Thursday, October 15, 2009

Medical Authorities Take Over the Government in Stewards of the Flame by Sylvia Engdahl (GIVEAWAY)

Joining us today is Sylvia Engdahl, author of the science fiction novel Stewards of the Flame. Read this guest post and then follow the instructions at the end on how to enter to win a copy of this book.

When burned-out starship captain Jesse Sanders is seized by a dictatorial medical regime and detained on the colony planet Undine, he has no idea that he is about to be plunged into a bewildering new life that will involve ordeals and joys beyond anything he has ever imagined, as well as the love of a woman with powers that seem superhuman. Still less does he suspect that he must soon take responsibility for the lives of people he has come to care about and the preservation of their hopes for the future of humankind.

This controversial novel—winner of a bronze medal in the 2008 Independent Publisher (IPPY) book awards—deals with government-imposed health care, with end-of-life issues, and with the so-called paranormal powers of the human mind. Despite being set in the distant future on another world, it’s not intended just for science fiction fans. Blogcritics said, “The story is compelling, and drew me in from the first few pages. . . . Stewards of the Flame is a thought-provoking novel that may make you question the authority and direction of modern Western medical practices. I recommend it to anyone who enjoys reading genre fiction with some substance to it.”

"Government Controlled Health Care to the 10th Degree" by Sylvia Engdahl

Are you wondering how far government control of health care might go in the future society? In Stewards of the Flame, I carried it to its ultimate logical conclusion: a world in which medical authorities have taken over the government completely, leaving citizens no trace of personal freedom. There are no officials other than the hospital administrators, no police but the ambulance crews -- all crime is considered illness and untreated illness is considered crime. Unhealthy behavior is against the law. Even death is not allowed; bodies are maintained in stasis forever after minds cease to exist. The story is necessarily set in the distant future on a planet colonized by settlers from Earth. But although that makes the novel science fiction, it’s not meant just for sci-fi fans.

I have been disturbed for many years by the increasing involvement of government in personal health care decisions. Now, since the novel was written, this has become a timely issue. But I find that most of the people who oppose current proposals for the government to control health care aren’t worried for the same reasons I am. They are afraid that we won’t get enough medical care, that what we need will be denied us; whereas I am afraid that we will get too much. Certainly taxpayers will pay for too much, but that’s not the main issue. The issue, in my opinion, is that unnecessary health care and medication does more harm than good. It leads not to less illness, but to more. Furthermore, any attempt by the government to impose treatment where it’s not wanted is a violation of individual rights. If you think this isn’t beginning to happen, take a look at some of the real-life examples on the “background information” pages of my website at

It’s easy for government policy to slide from a genuine concern for people’s welfare toward an interest in maintaining power. As one of the characters in Stewards of Flame says, “Whenever health authorities succeed in overcoming some actual problem, such as contagion, they are left with a bureaucracy that must justify its existence by medicalizing more and more aspects of simply being human. Where it’s combined with the natural tendency of government to encroach on personal liberty, that process has been unrestrained.” But the underlying problem cannot be blamed entirely on government power-seekers. In the story, the voters have established the laws under which they live democratically through fear of illness and misconceived placement of health considerations above all other human values -- and this, I fear, is all too realistic a scenario.

I don’t see any way to reverse this trend once it’s established, although as one reviewer said, in the story it’s carried to reductio ad absurdum lengths. The countermeasures my protagonists use are also exaggerated for the sake of drama, and in any case are not available to us today. I believe they someday will be, for my view of the future is a basically optimistic one. In the meantime, I hope the book will cause readers to stop and think.

Sylvia Engdahl is best known as the author of highly-acclaimed Young Adult science fiction novels, one of which was a Newbery Honor book and a finalist for the 2002 Book Sense Book of the Year in the Rediscovery category. However, her trilogy Children of the Star, originally written for teens, was republished as adult SF, and she is now writing fiction only for adults.

Engdahl is a strong advocate of space colonization and has maintained a widely-read space section of her website for many years. She lives in Eugene, Oregon, and currently works as a freelance editor of nonfiction anthologies.

More information about Stewards of the Flame, the topics with which it deals, and its newly-released sequel can be found at Her main website is at


"Grips the attention with the raw immediacy of the problems. . . . An inquiry and commentary on the nature of what it is to be human, and where evolution can take us from here. It asks the sort of questions only SF can pose, and paints a vivid picture of where failing to answer those questions might lead. . . . Stewards is the kind of SF I've been craving!" --Jacqueline Lichtenberg, Monthly Aspectarian, June 2008

"Stewards of the Flame is a brave book, and the numbers of those holding to the sentiments it conveys are growing. While the novel portrays extreme measures taken to prolong life to reductio ad absurdum lengths, it can’t be faulted for challenging our comfort zone, when after all, that is one sure measure of worthwhile fiction."
--Carlos Aranaga, ScifiDimensions, February 2008


1) Comment here with your working email address so that we can contact you if you win.

2) Get one additional entry for blogging about this contest. Leave a comment here telling us where you blogged about it.

3) Get two additional entries for tweeting about this contest. Don't forget to let us know here that you tweeted!

This giveaway will run from today until 11:59 p.m.(Eastern) on October 31st. A winner will be announced in early November.

This contest is open to all residents of the United States and Canada.


Jacqueline Lichtenberg said...

I'm currently about a third of the way through PROMISE OF THE FLAME, the sequel to STEWARDS.

It did strike me that the FLAME novels' premise is incredibly timely.

Both novels ask questions by presenting outrageously extreme positions sincerely believed in by the protagonists and explained in earnest detail.

In general the way PROMISE OF THE FLAME asks our society "the next question" reminds me of Theodore Sturgeon (who contributed Amok Time to Star Trek The Original Series), and Robert A. Heinlein combined.

There's a hint of MOON IS A HARSH MISTRESS and maybe even STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND, though Engdahl's philosophical material is totally different and much more modern than either author's.

Both books introduce new readers who wouldn't ever want to read science fiction to a way of thinking about the world that challenges the issues that are so big we can't see them.

Marion Zimmer Bradley defined the issue that is working out in fiction (on TV, in Movies, and in books) with a conflict between the Magical or ESP view of the universe and the scientific view of the universe.

Engdahl remixes and updates all 3 of those authors, Sturgeon, Heinlein and Bradley, in this new approach that ought to be required reading in University philosophy courses.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg
Dushau Trilogy now on Kindle

Anonymous said...

this book sounds facinating...count me in...thanks.

karen k

CherylS22 said...

What a timely subject. I'd love to read this book - please count me in!

Thanks ~ megalon22{at}yahoo{dot}com

Nancye said...

This looks like n interesting book.

nancyecdavis AT bellsouth DOT net

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Nancye said...

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