When she was little, the stars were always a source of delight and wonder. Now they seemed punishing. Worst of all was the black between the stars. This negation of light. This void of nothingness seemed eager to see her destroyed, to wipe her utterly from existence.

The above quote is one of the best from Steven L. Peck’s new novel: The Tragedy of King Leere, Goatherd of the La Sals. It sheds light on one of his better characters, Ellie, a young person struggling to survive the devastating aftermath of an old patriarch’s reign. From BCC Press, Peck’s story is a futuristic adaptation of Shakespeare’s King Lear. This new version takes place in Utah’s haunting La Sal mountains following a climate catastrophe. The resulting plot is a rustic mix of sci-fi, family drama, and lyrical romance.

King Lear is one of Shakespeare’s masterpieces, centering around an aging patriarch who divides his kingdom among his three daughters. Loyal friends and cunning foes position themselves to fill the power gap as the king’s mental stability fails. Having read the play and seen two world-class productions on video, I am convinced when King Lear is done well, it is as good as Shakespeare gets. [1]

I recommend Peck’s adaption as a work of science fiction, less so as a Shakespeare adaptation. Peck trims all the fat off of Shakespeare’s play, but he also trims off some of the meat. He does so to make room for showy prose and elaborate sci-fi elements: genetically-engineered animals; an increasingly self-aware battle droid named Kent; and a near-future Earth where drastic climate change has occurred. He also employs a daemon narrator who frames the story in the grand cosmos of Joseph Smith’s Restoration scripture. In some respects, the novel feels like The Book of Abraham meets Blade Runner.

Peck’s sci-fi elements are fascinating and well-thought-out, reading frighteningly plausible. Plus, as an accomplished scientist and novelist, he’s a bona fide talent, not some untested indie author mooching prestige off a classic. Though the cast of characters feels two-dimensional compared to Shakespeare’s, their story remains gripping and full of spectacle. This is a common trade-off in sci-fi. In one of the best moments, being an instance when both character and theme shine, Leere’s youngest child Delia delivers a powerful speech on the sacredness of the La Sal mountains. Her environmental evangelism sets up a clash with the king which sends the plot careening toward tragedy.

Peck also makes interesting changes to gender and sexual orientation for key characters. Let’s just say this story takes place in a future where “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” must have had some substantial rewrites. Ultimately, Peck makes a compelling case for the relevance of Kings Lear & Leere to contemporary Mormon readers. Through a troubled patriarch, we witness the will of a father swallowed up in the wills of his children. [2]

I’d love to nitpick Peck’s changes to Shakespeare’s play, in particular his choice to have Leere speak in an atrocious, intentionally corrupted form of blank verse. Don’t let that scare you away though. Most of the characters speak normal, and some of the speechifying is as riveting as the Bard’s original. Part of the fun of updating Shakespeare is tinkering with the dramatic DNA, generating new life and meaning from old material. Peck clearly has fun adapting the original. As with Lear, Leere’s tragic story also comes with passion and humor.

Bottom line: you don’t need to be a Shakespeare aficionado to enjoy this book. It’s an exciting, brisk-paced tale. Thematically, with regard to our planet and our patriarchy, the novel is quite thought-provoking. Head to Amazon to read a free sample. The Tragedy of King Leere, Goatherd of the La Sals is available in both paperback and Kindle eBook formats.

Questions for Discussion:

Have you or will you read this book? If so, what are your thoughts on the novel?

What Shakespeare plays do you feel have particular relevance for Mormons? Why?

[1] To refresh my memory, last week I rented King Lear, produced in 2015 by the Stratford Festival and filmed in HD before a live audience. It stars Colm Feore, who is as good a Shakespeare leading man as I’ve ever seen. There are many other versions available on and offline, starring the likes of James Earl Jones, Ian McKellen, and Anthony Hopkins. Everybody wants to play Lear.

[2] As opposed to the Book of Mormon, specifically Mosiah 15:7.