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In the best-selling book series "The Expanse" and in the Syfy TV series based on the novels, there is a major plotline about Mormons.
That's right. Centuries into the future, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are still wearing shirts and ties. They're still proselytizing. And they're building a giant spaceship that will carry them to their own planet in another solar system.
And this subplot ended up in the books and the show partly because of the construction of the City Creek Center mall. Really.
Authors Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck who are writing "The Expanse" books under the pseudonym James S.A. Corey and are also writers/producers on the TV series created a tomorrow in which humans have colonized the solar system, but have no faster-than-light ships. For the purpose of their narrative, they needed a huge ship that would carry a large number of people to a distant solar system a journey that will take more than a century.
"We wanted to have a generation ship," Abraham said. "We wanted to have this huge, ambitious, expensive, difficult, dangerous project. We looked around and talked about who would be most likely to get behind something like that."
They discarded the idea that a government would build such a ship, "because it doesn't get you any votes," Franck said. "And I can't picture a corporation doing it, because there's no money in it."
So they kicked around the notion of a religious group undertaking such a project because of "that sort of unity of purpose that's necessary to invest so much time and energy and treasure into a single project with an uncertain outcome," Franck said.
The more they thought about it, the more the idea of involving Mormons made sense. Abraham pointed to the Mormons' trek west to settle the inhospitable Utah desert.
"Neither of us is Mormon," he said. "But we've had enough experience with that faith to see that, yeah, the idea of a journey being baked into the religion, and the kind of underlying sense of radical optimism you'd have to have to undertake something like that seemed like a good fit."
And Franck came upon news about the construction of City Creek including that the complex in the heart of Salt Lake City had a $2 billion price tag.
"I was, like, 'Here's a group that will drop a couple billion dollars to just have more shopping for people who come to visit the temple,' " Franck said. "And I thought, 'Well, if you're building a trillion-dollar spaceship 300 years in the future, who's going to have the money and the institutional will to do that? It's the Mormons.' "
The ship was, quite appropriately, christened the Nauvoo the name of the city the Mormons were driven out of in Illinois before they crossed the Plains. And there's an enormous statue of the Angel Moroni mounted on one end of the vessel.
"Part of that ship would have to be a temple, right?" Franck said.
To be clear, Mormons are not portrayed unsympathetically in either the books or on the TV series.
"Absolutely not," Abraham said. "We didn't come into it to make fun of the Mormons. That was never the intention."
Latter-day Saints are not the butt of jokes; there are no references to polygamy; there are no hypocritical Mormons who violate their own beliefs.
So ... none of the Hollywood tropes.
"I have a number of friends who are Mormon," Franck said. "I've been around them enough to see the not-punchline version of them."
And it's not exactly a great leap to think that, hundreds of years from now, members of the LDS Church would be looking to colonize their own planet.
"It just made sense," Abraham said, "at least to us."
Because of events that have nothing to do with the LDS Church or any of its members, the plans for the colony ship don't work out. The Nauvoo has another destiny, and several books later (and far in the future of the TV series) another possibility for colonizing planets emerges.
Abraham and Franck are writing the seventh in the planned nine-book "Expanse" series, and they don't rule out the possibility that the Mormons still might end up with a planet of their own.
"A lot of people will," Abraham said with a laugh. "There's a lot of people out there, and land rushes are well precedented."
New episodes of "The Expanse" air Wednesdays on Syfy 8 p.m. on DirecTV and Dish; 11 p.m. on Comcast.
To date, six "Expanse" novels have been published: "Leviathan Wakes," "Caliban's War," "Abaddon's Gate," "Cibola Burn," "Nemesis Games" and "Babylon's Ashes." The seventh,"Persepolis Rising," is tentatively scheduled to be published later this year. What the LDS Church says
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in one of its online essays about the faith's history and theology, dismisses the popular notion that Mormons believe they will rule their own worlds.
"Latter-day Saints' doctrine of exaltation is often ... reduced in media to a cartoonish image of people receiving their own planets," the essay states. "While few Latter-day Saints would identify with caricatures of having their own planet, most would agree that the awe inspired by creation hints at our creative potential in the eternities."