The Hardest Part: William Shunn on The Accidental Terrorist

In early 2009 when I started taking reading and writing seriously again, one of the first authors I “discovered” was William Shunn, whose Proper Manuscript Format for Fiction Writers is practically required reading, and who, along with his fellow Blue Heaven workshop/retreat authors Paolo Bacigalupi and Greg van Eekhout were active — and welcoming! — on Twitter, even to those writing umbrella duel fan-fiction inspired by their Electric Velocipede stories. Van Eekhout’s Norse Code had yet to be released that summer, Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl was still months away from publication that fall, and watching Shunn banter with and encourage them was certainly a great model for a Twitter and genre newbie such as myself. Shunn’s own book that winter was Cast a Cold Eye (with Derryl Murphy), but it is his 2007 Nebula and Hugo Award finalist novella Inclination which I think is the best corresponding genre reading to bring along for his new memoir The Accidental Terrorist: Confessions of a Reluctant Missionary.

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In Inclination, we follow a young, first person protagonist’s emergence from the protective shell of his religious upbringing into the wider world of a space station, populated with all manner of interesting characters, and on through his growth in awareness of what exactly he has been sheltered from, and finally on to a satisfying conclusion. Even the “tip of the iceberg” knowledge that Shunn was raised Mormon and had since left the LDS Church makes the comparisons to his real life experience easy; anyone (like me, for instance) who was raised in a conservative religious family and later had to resolve the conflict between spirituality and reality, whether leaving their faith or affirming it, can at least find in Shunn’s novella the essence of that struggle, of that question. Read the rest of this entry »