear, pain, shock, and other emotions, without the puerile crutch of foul language. She could maintain interest without off-color jokes or licentious scenes. I appreciate her high standards in this book, and wish more writers (LDS writers included) would realize that there is no need for abundant profanity and lewdness. Just my two cents.

The conflict between cultures reminded me of the challenges we face as the Gospel goes to all the earth, including peoples who have practices we may find appalling or sometimes contrary to Gospel principles. We must help new converts give up some cultural practices when the conflict is irreconcilable, but also be understanding and patient as new converts grow in understanding.

My time working with one foreign agrarian culture in the past raised many such issues. In some cultures, it is acceptable for a young teenage girl to marry a much older man, such as a 13-year-old marrying a 20-year-old. And in the culture I have in mind, the norm is to live together for a short time. Such practices are contrary to modern Church policies, and underage marriage may result in serious legal trouble in the US. What is viewed as acceptable in one culture or in one time is a horrific crime elsewhere, or elsewhen.

I have long harbored regret over how I handled a teenage marriage case among a group of immigrants years ago. I can't go into details, but there was a time when I raised my voice and was stern with a man when I probably should have been patient, gentle, and more respectful. LDS training for Church leaders teaches us to be adamant and proactive in dealing with and helping to prevent child abuse, but I may have briefly overreacted. Only a small amount, but I may have gone past a tipping point and scared someone into coverup mode. I'm not sure how much I could have changed in the long run, but it's possible that one frightened father might have found a different way to lead his family other than leaving the Church if I had been more understanding of the complex cultural currents at play. Maybe there would be fewer religious "disappeareds."

I don't mean that we should ever weaken the strong policies the Church has on sexual morality, respect for the law, and preventing child abuse, but it's good to remember that things that may shock us may seem normal and acceptable to others, who may need gentle teaching and training more than they need to be scared with a fire-and-brimestone lecture and warnings about US law.

Strange that a sci-fi book would bring back those painful memories.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Endorsed by Mr. Card? Have you read his porn book "Ender's game" (scenes with naked small children together)? No thanks!

Maedoc said...

anon 7:31 8/26/8-

If you're talking about the fight scene with Bonzo, I would hardly call that pornographic. He just happens to be taking a shower, and he gets ambushed.

As webster puts it, pornography is "Sexually explicit pictures, writing, or other material whose primary purpose is to cause sexual arousal," and the scene with Bonzo is neither sexually explicit, nor is it's primary purpose to cause sexual arousal.

If you are talking about a different incident, please provide a specific page so we can all be enlightened.

Tristi Pinkston said...

Thanks for your insights into books and powerful writing without language. Very thought-provoking.

Zera Pulsipher said...

Thank's Jeff your words and regrets actually comforted me quite a bit with a situation I'm involved in. My friend is trying to help but unfortunately is making a lot of the mistakes you did without realizing what may be at stake.

My first impulse with him is to react though in the very way he is to the other party involved and your post has helped me resolve to remember he is just as human as me, and treat him the same as i am the other party.So thanks.

Mormanity said...

I loved Ender's Game, as did most of my family - I'm afraid I overlooked any questionable aspects of that scene. But I didn't miss some of the overt issues with other novels of Card. I think he's a brilliant writer, but I wish that his LDS roots were less obscured by his writing.

Alex Valencic said...

Scott's LDS roots are obscured by his writings? I don't think I've read a book by him yet that doesn't have numerous references to his LDS roots - and that includes the Ender series!

I do love his writings, and I will definitely seek out this book by Ms. Rusch. It sounds interesting!

As far as the cultural practices topic goes, I readily agree that we must take great care to not mistake cultural views as doctrinal beliefs. It is so easy to mistake the American LDS culture as being one created entirely by doctrines of the Restored Gospel, but this is just not the case. I have only lived outside of the United States for five and a half months, but during that time, my mind was opened up to so many practices among the Saints in America that just don't work elsewhere.

I found it quite interesting to realise that taboo words that are considered vulgar in the States are not so in other parts of the world, and yet words they find taboo are not so here! And that is just a mild example. I remember having to counsel a friend of mine who was leaving for a mission to Long Beach, California, to not use certain words in casual conversation, as they are taken as crude and vulgar here. He didn't believe me, but promised he'd try to eliminate those words. (I would share what they are, but I know that Jeff prefers that crude language be omitted in order to prevent unwanted hits on searches.)

Rob said...

Jeff, sounds like you and I had similar experiences. As a missionary in a Latin American country, I had a couple who were investigating the church who wanted to get married. She was 14, he was 25. I took it to my mission president with my many concerns and he calmed me down and asked me if I knew any other couples, older ones, with age differences like that. When I thought about it, there were more that had them than didn't. Then he explained to me the cultural aspect I was not understanding.

"Lucky" for me, the two moved before I had to arrange and perform their marriage (missionaries were given authority to perform civil marriages back then). Even though the cultural side of that may be legit there, it still made me queasy.

On the subject of profanity in fiction, Card, who I'm a big fan of, is not without his faults. But the words he uses are at a 6th grade boys level and not at all like other books I've read by more secular authors. Just had to send one back to the library yesterday, in fact. It was "Mirrored Heavens", a sci-fi book. The f-bombs at the beginning were sparse, but pretty soon every page had five or six instances with each character sounding like he/she had developed Turret's Syndrome. Who really talks like that? In the future will the f-bomb even really exist? Maybe the author could have at least made up a word that might be a future curse word...one that wasn't so rooted in our filthy culture today.

Looking into the Twilight series which my wife has read but i have not. I'm a guy, those are "chick books" (her words, not mine), but I'm so enthralled with the fact that an LDS author has made it big with good clean fiction, I may just buy the whole series just to show the money-gazing publishing industry what people really want.

Alex Valencic said...

Rob,

Actually, there are a lot of people who drop the f-bomb like it is the letter "e". I've ridden on trams where a group of girls who were probably in the early teens used the f-bomb more than any other word in their conversation. It was disheartening and disturbing.

Let me be Frank said...

I am an ex-conspiratorialist for many reasons and I think it is simply laborious to point out how conspiratorialists think and explain things. Daniel Pipes has a good book out on it. "Case Closed" by Buscalia as well as numerous scientifically produced examinations of the JFK assasination and "Popular Mechanics" and other reputable sources explaining 9/11 and bldg 7 all goes to show how silly conspiratorialists can be. They usually leave out facts like insinuating that Bush usurped power to declare war when its undisputed the Congress gave him that right for that war only. I agree with you on most other things however.