Science fiction writer William Shunn is at long last releasing his memoir, The Accidental Terrorist, in book form. Revised and expanded from his popular podcast, it tells the story of how he was expelled from Canada for terrorism as a young Mormon missionary.
He's taking pre-orders now for a signed hardcover edition that will ship at least a month before the retail version hits shelves. And when you buy, you can also create and display your own Accidental Terrorist missionary name tag to show your support.
Mormon missionaries. We've all seen them: well-scrubbed young men in suits and ties, biking down our streets two by two, knocking on doors with a message of faith and repentance. Some of us have even invited them into our homes and listened to their testimony of an angel who brought new scripture to a simple 19th-century farm boy named Joseph Smith. There are 60,000 of these missionaries posted around the globe, forsaking home and worldly pursuits for two years apiece. But as familiar a sight as they are, how many of us know what their lives are really like—or far they'll go to preserve and defend their faith?
William Shunn knows, having served a Mormon mission in Canada, and he's not afraid to tell in this witty, ribald, and thought-provoking memoir. He takes us back to his youth in Reagan-era Utah, where the pressures of family and community combine to push him and his friends out of the nest at the tender age of nineteen—and into a world where movies, music, and girls are off-limits, seventy-hour weeks are the norm, and everyone's first name is "Elder."
With refreshing candor, Shunn recounts the rites of passage every new missionary undergoes: the unsettling oaths of the Salt Lake temple, the boot-camp atmosphere of the Missionary Training Center, the culture shock and camaraderie he finds on his first field assignment in Alberta. He writes frankly of his homesickness and doubt, and of the startling hypocrisies among his fellow laborers that send him AWOL in the days after Christmas. Intercepted by church officials in Montana, he returns to Canada for an ill-fated rehabilitation—which leads directly to his arrest in Calgary on charges of terrorism.
Along the way, he weaves his own story with that of Joseph Smith, Mormonism's charismatic founder, a martyr whose remarkable accomplishments are evident in the thriving religion he left as his legacy. Shunn draws insightful parallels between his arrest and imprisonment and Smith's many brushes with the law, and the two narratives come thrillingly together as both men face the judgment of their peers, one in a Canadian court of law, and the other at the hands of a frontier mob. And though Smith and his church do not emerge unscathed, the most rigorous scrutiny of all is reserved for the author himself.
The Accidental Terrorist is the first book to pierce—not to mention deflate—the veil of mystery shrouding those deceptively earnest preachers of the Mormon faith. With an unsparing eye William Shunn paints not an idealized portrait of constant disciples, but a tumultuous canvas filled with flesh-and-blood boys wrestling the greatest questions of existence. A tough but good-humored dissection of the making of religious fanatics, and a tour-de-force of self-examination, The Accidental Terrorist illustrates the high jinks and hazards that result when curious young minds submit to the straitjacket of blind faith. It's a journey unlike any you've ever read.
Please help me "Close the Book" on my memoir project! [William Shunn/The Accidental Terrorist]