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Mormons like science fiction and fantasy -- symposium at BYU

PROVO, Utah — Science fiction and fantasy stories are popular among readers who are also members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as demonstrated by statistical evidence, a panel of writers and editors said Friday.

The panelists expressed their opinions on why so many Mormon authors are writing in the genre, at the 28th annual Life, the Universe and Everything 28: Marion K. Smith Symposium on Science Fiction & Fantasy, a three-day conference at Brigham Young University.

Book sales of that kind of fiction are disproportionately higher in Utah than other states, fiction writer Brandon

Sanderson said. Additionally many of the LDS fiction writers are from Utah.

"We're reading it a lot, so there will be more writers," he said.

Sanderson was one of four panelists at a symposium "Why Mormons and Fantasy" that explored the explosion of successful young LDS writers in the genre.

While Utah is rich in science fiction and fantasy interest, other religions oppose it.

Sanderson described the Bible Belt as a wasteland for that kind of fiction, except for the larger cities. A published science fiction and fantasy author, Sanderson also teaches a section of creative writing at BYU.

"If I tell you it's not true, then I can have as much fun with it as I want," panelist and author Laura Bingham said. Bingham recently published her first novel, "Alvor."

Mormons are not threatened by it because it jells with the religion's teachings that God created and populated many worlds, Sanderson said. It allows writers to "play god" while world-building in fiction.

Fantasy writers C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien are not well-accepted by other faiths, "which shocked me," while Lewis is often quoted by Mormon general authorities, Sanderson said. Also, the LDS culture is one of education, which produces a plethora of readers.

"They tend to gravitate to science fiction," he said.

Science fiction gives LDS authors an opportunity to discuss their values, good and evil and the result of choices, Lisa Mangum, a book editor with Deseret Book said. They can do it without being preachy, Bingham said.

Her audience isn't necessarily LDS readers, but instead young people who may have an unpleasant home life. It's a way of reaching them without preaching to them, she said, which wouldn't work with strict LDS fiction.

Reading and acting out science fiction and fantasy stories was a safe way to rebel, while being non-threatening to the church or parents, Sanderson said, describing his rebellion as a teenager.

"Our parents didn't get it and we did," he said.

Fantasy fiction is a way to deliver a "philosophical payload" without frightening off readers, moderator and short-fiction writer Scott Parkin said. However, the largest group of writers in the genre is predominately atheists and agnostics, while Jewish writers are also in large number, Sanderson said.

LDS writers, however, aren't threatened by their religion and can remain faithful to the church while they explore various ideas, Bingham said.