Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Now Available -- my brand new novel Defender of the Flame.

While this novel completes the trilogy begun with Stewards of the Flame and Promise of the Flame, it is an entirely independent story set two hundred years later, shortly after the Epilogue of Promise of the Flame, and it can be read alone. Like the first two books of the trilogy, it is not a YA book and is not appropriate for middle-school readers. (If you're wondering why, please read the Flame Trilogy FAQ.) However, it will be of interest to grownups who have enjoyed Enchantress from the Stars and The Far Side of Evil, as it deals with some of the same themes.

Friday, July 13, 2012

It has been nearly three years since I posted in this blog, and it's now evident that I'll never have time to maintain it. But I will leave it online, as what it does contain is still current and may lead some new readers to my books and/or my website.

I do maintain my website, www.sylviaengdahl.com, which I've recently updated with some design changes.  My commentary on many subject is available there -- especially on space and on the subjects connected with my adult novels. So please visit.

One last piece of news here: I have just published paperback and ebook editions of my nonfiction book The Planet-Girded Suns: The History of Human Thought About Extrasolar Worlds, with a new Afterword titled Confronting the Universe in the Twenty-First Century (republished in The Space Review) that will interest all space advocates. Full information about the book is at www.sylviaengdahl.com/pgs.htm, so take a look!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Virtual Book Tour

I'll be making a virtual book tour to promote Stewards of the Flame during the month of October. There will be guest posts, interviews, or reviews at each of these, so please visit and leave a comment! At some of them there'll be a chance for you to win a free copy.

Monday, October 5 - The Hot Author report (spotlight)
Tuesday, October 6 - The Hot Author report (guest post)
Wednesday, October 7 - The Hot Author report (interview)
Thursday, October 8 - Marta's Meanderings
Friday, October 9 - The Fantasy Pages
Monday, October 12 - The Story Behind the Book
Tuesday, October 13 - The Writer's Life
Wednesday, October 14 - Just Me
Thursday - October 15 - The Book Connection
Friday, October 16 - Café of Dreams
Monday, October 19 - The Plot
Tuesday, October 20 - The Plot (character interview)
Wednesday, Ocober 21 - Inky Blots
Thursday, October 22 - The Book Rack
Monday, October 26 - Beth's Book Review
Tuesday, October 27 - As the Pages Turn
Wednesday, October 28 - Morbid Romantic
Thursday, October 29 - If You Can't Say Something Nice



Thursday, October 1, 2009

Sequel to Stewards of the Flame Now Available!


Hello, after a long absence! I didn't intend to abandon this blog, but I simply haven't had time for it between the work I do for income, which has many tight deadlines, and finishing the sequel to Stewards of the Flame. It's called Promise of the Flame, and it has just been published.

It can be obtained at Amazon.com and signed copies are available from me at www.stewardsoftheflame.com. I'm not sure if it will be available anywhere else, as I have changed POD companies. I have also created my own imprint, Ad Stellae Books, which appears as the publisher both on Promise and on a new edition of Stewards, which is formatted to match. (The are a little smaller in size than the original edition and are printed on off-white paper.) The price has also been lowered; they are $17.50 each and I'm offering a 20% discount plus free shipping at my own site.

Any description of the story of Promise of the Flame would be a spoiler for Stewards of the Flame, as it would necessarily reveal the ending of Stewards -- so I won't give one here. There is a link at www.stewardsoftheflame.com you can click to see the description and a short excerpt, if you have already read Stewards -- or if you have chosen not to read it because its controversial medical theme doesn't appeal to you. Promise of the Flame doesn't include that aspect and can be read separately without any knowledge of the preceding book's plot. If you are interested in space colonies or in the so-called paranormal powers of the human mind, I think you will like it.

Friday, May 9, 2008

IPPY Award




Stewards of the Flame has just been named a semifinalist for the 2008 Independent Publishers Book Award (IPPY) in the Visionary Fiction category.

I have always described the book as part science fiction and part visionary fiction, but comparatively few readers know what visionary fiction is and science fiction readers who associate that label exclusively with "New Age" ideas are sometimes turned off by it. So though I thought readers of visionary fiction who don't usually read science fiction would like the book, I wasn't sure whether or not it had been wise to use the term in publicity. Now I'm glad I did!

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I see I never updated this post! Stewards of the Flame did win a bronze medal in the 2008 IPPY awards.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Discussion Guide Now Available

A discussion guide for Stewards of the Flame is now available at www.stewardsoftheflame.com. Starting in April, it will also be available at ReadingGroupGuides.com. If you belong to a book club or reading group, or know someone who does, take a look at it. I'm offering a free review copy to the leader of any group that is seriously considering the book.

The questions may also be interesting to you as an individual if you've read the book or are wondering whether you want to read it (there are no spoilers in the guide). And I myself would love to see various answers to the questions, either as comments here or in private e-mail -- I'm always looking for more feedback about the book.

Friday, February 1, 2008

A Book about Psi that Everyone Should Read


The time slipped away from me again! I am doing too many things, I guess, and those that bring in income have to have top priority. I'll try to write here more often. For now, here is another book review: Parapsychology and the Skeptics by Chris Carter.

This fine book fills a pressing need: it's an up-to-date source that can be wholeheartedly recommended to people who are under the impression that belief in so-called "paranormal" phenomena is contrary to science -- both those who are dogmatically convinced that it is, and those who do believe in the existence of psi but feel they should be apologetic about it. I am acquainted with some of each, and I will waste no time in suggesting that they owe it to themselves to read what Chris Carter has to say.

In relatively brief but clear and well-documented chapters, Carter covers the history of psi research, the experimental evidence for psi phenomena, the reasons why skeptics reject this evidence, and the principles of contemporary science with which it is compatible. His discussion is wisely limited to extrasensory perception (telepathy, precognition, and clairvoyance) and psychokinesis (PK, the action of mind on matter). Future books dealing with other, less firmly established, phenomena are planned; separating them not only keeps the coverage within manageable length, but avoids the possibility that aspects of research not dependent on each other will be will judged as a whole, causing some readers to doubt even the unassailable facts of what is now known.

Carter's emphasis on the philosophy of science, and his analysis of modern skeptics' determined resistance to acceptance of evidence that in any other area they would consider conclusive, is particularly valuable. I myself suspect that this resistance goes somewhat deeper than he suggests; my own view, expressed in my fiction, is that it is based not merely on commitment to an obsolete conception of scientific principles that would be upset by recognition of psi, but on an underlying unconscious fear. However, that is simply my personal hypothesis. As the book is about science, it rightly focuses on demonstrable facts and scientific considerations rather than speculation about psychological factors.

My only reservation about this book as an introduction to psi for the uninformed reader is that it fails to make clear the distinction between experimental evidence for psi and psi as it operates in the real world. Although it briefly covers historical reports of real-world psi, the fundamental reason why equally spectacular results are not, and can never be, obtained through controlled experiments may not be grasped by readers whose impression of psychic powers has been gained from pop-culture media. Carter does mention that many people feel that laboratory psi is "somehow different" from real-life psi, but surely that is an understatement. It is generally acknowledged that spontaneous psi experiences are strongly dependent on emotion. That psi exists can be demonstrated scientifically, but its role in human affairs can no more be investigated in a lab setting than can that of love. Furthermore, the extent to which psi occurs spontaneously on an unconscious level, which I believe to be a major factor in that role, cannot be revealed by scientific research of the kind now possible. Whereas these considerations are beyond the scope of the book, I do fear that some readers may be given the impression that the data obtained in laboratories is fully representative of the human mind’s “paranormal” capabilities. The absence of a more detailed description of the very real evidence for controlled clairvoyance obtained through military use of remote viewing (a term not even included in the index) is also unfortunate in this regard. But these omissions do not detract from the overall importance of the book as a refutation of the claim that science rules out psi phenomena. It is indispensable for that purpose and should be required reading for everyone with an interest in the nature of reality.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Nanny State


I can't believe that it's almost New Year's Eve and I haven't written here at all in December -- and only once in November! I don't know where the time has gone. It's not that I don't have spare moments for writing; it's that I can't often let myself pursue the things I'd like to write about. I have a one-track mind, and if I turn away from a freelance job with a deadline, I tend to get sidetracked on whatever I've turned to. And so I try not to interrupt my work. But I do want to keep blogging, and doing so more often will be my New Year's resolution.

I rarely have much chance to read nowadays, and small fonts are harder on my aging eyes than the computer screen. Furthermore, I have two large cats that will not share my lap with a book, and after forcing them to allow me the use of my keyboard throughout most of my waking hours, I'm unwilling give a book precedence over them. So my hours of reading are few and far between. I do, however, occasionally finish a book that particularly impresses me. The most recent is Nanny State: How Food Fascists, Teetotaling Do-Gooders, Priggish Moralists, and Other Boneheaded Bureaucrats Are Turning America into a Nation of Children by David Harsanyi.

Nanny State is a wonderful book that should be read by everyone who objects to government intrusion into private lives. If any of you have been thinking that the trend carried to extremes in Stewards of the Flame is nothing to really worry about, read Nanny State and ponder how far we've already come along that road. Harsanyi doesn't deal specifically with health issues, except in the case of laws prohibiting personal choices about seatbelts, smoking, and now even food. But what he describes reveals the handwriting on the wall. It's not just that officials make silly laws, although as we all know, they do, and my personal opinion is that the medical do-gooders are the most dangerous to our freedom. (As I said in my own book, "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.") The truly appalling thing is that the voters, indoctrinated by the sensation-seeking media, let them do it -- that in Harsanyi's words, "Government, with the help an an infinitesimal minority of busybodies, has twisted the public's arm into obedience." Most people are not even aware of the extent to which our liberty is being given up.

The book's epigraph is a quotation from C.S. Lewis: "Of all tyrannies a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience." Think about that.

Friday, November 9, 2007

New Video Trailer

I just finished creating a video trailer for Stewards of the Flame -- most fun I've had in a long time! I had never tried working with video before; I'd been vaguely aware that software for movie making came with Windows, but had assumed it was useful only for people with camcorders, and had never even opened the program. But then I noticed how many authors are paying large sums for the creation of book trailers using stills, and decided to find out how to make my own. I was amazed at how easy it is! I spent a lot of time hunting for just the right pictures at a stock photo site (the same site where I got the cover photo for the book; I had some download credits left) and then hunting for appropriate music at a royalty-free music site and editing the track to fit the video length. But the actual creation of the video took hardly any time after I learned to use the software.

So here it is. It has lots of pictures to suggest the nature of the story. Please let me know what you think!

If you don't have a fast enough Internet connection for streaming video, you can see the pictures as stills.

P.S. If you'd like to embed the video on your own site, see my instructions in the comments here on where to find the code.


video

Friday, October 26, 2007

Do We Need a New Category for Non-Genre Fiction?

I wish I could figure out some way make new readers who'd be interested in Stewards of the Flame aware of its existence! It will have reviews; though print publications won't review any books they have not received at least three months prior to publication, I have sent review copies to a number of Web review sites. The difficulty is that such sites group everything by genre, and there is no place they can put this book except under science fiction. I fear that most of the readers apt to like the book never browse the science fiction section. So they won't discover it. There are already several nice reader reviews at Amazon, but these won't be seen except by people who specifically search for the book, or for my name. I've been unable to come up with a solution to this problem. It's inherent in the "genre" system, which I have always felt put needless barriers between readers and books they would enjoy.

There are a lot of people who care about the issues this book deals with -- society's medical policy, government interference with free choice, mind-body healing, peaceful dying, personal liberty, the untapped power of the human mind -- but how can I publicize it to them? it's unlikely that many have come across this blog. It is often said that blogging is democratic because it gives anybody who wants to communicate to the public a platform to do so, but as a practical matter, there are millions of blogs and it would be impossible for many of them to attract significant numbers of readers. There aren't enough hours in the day for a person to read more than a fraction of the blogs that he or she might find interesting.

As for paid advertising, that has to be targeted, which I suppose is why publishers issue books by genre in the first place. In short, it is not surprising that books that don't fit neatly into genres aren't wanted by publishers. There would be no way a publisher could reach the prospective readers of such a book, any more than an individual author can. But it's frustrating.

As a reader as well as a writer, I feel a need for a venue through which books that fall outside standard genre classification could be made visible. Do we need a category of non-genre books? It is not quite the same thing as "mainstream," which has come to imply contemporary fiction and would generally be assumed to exclude novels about the distant future. Yet surely there must be some fiction that like mine, just can't be given any label that would enable its largest potential audience to locate it.

Friday, October 19, 2007

What Is Natural Death?

Most of us have a good idea of what we mean by "natural death," yet the term has become somewhat difficult to define. According to pathologists, "A natural death is a death that results from a natural disease process, distinct from a death that results from accident or violence." But nowadays death from disease is rarely allowed to be natural; it is artificially prolonged by drugs and/or machines and in the eyes not only of medical professionals but of most patients and families, it results from medical measures' failure. It can hardly be said that someone who has spent his or her last hours in an ICU, as pictured on the page about death at www.stewardsoftheflame.com, has died naturally.

The fundamental premise of Stewards of the Flame is that the the logical culmination of this trend would be to deny death entirely, assuming that the machines were "improved" to the point of keeping mindless bodies functioning indefinitely -- and that this would be a very bad thing. Natural death, in my opinion, is death resulting from the normal shutting down of the body when the unconscious mind is ready to die. It happens to everyone, if no accident or acute disease strikes prematurely, as long as the process is not thwarted by interference with the body in the way all too common today. I am aware that this view is termed "deathism" by the proponents of technological life extension, some of whom fervently believe that physical immortality is just around the corner. I don't think it's going to turn out that way. I think people will go on dying in old age (older than the present maximum) no matter what technology does to repair their bodies.

The life-extension enthusiasts admit that people might get bored in time and say that in that case, they could kill themselves. I have personally known people who say this. And of course, the issue of assisted suicide for the terminally ill is a major controversy today. I live in Oregon, where assisted suicide is legal, so I hear a good deal about it. I fear that if such a choice is legitimatized and becomes common, some people will choose to hasten death merely to spare their families the physical and financial burden of caring for them, and eventually those of us without families may be subtly discouraged from continuing to receive care at the expense of the taxpayers. This situation would not exist if high-tech intervention were not automatically employed early in the course of illness which, in the case of an elderly person, is inevitably going to be fatal.

There has been a lot of discussion in the past few decades about the pointless and often cruel way in which people are routinely treated in their last months of life, and many calls for reform. But though the solution -- hospice care -- is now available, comparatively few people take advantage of it. Many are simply unaware that it exists. Others, or their families, are so conditioned by our culture's denial of death that they believe rejecting futile treatment is tantamount to suicide, or at best an abandonment of "hope." In my novel, the forced prolongation of pseudo-life is not arbitrarily imposed by the medical authorities that run the planet; it is a law supported by the people, who do not want to admit that they are mortal. I suspect this is a realistic assumption about what would happen. The vast majority of Americans polled say that they want to die at home, not in a hospital; yet they end up in hospitals all the same. Continuation of treatment is not compulsory, yet most don't contest the medical establishment's imposition of it, perhaps because don't know that they can -- that there are better alternatives -- or perhaps because society as a whole offers no support for the idea that the natural ending of life need not involve suffering. Unfortunately, the only thing likely to bring about widespread change is the financial impossibility of providing high-tech terminal care to an aging population.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Sample Chapters Are Now Online


The first few chapters of Stewards of the Flame are now online at www.stewardsoftheflame.com. Scroll down the main page and you'll find the link just above the box for ordering signed copies. I decided that when major authors such as Dean Koontz are posting sample chapters from their new books, I had better do the same. So now you can get an idea of whether you'll like the book -- though I'm not sure if the sample is representative, as the tone changes somewhat as the story progresses. Jesse Sanders is getting into something much bigger, and more dangerous, than he guesses at the beginning.

It's a controversial book, of course. Not everybody is going to agree with its premises. Some may not consider the extreme to which medical dominance has been carried in the colony of the story a bad thing -- after all, in every respect but one, it's not very far beyond where we're headed today. I suspect the only thing that will keep us from such an extreme will be lack of funding. It is ironic that in our own world, where many sick people cannot afford medical care they need, many healthy ones -- certainly the majority among the affuent -- get "health care" that in my opinion is not only unnecessary but damaging.

Dr. Eugene Robin, who was a professor at Stanford Medical School, wrote a book in 1984 titled Matters of Life and Death which in its paperback edition was retitled Medical Care Can Be Dangerous to Your Health. It is unfortunately out of print; I got my copy years ago at a used book sale. But it should be required reading both for doctors and for the general public; if you ever come across a copy, grab it. His obituary in the New York Times says that it was widely used in weighing the risks and benefits of treatments; if so, we have moved quite a bit since the 80s in the direction of my fictional society.

Stewards of the Flame is also controversial in other respects. Transhumanists, who believe the aim of medical science should be to prolong human life to the extent of eventual immortality, are not going to like it. While I support some goals of transhumanism, I feel that one is misguided -- which is not to say I don't think they should be free to pursue whatever research they think will lead to its achievement, but I'm quite sure that it's neither a desirable achievement nor a possible one. If someday humans do become immortal, then I'm wrong not only about that, but about my whole view of the human condition, which personally I don't consider a pessimistic view.

Finally, people who don't want to believe in the "paranormal" (which isn't dealt with the sample chapters) won't enjoy the story. But I think there are plenty of readers out there who do want to believe in it, even among those who think it's all as fictional as some of my far-out extrapolations on what is known of ESP today.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Heresy in Medicine

The dogmatic medical establishment in Stewards of the Flame is assumed to be monolithic, with no deviance from the official view on any health issue except on the part of the protagonists -- several of whom are doctors -- who reject it in its entirety. In our own much larger and more heterogeneous society, where supposedly freedom of opinion prevails, there is much less uniformity of opinion, right? Wrong! Yes, there is controversy about the details of effective treatment, but very little on the major issues. Doctors are free to express differing views and a few of them do, but for the most part nobody listens, at least nobody who counts as far as determining what is likely to happen to the average patient is concerned.

There is, to be sure, wide attention given to complementary medicine (which is used along with conventional medicine) and alternative medicine (which is used in place of it). A recent survey showed that 36 percent of adult Americans use some form of one or the other. These are considered heretical by the medical establishment, which has succeeded in getting them excluded by law from the recognition and financial benefits accorded to medical practitioners by the government. However, they are not what I mean here by the word. I don't include them in my discussion because I personally don't think they have any healing effect apart from activating the self-healing powers of the mind in people who believe literally in the metaphorical explanations they offer for their success. That, of course, is no small achievement, and I certainly support people's right to have access to such practices without government interference. But I don't use them myself.

The difficulty is that it is very hard to find material that's critical of conventional medicine that doesn't also promote alternative medicine of one kind or another. There are many books and innumerable Web pages that challenge prevailing views of orthodox treatment, but they turn out to argue for herbal remedies, nutritional supplements, and so forth -- in many cases they are actually selling them, which is a case of the pot calling the kettle black when they complain about the pharmaceutical companies' motives for promoting prescription drugs. Few if any writers are willing to declare that "standard" medicine often does more harm than good without offering some alternate cure. In the case of the books, this is understandable, because ordinarily publishers don't issue such books; they don't sell well. The public wants to be told how to preserve, or regain, health. Doctors want to treat people; they couldn't go on practicing if they lost faith in treatment's effectiveness. I myself -- and I think many other individuals who avoid the health care system -- believe that it is better to do nothing about a health problem than to do the wrong thing. This is definitely a minority view, and is rarely expressed.

I go to doctors only when I have a serious illness for which there is an effective treatment. This has happened several times in the past and I have received excellent care; I don't doubt the skill and dedication of those who provided it. Recently (since writing the book) I have developed a condition for which there is some medication that's the lesser of evils, and other medication and procedures that in my opinion are not, and which I have therefore refused, resulting in an endless succession of arguments with various doctors who assumed I was either stupid or uninformed. Admittedly, I can't talk as well as I write, and I look like a typical senior citizen who's indeed uninformed, so I've tried not to take this patronizing attitude personally. I know that these doctors meant well. It's frustrating, however, to deal with a system in which the average physician is not even aware of any position but the one adopted as "standard" -- either is afraid of being sued for not adhering to it, or hasn't had time to investigate the published challenges by qualified medical professionals that do exist.

For a long list of books by medical professionals and investigative journalists that challenge medical dogma, visit stewardsoftheflame.com.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

The 50th Anniversary of Sputnik


I'm a couple of days late in commenting on the 50th anniversary of Sputnik. To my own dismay I've realized I was too busy to think about it, although the historical significance of humankind's first venture into space cannot, in my opinion, be overestimated -- and as I've said often before, the launch of Sputnik struck me at the time as providential. I'd then believed for quite a while (and still believe, despite the long hiatus) that putting human energy toward the effort of getting into space is the only way of averting a catastrophic global war. I suppose I overlooked the date this week because after more than 50 years of focusing on the importance of space, I have become disillusioned by our lack of progress toward establishment of a permanent presence on other worlds. But in a way I am glad that I didn't post about the anniversary sooner, for I now have the opportunity to comment on the excellent op-ed by Charles Krauthammer in today's Washington Post (also syndicated elsewhere, including my local newspaper).

"We had no idea how lucky we were with Sputnik," Krauthammer says, and goes on to point out that it led not only to Apollo and the moon, but to to other major technological advances such as ARPANET, which became the Internet, and to the establishment of the principle that orbital space is not national territory. But the main point of his op-ed is something less widely recognized, something that I myself fully grasped only a year ago, and commented upon in an article at my website which is now also included among the reports at the Lifeboat Foundation. The public's lack of willingness to proceed with space exploration is not mere apathy. It is fear, I suggested, "that has been holding the majority back, not conscious fear, but the stirring of an unconscious recognition that the universe is very much vaster, and more scary, than most people like to think."

Before Sputnik, Krauthammer points out, "We always assumed that one step would create the hunger for the next -- ever outward from Earth orbit to the moon to Mars and beyond. Not so. It took only 12 years to go from Sputnik to the moon, which we jumped about on for a brief interlude and then, amazingly, abandoned. There are technological, budgetary and political reasons to explain this. But the most profound is psychological." Those of us with enthusiam for space and a longing to see humankind venture further have been slow to realize this, as for us, the attitude predominant in our society is hard to understand. And yet Krauthammer is right when he says that the famous photo "Earthrise" did not just spur the environmental movement. "With surpassing irony," he observes, "it created at the very dawn of the space age a longing not for space but for home."

"This is perhaps to be expected for a 200,000-year-old race of beings leaving its crib for the first time," he declares. And it is, of course. It's surprising, I guess, that we did not expect it, and have interpreted it as a discouraging sign that humankind may be doomed to eventual extinction through dependence on the limited resources of a single world. To accept the thought of long delay isn't easy for those of us who are no longer young enough to see society's outlook change within our own lifetime. Yet I hope and believe that Krauthammer is also right when he concludes, "We will, however, outgrow that fear. It was 115 years from Columbus to the Jamestown colony. It will take about that same span of time for a new generation -- ours is too bound to Earth -- to go out and not look back."

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Neurofeedback Is Now in Common Use

When I started writing Stewards of the Flame some years ago, primitive EEG biofeedback was popular, and I based my idea of the mind training in the story on an expanded conception of it. When I returned to the book in 2005, I discovered the term "neurofeedback" had become current, so I changed to that word. I didn't change anything in my treatment of the process, which I envisioned as involving more advanced technology than mere EEG input and more sophisticated software than exists today. But I'm fascinated to see that we're already a good deal further along in the use of neurofeedback than I guessed we'd be in this era, largely because of the combination of feedback with computer graphics.

Neurofeedback is an extremely promising form of therapy, now commonly used with children who have ADHD or autism and with adults for such problems as epilepsy and migraine headaches. It is also used to enhance concentration, and thus performance, by people in many fields, from athletes and business executives to NASA pilots. The Web has many sites maintained by clinics or individual psychologists who are promoting their services; Googling "neurofeedback" brings up over 500,000 hits.

So far, neurofeedback has used only EEG (brain wave) input. But a few companies are beginning to experiment with the use of functional MRI brain scanning. For more information about this, see the "Mental Control of Pain" heading at www.stewardsoftheflame.com (I don't want to go into it here, as it might be too much of a spoiler for the story). Pain control is not the only potential use of fMRI, however. According to the New York Times, "Omneuron is also researching treatments for addiction, depression and other psychological illnesses.... The company has contemplated 'several dozen applications,' including the treatment of stroke and epilepsy. Brain scanning could even be used to improve athletic performance." Several other companies are planning to use it for lie detection.

Functional MRI is an exciting new technology that permits the action of the brain to be actually seen in real time. However, today's MRI scanners are not practical tools for widespread use in applications like these. An MRI machine is very large, very noisy, and requires the subject to remain absolutely still for a long period of time. And it cannot be used, or even approached, by anyone who has any sort of metal implant such as a pacemaker -- or according to some accounts, even a microchip -- because of the strong magnetic field. So it's a long way from the sort of neurofeedback used by my characters. But after all, the story takes place far in the future; considering how fast miniaturization of technology has progressed during just the past few decades, it's reasonable to suppose that brain scanning could be accomplished with mere helmets in an era when interstellar travel is routine.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

ESP and Other Psi Powers Are Real

There is no doubt whatsoever that so-called "paranormal" abilities such as ESP exist. This has been proven over and over again by responsible scientific investigation, as explained in the many books listed at stewardsoftheflame.com, quite apart from the extensive evidence from human history. But the issue is generally confused by all the other things, often silly things, associated in the popular mind with the terms "paranormal," "psychic," and "parapsychology," and by the use of the word "supernatural" in connection with psi phenomena. Those that are real aren't in any sense supernatural; they are simply human (and in some cases animal) capabilities that we don't yet understand.

Properly speaking, parapsychology is the scientific, usually academic, study of psi: that is, extrasensory perception (ESP) -- telepathy, clairvoyance (now often called remote viewing), and precognition -- and psychokinesis (PK). It generally does not involve investigation of ghosts, although some scientists do include the question of survival after death, which I personally consider a separate issue, within its purview.

Skeptics are fond of pointing out that many people who claim to be psychics are frauds. Of course they are; but there is, after all, plenty of fraud in other areas. This does not mean that no one has real psi abilities. We do not stop buying cars because some used car salesmen are crooks, nor do we distrust stockbrokers in general because some of them sell phony stocks. Genuine psychics with conscious control of their powers are rare, to be sure; most psi occurs unconsciously. In my opinion unconscious psi has been, and still is, vastly more prevalent than anyone imagines and has had a major impact on human history. Why isn't this recognized? Why do so many otherwise open-minded people, scientists in particular, vehemently reject evidence that in any other context would be indisputable? Kira's explanation on page 187 of Stewards of the Flame seems to me the most likely one.

I believe the conscious development of human psi abilities lies in the future -- that it will be an evolutionary advance, not, as some people think, a return to something lost the past. It's not some abnormal mutation, as in science fiction it's often assumed to be; I believe all human beings have the potential for it, though of course there will always be degrees of talent, just as there are in the case other talents such as art and music. I also believe that for widespread development of psi in a society, it would have to be encouraged from birth onward and children would have to interact continuously with adults who used it. To start with, however, I think a small group composed largely of psi-gifted individuals could make a start, especially if they had the ability to control states of consciousness in general. In my novel, they have strong motives (and innovative methods) for acquiring that ability, and since many of them are indeed psi-gifted, the use of it naturally follows.

To be sure, I have given my characters somewhat more advanced psi gifts than are known to exist at present. This is intended to be taken more as symbolism than as literal prophecy. Since the story is set in the far future, it's reasonable to suppose that advances will have been made -- perhaps not the specific ones I've imagined, but surely manifestations of the power of the human mind. At any rate, my assumption that they will serves to counter the common notion that humans will be surpassed by artificial intelligence, something I personally don't think is ever going to happen.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Abuse of the Mentally Ill


Today many bloggers are posting on the subject of abuse -- whatever type of abuse the individual chooses -- so I will take this opportunity to put my comments on harmful psychiatric treatment here. This is among the worst abuse that occurs in our society because most people don't oppose it, and remain under the impression that what medical authorities do to the mentally ill actually "helps" them.

Some of the things in Stewards of the Flame were drawn from my imagination -- even some of those that have turned out to be closer to reality than I originally knew. This was not the case with my concept of psychiatric treatment. I have long been aware of the damaging nature of today's so-called therapy for mental illness, or alleged mental illness, and have always been strongly opposed to it. My portrayal of it in the story is, if anything, less horrifying than the reality, since there wasn't room to go into much detail. My only exaggeration was in having psychiatric drugs cause permanent brain damage faster than they do at present, simply for plot reasons. Today's drugs are just as bad and for victims who fail to escape the clutches of the orthodox psychiatric establishment, they cause more suffering over a longer period of time.

It may seem incredible that this terrible abuse of the members of society deemed weakest could continue into an era when we travel between the stars. This story is, of course, unrealistically close to today in many respects, because I intentionally write for today's readers in such a way that they will identify with the characters. But I think that given the fundamental premise of the novel -- the total control of society by a medical establishment that focuses wholly on the physical aspect of being human -- it really is inevitable that psychiatry would not have progressed. After all, to me and to many others it's incredible that such abuse goes on here and now. The public at large refuses to believe it. Most people assume, because they want to assume, that psychiatrists with medical degrees must know what's best for their patients, and that even the mentally ill who "don't know they're sick" will benefit from the medication they are usually reluctant to take. This is a prime example of the mentality that wants to impose unwanted care on the helpless "for their own good," and the reason why I fear that my fictional extension of the principle to all health matters is not at all unreasonable. Friends, open your eyes! Today it's the mentally ill who are victimized by well-meant coercion; tomorrow it may be all of us. . . .

There is no point in taking space here to say what's wrong with psychiatric treatment for the sake of readers who may not know, since the links and books listed at StewardsoftheFlame.com make it appallingly clear. Nor can I offer any hope that public awareness can alter today's psychiatric dogma. The public could, however, force abandonment of the worst elements of what currently exists. It could, and must, insist that electroshock -- ECT, or electroconvulsive "therapy" -- be outlawed; there is absolutely no justification for allowing this horrific practice to continue. The surest way of stopping it, short of laws that would take time to get passed, would be to ban the use of federal funds for it (are you really comfortable with the thought that your taxes are now being spent to intentionally inflict brain damage on innocent people?) That is the first priority; but beyond that, sufficient public protest could lead to the elimination of all force in psychiatric hospitalization and/or treatment, except in the case of violent patients who pose a danger to others.

Though on the other hand, perhaps willingness to tolerate unseemly behavior on the part of people who are "different" is too much to expect from the public. At the very least, let's not cling to the illusion that such persons are "better off" if drugged into compliance with society's norms. Let's recognize that forced treatment of the sick serves our convenience, not their welfare, and think very carefully about what precedent we are setting with respect to our own freedom of choice.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Government Intrusion on Medicine, Part 2

Although in America the government cannot force adults to be treated medically (unless they are deemed "mentally ill," a subject I'll discuss later), it can and does force the treatment of children against their parents' wishes. Sometimes, as with vaccination, most states allow exemptions, though parents are generally not informed of this. In other situations, where the life of the child is presumed to be endangered, courts often order treatments that the parents believe will be damaging, and the unfortunate parents must choose between betraying their child's trust and losing custody. This happens not only in cases of religious objection to treatment -- where, tragically, well-meaning parents have too often been convicted of neglect or even murder for avoiding government-approved care -- but in an increasing number of cases of disagreement based on medical controversy. And then there are the millions of children now being given dangerous psychoactive drugs with their parents' full cooperation, merely because schools and school-approved therapists say they should be.

It goes without saying that government control over prescription drugs is a serious restriction on freedom, not only in the sense of freedom from government interference with individual choice, but because it makes those who require medication continuously dependent on the officially-licensed medical establishment. Yet so accustomed are we to this control that most of us aren't even aware that it did not exist until 1938. Before that, Americans could buy whatever drugs they wished, except narcotics; doctors' prescriptions were mere advice, not legal authorization. There are a few people today (and I am one of them) who believe that the present law is wrong -- that the government has no right to dictate what citizens may or may not consume -- and that its power with regard to drugs should be limited to ensuring truth in labeling. But the vast majority are concerned only with whether or not presently-illegal drugs should be legalized, an issue that obscures the real problem. By declaring some drugs too dangerous for public consumption (which indeed they are) the current law promotes the idea that others are both safe and desirable. Yet no drug is "safe"; with few if any exceptions, all have "side" effects that are either risky or downright damaging -- though many are the lesser of evils compared to serious illness. The public is urged to take authorized drugs to relieve every conceivable condition, potential future condition, or discontent -- and then society wonders why some turn to unauthorized ones in pursuit of the same goal. Adults are treated like children, while children are prevented from developing into responsible, self-sufficient adults.

As C. D. Herrera has written, "The state’s close involvement with medical research, education and certification prevents it from being a disinterested spectator . . . [its] close involvement with medicine dictates a particular interpretation of what is in the child’s best interests." I might add that political considerations, not to mention lobbying by the pharmaceutical industry, strongly influence its interpretation of what is in anybody's best interests. Furthermore, as Peter says in Stewards of the Flame, "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." Those of us who care about medical autonomy cannot afford to be complacent.

For links to many articles about government compulsion in medical treatment, go to stewardsoftheflame.com and click through to the background information pages.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Government Intrusion on Medicine, Part 1

In 2006 New York began checking the blood sugar levels of residents with diabetes by requiring medical labs to report test results to the city -- the first time any American government has monitored individuals with a non-contagious disease. The program is justified by its supporters on grounds that money and lives could be saved through intervention in the care of those whose diabetes is poorly controlled. There have been surprisingly few opponents. On the other hand, that's not really surprising; it's strong evidence for the assumption in Stewards of the Flame that most people will voluntarily give up freedom and privacy, and willingly deprive others of it, if told that government action will "save lives" or even simply have "health benefits." I fear this premise of the story is not an exaggeration.

As the New York Sun observed, "Given the complete lack of protest in response to the new mandated diabetes reporting and tracking scheme ... it is highly likely that we will see proposals to mandate reporting of serum cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, and body mass indices, followed by city interventions to prod us into changing our behavior to reduce the risks of heart attack, stroke, and the spectrum of maladies associated with obesity. This new diabetes regulation is, in short, a harbinger of more intrusive legislation to come -- all in the name of 'public health.'"

But surely Americans cannot be forced to submit to unwanted medical care; doesn't the law require informed consent? Yes, and the Supreme Court has ruled that competent adults cannot be treated against their will. But not everyone is aware of this fact. (It was, for instance, ignored in the Academy-Award winning movie Million Dollar Baby, the ending of which depended on the assumed inability of a conscious heroine to reject treatment.) Arrested criminals must be read their rights, but in medical situations people are often simply handed a consent form and told to sign it. Except for surgery, they generally must sign a blanket consent before even being permitted to see a doctor.

Moreover, the law is unclear when it comes to screening, as opposed to treatment; screening programs don't always provide for opting out. In any case, the vast amount of government indoctrination on health matters goes unchallenged and indeed, meets with widespread approval. One of the reasons I make a point of Stewards of the Flame not being suitable for the same readership as my YA novels is that I don't want parents and librarians to think I'm using my position as a well-lnown YA author to undermine this indoctrination among kids. To adults, however, I am quite open about the fact that I disapprove of most of it. What's best for the health of individuals is not a matter for the goverment to decide. It wouldn't be even if it weren't controversial -- and it is; medical experts don't always agree (more on this later under the heading "Heresy in Medicine.") Such decisions depend on personal factors and should not be made by anyone merely on the basis of statistics.

For many more links to articles about government compulsion in medical treatment, go to stewardsoftheflame.com and click through to the background information pages.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Remote Health Monitoring Is Already Here

I wrote the first draft of early portions of Stewards of the Flame many years ago. When I came to revise it and write the rest of the story, I discovered to my surprise that some of what I'd imagined isn't science fiction anymore. In fact, in a few cases reality had surpassed my original imagination and I had to add things (such as the high-tech toilets that transmit health data, which are now on the market in Japan). I'd had no idea of the extent to which remote health monitoring is already being developed, or that monitors now merely wearable will be implantable very soon. Probably the least credible premise in the novel is that in a time when we have starships, these won't be used just as much on Earth as in a colony that carries medical control to excess.

There are many legitimate uses for such monitoring. It will be invaluable for people who live in remote locations, or are too ill to visit medical offices easily, or lack transportation -- in fact, it may eventually be less costly than office visits even for people physically able to make them. And enabling the elderly to stay in their own homes instead of nursing homes is an indisputably desirable goal.

So the coming widespread availability of this technology raises troubling questions. People with chronic illnesses will want it. Ironically, I have recently developed a heart rhythm problem that makes me feel I might benefit from remote monitoring myself. Most certainly I don't want to end up in a nursing home in the future. Yet it's likely that once remote monitoring becomes common, people who are healthy will want to be monitored just in case some illness should develop later. And that would be a large step toward the kind of society portrayed in the story; it's all too easy to imagine the voters deciding that everyone ought to be monitored "for their own good," just as they've passed laws forcing everyone to wear seatbelts.

Furthermore, once a person chooses to be monitored for a specific medical problem, where does it end? I don't want well-meaning healthcare professionals checking up on how my body functions and how I live my life; I want treatment only for conditions I have personally decided that I can't put up with. Most of the discussion about privacy in connection with medical technology centers on whether the data can be made secure against unauthorized dissemination. But I want privacy from doctors, too, except with respect to problems for which I've intentionally sought help.

This issue is particularly serious in the case of very old, or very ill, people who prefer to die naturally rather than on life support in a hospital. In the novel Jesse remarks that such people often refrain from doing anything about terminal illness: "That’s how my great-granddad went, and nobody questioned it, and what he didn’t tell the doctors was left unsaid." But if such people are monitored earlier when they do want treatment, will there be any way to stop? Or will the ambulance automatically come for them, just as in the story? We are a lot closer to that situation right now than even I used to think.

For more links and a video dealing with the increasing use of remote health monitoring, visit stewardsoftheflame.com and click through to the background information.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

The Mind's Influence on Health

Topics dealt with in my novel keep coming up in the news! Another news story this week concerns a new study demonstrating the mind's influence on the body: Lonely? Watch Your Health, Reuters, September 13, 2007. "What this study shows is that the biological impact of social isolation reaches down into some of our most basic internal processes -- the activity of our genes.... We have known for years that there is this epidemiological relationship between social support -- how many friends and family members you have around you -- and a whole bunch of physical outcomes."

In the past few decades there has been an immense amount of research showing that physical health is strongly influenced by the mind. The first area in which this was demonstrated, initially through studies with rats, was the immune system, and the science of psychoneuroimmunology is by now well established. But the various functions of the body are not as separate as they were once thought to be, and it is being found that the mind affects virtually all of them. Psychological stress is not the only cause of illness -- genetic predisposition and environmental factors contribute, and in some cases predominate. But it is becoming evident that it plays a major role, especially in diseases that develop over a long period of time.

There is not the slightest doubt about this among researchers who have investigated it. However, it has yet to be accepted by the majority of medical practitioners (although more and more institutions are giving at least token attention to what's generally called mind-body medicine). In part, this is simply the result of resistance to change: it is contrary to what doctors were taught in medical school. Moreover, many are unaware that the physical mechanisms by which the mind affects the body are being discovered, and scientists are never willing to accept the existence of phenomena for which no known mechanism can account; thus they assume that claims for involvement of the mind imply some sort of vague mystical effect which they are understandably reluctant to acknowledge. But I think there is also a deeper reason why most doctors -- and for that matter, most patients -- don't want to believe that that health is dependent on the mind. If they believed that it is, they would have to admit that there is not a lot they can do to eliminate chronic illness. They would be forced to recognize that much of what they do is at best ineffective and at worst, may be harmful. Almost all doctors want to help people. Their lives would be in ruins if they allowed themselves to suspect that they can't.

This is a serious problem, and it's going to get worse as the evidence for the mind's influence on health builds up, because we do not, at present, have any way to overcome stress-based illness. Stress is part of life, and our physiological reactions to it are normal; so far we cannot alter them enough to prevent long-term damage to our bodies. There are countless practitioners now offering supposed treatments -- "stress reduction" techniques, nutritional strategies, lifestyle advice, and so forth -- but these help only people in whom they activate the mind's innate healing power (a power which is often dismissed as "the placebo effect" with an implication that it's somehow not of value).

This is even more true of the various forms of alternative medicine, which make fine statements about the importance of mental attitude and the dangers of drugs and surgery, yet advocate modes of treatment that are physically-based and therefore effective only as metaphors. In my opinion, existing theories of psychology are no better. And so I think there is going to be a reaction against mind-body medicine when it becomes apparent that however valid its explanation for illness may be, it does not often work in practice. That's the basis on which I've assumed, in Stewards of the Flame, that in the distant future today's knowledge still won't have been incorporated into standard medicine, and that dogmatic reliance on physical modes of treatment will actually have increased -- except among a small minority with the vision to move toward a solution we of the 21st century lack the means to implement.

For a long list of books dealing with mind-body medicine plus many links to articles and a video, visit Stewardsoftheflame.com and click through to the "background information" link near the bottom of the main page.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Implanted Microchips Aren't Science Fiction


This is the first of the excerpts from my background information pages about Stewards of the Flame. I won't necessarily take them in the order they're listed on the menu at its website -- this one happens to be in the current news. Only three days ago there was a long AP article, appearing in many newspapers, saying that the implantation of microchips in humans is now suspected of being a potential risk for cancer. This article says, "A series of veterinary and toxicology studies, dating to the mid-1990s, stated that chip implants had 'induced' malignant tumors in some lab mice and rats.... After reviewing the research, specialists at some pre-eminent cancer institutions said the findings raised red flags."

In Stewards of the Flame implanted microchips are important to the plot. When I wrote it, I made up the whole idea -- it seemed to me a likely distant-future development, considering that we now microchip cats and dogs. I wasn't aware that passive chips are already being implanted in humans, and that tracking-enabled active ones are not far off. I certainly didn't know that there are many blogs and Web pages devoted to opposing this invasion of privacy, which I have discovered only recently.

Of course, the possibility that they might cause cancer is not the only, or original, objection to them. Christian fundamentalists (though not the majority of Christians) have been saying that such chips are the "Mark of the Beast" referred to in the Bible. One doesn't have to believe this to consider the widespread implantation of such chips a bad idea. And the scary thing is not so much the possibility that someday an arbitrarily-imposed law might require it, but that the public may very well come to favor such a law for health-care reasons.

Friends, we need to wake up! Implanted microchips aren't science fiction. They were approved by the FDA in 2004 and hundreds of hospitals are now using them. Once people get used to the idea that they're a good way to ensure the availability of medical information, will they not be less adverse to the thought of the government using them for whatever purposes it finds convenient? It seems that my longtime conviction that medical "benefits" are a foot in the door for tyranny is not far off base.

For many more links to articles about this issue, plus a couple of videos, visit www.stewardsoftheflame.com and click through to the main page and then "Background Information" near the bottom of it.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Meaning of "Paranormal"

In my writing, I use the term "paranormal" to refer to human abilities that are not ordinarily acknowledged by science -- principally psi abilities, such as telepathy, remote viewing (controlled clairvoyance), and psychokinesis, plus healing, which in my opinion is accomplished through the use of psi. The dictionary, unfortunately, equates the word to "supernatural," which is something quite different. I don't think there is anything in the least supernatural about psi; it's simply an aspect of nature that we don't yet understand.

I'm dismayed, however, to find that almost all discussion on the Web of the paranormal is centered on something other than these abilities, mainly ghosts, hauntings and various mysterious occurrences involving forces believed to be inhuman -- or on mythical beings such as vampires and werewolves. Too often, only the horrific aspects of the unknown are emphasized; the paranormal is assumed to be scary. So by using the word in publicity for my book, I may be misleading some readers. I do not believe in ghosts. I'm not interested in fiction about vampires, although I know it's very popular now. If this is what you're looking for in a novel dealing with the paranormal, you're going to be disappointed in mine. On the other hand, if you believe that the human mind has vastly greater power than is generally recognized, and that this power can be developed in positive ways in the future, you'll like it.

I am also unhappy that consideration of the paranormal is so frequently focused on spiritualism and mediums. I believe the question of survival after death, and of alleged communication with departed spirits, is an entirely separate one from the existence of psi capabilities in the living, and should not be confused with it. I have not seen any evidence for communication with the dead that cannot be explained by telepathy. One highly-regarded book on this subject claims that the evidence cited could not have been obtained via telepathy because the only person alive who had the information wasn't thinking about it, which completely ignores the fact that most telepathy occurs on an unconscious level. Be that as it may, however, I think it's a mistake to tie the two issues together because neither is dependent on the other. There is plenty of evidence for psi having nothing to do with survival after death; moreover it is quite possible that if spirits do survive death, they don't hang around long enough to communicate with anybody. The universe is vast, and personally I can't conceive of spirits no longer associated with physical bodies remaining associated with the affairs of one small planet in a particular physical location. In any case, the assumption that acceptance of psi implies belief in life after death, or vice versa, interferes with progress in the understanding of what abilities living human beings possess.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

What's "Visionary Fiction"?

At the website for Stewards of the Flame I've referred to it as "part science fiction, part what's sometimes called 'visionary fiction,'" in an effort to suggest that it's not typical science fiction and will appeal to other readers who are interested in the "paranormal" powers of the human mind. But most people may not know what "visionary fiction" is -- I myself hadn't heard of it until quite recently.

According to one website I stumbled across, "Visionary fiction is fiction in which the expansion of the human mind drives the plot." It states, "Visionary fiction is not science fiction, yet if a skeptic needs “scientific proof” of the reality of the visionary landscape, it can be connected to the new neural sciences--neuro-biology, neuro-psychology, neuro-physics. All visionary fiction is driven by new and uncanny experiences (mystical, spiritual and paranormal) in the neural web. The new sciences have shown us over the last three decades how vast and limitless is the increasing power of the human mind. As in so many eras of human life, where our science goes our literature follows. A new genre is developing, one that parallels the new neural sciences, and helps to chart the vastly uncharted human mind."

This description excited me because I thought I'd at last found a genre into which my novel might fit; certainly it deals with some of the topics listed at the site, such as telepathy and other psi powers. And I've found many other mentions of "visionary fiction" as a genre -- although most of them seem to be a few years old and it seems this new genre hasn't caught on in terms of marketing. I've even seen it referred to as "the kiss of death" as far as sale to publishers is concerned, and it's said that agents who used to handle it now won't touch it. I couldn't find any publishers accepting submissions of books so labeled; the few who issue them are overstocked. Nevertheless, some bookstores, including Amazon, do list quite a lot of novels under that heading.

Unfortunately, however, most novels categorized as visionary fiction seem to be what's more often called "New Age" or "metaphysical" fiction -- that is, they are based on traditional mythologies or other metaphors now popularly associated with the expansion of consciousness and/or unorthodox spirituality. I think that many enthusiasts for New Age ideas will like my book. I certainly want to encourage them to read it. But I myself don't conceive of so-called "paranormal' human abilities in terms of such metaphors. Metaphors are very powerful; I believe they are essential to the expression and dissemination of ideas about topics that we do not yet understand (see my Space Age Mythology series at my website). Yet specific ones are not meaningful -- and are often off-putting -- to readers who neither take them literally nor feel drawn to them as symbols of the unknown. So my approach to the evolution of advanced mind powers is somewhat different. To me, it is something that will occur in the future without any sort of supernatural influence. I don't doubt that some individuals -- now and in the past -- have gained these powers and have sincerely believed them to be derived from sources that I personally consider metaphorical. Yet that's not what my story is about. It remains to be seen whether fans of other visionary fiction will feel it belongs even partly to that genre.

I should say, too, that I've seen the term "visionary fiction" applied in a generic sense to any fiction that reflects a vision -- one that has arisen from the author's expanded consciousness, or even a mere philosophical concept that is considered visionary. That's not what I mean by it, either. I have never had any personal experience with nonordinary states of consciousness. I have only a conviction -- who knows from where it came? -- that the human mind has far greater power than science has hitherto acknowledged.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

My First Copy Has Arrived!

My first copy of Stewards of the Flame arrived today (or rather, yesterday, since I'm writing this after midnight). It's surely exciting to see it at last.

It's always exciting for a writer to see a new book. But with this one it's particularly so because I created it personally, including the typesetting and even the cover, on my own computer. It is being printed and distributed by BookSurge, Amazon.com's print-on-demand division, but I didn't use their subsidy publishing services; I sent them finished PDF files and paid only a small setup fee. For the past few years I've been working as a freelance copyeditor and I also have desktop-publishing experience, so I was able to do all the production work myself.

Why would an established author publish her own book? Because publishers of adult fiction (unlike the publishers of my YA novels) demand that it be strictly categorized by genre, and Stewards of the Flame doesn’t fit genre requirements. As it’s set in the future on another planet, it’s considered science fiction, yet it appeals more to general audiences than to those with extensive science fiction background. This means it’s not suitable for the adult SF lines that depend on mass-market paperback sales, and since the closing of Meisha Merlin -- which published my Children of the Star and expressed interest in the new book -- there are no small presses accepting submissions of this kind of thing. At my age, I feel it’s unlikely that marketing criteria will change during my lifetime; thus the only way get the story into the hands of readers is to publish on my own.

This wouldn't be a wise move for a younger writer hoping to launch a career. But I am long past that stage, and anything I write from now on (beginning with the sequel I'm presently working on) will be equally unsuitable for the specialized SF genre market, just as my past novels have been. That was one reason I originally chose to write for the YA market -- I always knew I didn't want to slant my work toward readers who've read a lot of science fiction previously, thus excluding other readers from my audience. I have never liked the genre system. I wish that fiction didn't have to be labeled. I think fiction about the future should be as accessible to general readers as fiction about the past. Commercial, not literary, factors dictate its separation from the mainstream. For many years I had no ideas for new novels at all; when I finally got one, I decided that I wasn't going to let such factors stop me.

Friday, September 7, 2007

My New Novel Isn't About Space

Some of you may be surpised that although Stewards of the Flame takes place in the future on another planet (which its plot demands) it is not primarily about space. In the past, I have rarely expressed myself publicly on any topic except space -- and this was deliberate, since I believe that expanding beyond our single world is essential to the survival of our species, and that developing a permanent presence in space is therefore the most important issue humankind needs to deal with. It is a nonpartisan issue, and I haven't wanted to let my opinions on other subjects distract people from what I say about it, or to drive half my potential readers away because my political views don't match theirs. (I still feel this way with regard to partisan politics; you won't see me commenting on the 2008 election here.)

However, I have been writing about the importance of space for 40 years -- I wrote Journey Between Worlds in the fall of 1967 though it wasn't published until 1970 -- and I'm not sure that this has had any effect except on the readers who already agreed with me about it. And there are other nonpartisan issues I care about. I have reached the age where I'm increasingly aware that I don't have a great many years left to put off presenting ideas about them, if I'm ever going to. And so the new novel deals with two major ones: the fallacy of our society's medical philosophy, and the future development of so-called "paranormal" human abilities.

My original idea for Stewards of the Flame was to explore how, and why, a civilization might begin to move from the present level of ours to the level of Elana's people in my novel Enchantress from the Stars, who had very advanced psi powers. It would be a long process, taking place over many generations, but it would have to start somewhere. I believe, as I've said in the book, that it would not be adaptive in the evolutionary sense for it to start (except on an individual level) before a civilization had developed the technology required for expansion to many worlds. To turn to "inner space" before making sufficient effort to spread into outer space, as some people advocate, would be self-defeating, since colonization of space is necessary to our long-term survival. Thus at the stage where advanced psi powers become possible, there will necessarily be many colonized worlds -- and so while Stewards of the Flame is about psi, among other things, rather than about space, its being set on such a world means it's not really a departure from what I've been saying all along.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

My New Novel Isn't Appropriate for Kids

Stewards of the Flame is my first adult novel, and since I'm known as a YA author (even, to people familiar only with Enchantress from the Stars, which was a Newbery Honor book, as a "children's author") some have assumed that probably the new novel is really suitable for teenagers as well as adults, since YA books are more mature than they used to be. After all, I've been saying for years that my trilogy shouldn't be given to as young readers as it often is, since the average kids don't understand it and are bored--only the exceptionally advanced readers below high school age enjoy it, and its recent edition was issued as adult SF.

The situation with Stewards of the Flame is different. In the first place, it's unlikely that the story would interest teens, as there are no young people in it--the hero and all the main characters are in their 40s or older. And they are concerned, among other things, with adult problems such as death in old age.

There are two other reasons why I emphasize that the book isn't appropriate for YA readers. First, it contains some sex and profanity, mild by the standards of adult fiction but more than readers expect from me on the basis of my YA novels. This would be objectionable to some parents, considering that my YA books are often given to middle school kids even when I say they're for older teens.


Second and perhaps most significant, the book is strongly critical of today's medical dogma and advocates ignoring government health advice, including much that is taught in today's schools. To be sure, it deals with a future society, and I hope makes plain to adults that today it would not be possible to reject orthodox medical care to the extent the characters do, since we lack the means to implement their alternative. But young readers might not make the distinction. To them the story would say "Avoid doctors, if necessary by hiding your symptoms." And a lot of parents and schools would object if they thought a noted YA author was trying to undermine the official view on this subject in the minds of kids! I don't want to damage my reputation in the YA field by upsetting parents or teachers, and I don't want to mislead kids by offering them material that they haven't the maturity to interpret.


Of course, if older teens who read other adult fiction want to read it, that's okay--but I think it's important to make clear that librarians shouldn't order it for the YA collection.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Background for Stewards of the Flame

What sort of "background" have I posted at www.stewardsoftheflame.com? Well, it consists of information about how things I imagined for the novel are related to what's happening now in our own world, a lot of which I didn't discover until the book was already written! Here are the topics for which there are pages:

  • Remote health monitoring
  • Implanted tracking chips
  • Compulsory medical care
  • Mind's influence on health
  • Neurofeedback
  • Mental control of pain
  • ESP and other psi powers
  • Fire immunity
  • Harmful psychiatric treatment
  • Heresy in medicine
  • Natural death
As you can see, the novel deals with quite a variety of subjects! On each of these pages there are some comments (which I'll post here too) plus many links, lists of books to read, and even videos from YouTube (which you'll need to go to the full pages to see). If you want to read everything at once, you can go right now; it's all there. From the main page of the site, follow the "background information" link -- because stewardsoftheflame.com is a forwarded URL it doesn't work reliably for any page but the entry page. Or you can go to www.sylviaengdahl.com/flame/info.htm, which is where it's physically located. But there's a lot of reading material there, so you may want to wait for me to introduce the topics here one by one.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Welcome!

My new adult novel Stewards of the Flame will be available within the next few weeks, and I've been writing a lot of background information for it at its own website, www.stewardsoftheflame.com. But I have realized that nobody is going to see those pages except people who are already aware of the book and go there. So I'm going to be posting excerpts from them here, a little at a time, and then go on expanding on them and on similar topics.

Stewards of the Flame takes place in the future on another planet, but many of the topics it deals with aren't science fiction anymore -- in fact I've been surprised, since writing the book, to find out how close to reality some of the things I imagined now are. Like all my work, this novel tends to appeal to general audiences more than to readers with a lot of science fiction background. My aim has always been to reach a wider readership than fans of a specific genre; that was why in the past I wrote for teens. So if you don't usually read science fiction, you may still be interested in the issues I'll be discussing. I hope you'll want to comment!