Mind-Bending Science Fiction: Folk of the Fringe by Orson Scott Card

Folk of the Fringe book cover
Folk of the Fringe book cover
The Folk of the Fringe
The Folk of the Fringe

2001 paperback edition, Orb Books

The Folk of the Fringe
The Folk of the Fringe

Kindle edition, size 460KB


Card Redefines Fringe

Orson Scott Card has published prolificly during his long career as a science fiction writer, and brings his considerable storytelling and imaginative talents to bear in his collection of short stories, Folk of the Fringe (ISBN 0932096492). Though Orson Scott Card's greatest claim to fame is probably his award-winning Ender's series, which includes Ender's Game, Speaker for the Dead, and four other titles, this collection of short stories displays Card's unusual and fertile imagination.

This collection of short stories is set in recent post-apocalyptic America where Mormons have somehow survived and thrived during the nuclear disaster while most everyone else is merely trying to find something to eat—and in a Cormac McCarthyistic homage, sometimes something is really someone. Card draws heavily from the lingo and culture of the LDS church in many of his stories, but still manages to make his stories appeal broadly to all audiences.

Folk of the Fringe is a collection of a few very long short stories and a couple of shorter ones that loosely tie the experiences of a few main characters together, so that the stories read almost like a novel. In his post-apocalyptic world, the Mormons have expanded their dominance of the Intermountain West (which now includes Idaho, Utah and Arizona) to include parts of the midwest and Mexico. The society seeks to rescue, reclaim, and renew the desert lands which have been ravished by long rains resulting from nuclear winter. This recaptured farm land, called the Fringe, is fertile and productive, but ecologically fragile. The Fringe as a setting for the stories is a fascinating if perhaps fantastic future view of America, but it serves as an apt metaphor for the characters whose survival is equally fragile.

Card's stories focus on humanity's need to balance individuality with their desire to survive in a community setting. The folk of the fringe, with the emphasis then on the folk, instead of the fringe, are what really interested me about this book. Card's characters range from a wandering, self-proclaimed murderer, to a wheelchair-bound sycophant, to a band of travelling actors who are trapped in the roles they play on and off the stage.

As an Latter-day Saint reader, I was fascinated by the ways that Orson Scott Card manuevered through the familiar LDS culture of wards, Primary teachers, and bishoprics, and the ways that he turned these conventions of Mormonism on their heels while investing the reader in page-turning stories that left you caring about and wanting to know more of the fringe characters.

The first story in the collection is an engrossing account of a small, scared and motley band of misfits, orphans, and Sunday School teachers who narrowly escape a mass murder meant to exterminate all the remaining Mormons in North Carolina. The story follows their journey through North Carolina with an unlikely guide, who is a self-proclaimed murderer. This story counterbalances human degradation with Card's hope for redemption. Unlike Cormac McCarthy's The Road, which only hints at redemption, this story provides it in spades. In this first story, Orson Scott Card's Mormons and their unlikely guide are the fringe element, while society (those who would massacre innocents in the name of religion) remain the mainstream. As an aside, I found parts of this story very disturbing, and it may not be appropriate for young children, teenagers, or mothers who are feeling lacking in their parenting skills.

But as the Mormons travel toward their promised land, the fringe folk take on a different character. Now the fringe are misfts in the new society of Deseret created by the patriarchal leadership of the Mormon Church, where there is no separation between church and state.

The folk of the fringe in post-atomic Utah go treasure-diving in a Salt Lake City temple that has been submerged by a rising freshwater sea, and try to maintain their individuality and dignity within communities that maintain a strict moral code that is sometimes full of contradiction.

In Deseret Bishops are Mayors and Judges. Interestingly, the religious values that helped the characters in the first story to survive and form a tight family unit, when taken to the extreme, become tools of oppression.

Pageant Wagon

My favorite story in Folk of the Fringe was Pageant Wagon. This story alternately pokes fun at and celebrates the tradition of Mormon Pageants as a way of telling the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In a world without television, pageants are now the most widespread form of entertainment for common folk in the state of Deseret.

Orson Scott Card draws heavily from his experiences in theatre to tell this story, about a family of actors who are themselves on the fringe, because their vocations cast a pall on their status in society. Everywhere the actors go, they are treated like gypsies and outcasts, from the moment they pitch their frayed tents until they break camp and move on. Yet the actors in this story are passionate and likeable, and their family squabbles are funny and complicated.

I Wanted to Read More

I enjoyed the stories so much in Folk of the Fringe that I devoured them all in the space of two short evenings. I confess that the first story in the collection left me a bit traumatized. As anyone who has read some of Card's other fiction can attest, this book is not without its shocking moments.

Card explains in an Afterward that will interest any aspiring fiction writer just how he came to write these stories specifically for a writer's workshop in North Carolina. If Orson Scott Card decides to write another collection of stories as a follow-up to this one, I will probably be one of his first readers. The writing in this collection of short stories is accessible, entertaining, and quite thought-provoking.

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Comments 11 comments

Hello, hello, profile image

Hello, hello, 6 years ago from London, UK

Thank you for pointing these stories out to us. I am sure they are very interesting to read because they tell of a different way of life.

dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

When I was young I was a SciFi reader but somehow lost interest in it. It seems that the Fantasy genre has been much more popular. Maybe this book will renew my interest.

I am not Mormon but I have a strong interest in ecumenicism. If Mormon pageants are stage plays about their religion and experience, I did see one years ago when visiting Nauvoo, Illinois. I've been thinking about writing a hub on Nauvoo.

satomko profile image

satomko 6 years ago from Macon, GA

Another good review. On an interesting note, much of Cormac McCarthy's writing is influenced by his Catholicism. I wonder if that has anything to do with the thematic and tonal differences you see in their respective works.

SimeyC profile image

SimeyC 6 years ago from NJ, USA

I've read a lot of Orson Scott Card's books - including two series and a couple of novels - this definately looks like a good read thanks - I never really thought of him as a short story writer...thanks for the review..

wannabwestern profile image

wannabwestern 6 years ago from The Land of Tractors Author

Thanks Hello, Hello. Folk of the Fringe is an interesting future perspective based on Orson Scott Card's views on Mormonism. I like the way he expresses his views, though this book is probably not the best place to begin an exploration of the LDS culture.

Dahoglund, I've been a sci-fi and fantasy fan all of my life, though I don't read it exclusively. Mormon Pageants can be found all over America. They are a publicity and proselytizing tool as well as a tradition that reaches into the 19th century.

One of the first things Mormon settlers did when they emigrated to Utah was to build a theater. Pageants are alive and well all over the U.S. Manti, a small town in south-central Utah, hosts its pageant right outside the temple which is over 100 years old. It is a spectacular stage production played at night to audiences of thousands. I would be very interested to read your Hub on Nauvoo. My in-laws served an 18-month mission there and fell in love with the place. All Mormons worth their chops know that Nauvoo means "the city beautiful." It is a fascinating place and hugely important to LDS people.

Satomko, I only discovered Cormac McCarthy last summer. The Catholic influence on his writing interests me. Catholicism and Mormonism both are religions which exert a huge social force on anyone who practices them. I will have to read more of Orson Scott Card and more of Cormac McCarthy, as they are both fantastic writers!

Simey C, hope you find this book as interesting as I did. I don't usually spend a lot of time reading forewords and afterwords, but I think you'd find Card's comments about his writing process enlightening.

Cheers all!

BevsPaper profile image

BevsPaper 6 years ago from Central Indiana

Folk of the Fringe sounds like stories that I would really enjoy reading. Thank you for the review!

wannabwestern profile image

wannabwestern 6 years ago from The Land of Tractors Author

I appreciate that. Thanks for the comment.

Dim Flaxenwick profile image

Dim Flaxenwick 6 years ago from Great Britain

That was fascinating.!! Thanks for sharing.

wannabwestern profile image

wannabwestern 6 years ago from The Land of Tractors Author

Thanks Dim, I always appreciate you reading.

RNMSN profile image

RNMSN 6 years ago from Tucson, Az

very well done article on cards newest writing wannabee!! though you know he was or rather is/// as LDS, like marines are/// semper fi...bets are he will/eventually return to LDS...he was missionary in brazil and a phD prof at univ of utah..grad of brigham young of course...interesting eh?

aside from that he was among the first that long ago I read and enders game is still one I never rent out...I re read it among all others/short but woerful and his didactic tales are always thought provokig and wonderful reading as well as a good way to mimic in everyday life

wannabwestern profile image

wannabwestern 6 years ago from The Land of Tractors Author

Thrilled to hear from you RNMSN! As a BYU grad myself I understand the intellectual climate that Card left to live in North Carolina. I don't honestly know if he is a practicing LDS, that isn't something I've researched, though I knew his background was LDS. As a contemporary LDS, I would be surprised if he didn't consider himself to be somewhat fringe, though you never know quite how LDS intellectuals synthesize their thought with their religious practice. My husband, who is also LDS, says there are as many kinds of Mormons as there are Mormons. This is probably true for any religion. I'll be interested to see if he returns to Utah, and I agree his Ender's series is among his best writing. Cheers!

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