Sylvia Engdahl, author of the book Stewards of the Flame, stopped by to share with us a piece she wrote.
I’ve been asked to describe my writing space. That can be done in one word: my computer. It doesn’t matter what surrounds it, though I do need a comfortable chair as I sit there at least ten hours a day, whether writing or doing the freelance editing work by which I earn income. I have a desk next to it, usually piled high with stuff I haven’t time to put away, and bookcases, crammed full with books I haven’t time read. But the computer is all I really care about, as it’s what sets me free to be creative.
I have never been able to put things into words without seeing them as it do it. I don’t speak well, and would be unable to express ideas by dictating into a voice recorder. I wrote Enchantress from the Stars and my other YA novels with a typewriter, of course, as that was all we had then. It was a struggle because I have poor finger coordination and can’t type accurately, besides which I am constantly changing wording around, so I spent a lot of time making paste-ups; I have to see my work in a clean form in order to progress with it. Then when I got old enough to need reading glasses, it became impossible, because a page in a typewriter was too far away to see with reading glasses yet too hard to focus on with my regular glasses. That was when I got my first computer, a Radio Shack TRS-80. It was before the days when home computers had adequate software for word processing so I programmed it myself (I had been a professional programmer when I was young).
I got my first PC in 1987 and my life has been vastly improved ever since. The ability to revise constantly and see the current version of every sentence means everything to me. I jump back and forth in a book while working. I don’t always write the chapters in order, and I often think of improved wording for something previously written while in the middle of something else, going back to fix it before I forget. Furthermore, I can lose myself in what I’m saying on the computer in a way I never could without it, and I’m much less inhibited than I used to be when forced to commit words to paper. I usually don’t get the ideas for action in a story until I’m in the midst of writing scenes.
I rarely look at paper anymore. I published Stewards of the Flame and its sequel myself—literally myself, sending finished PDF files to the printer—and all that was done with desktop publishing software; I didn’t print hardcopy except for a friend. This is partly because I have vision problems now that make the screen much less tiring for me to read than the small print of a book. But it’s mainly because it’s at my computer that I feel most comfortable.
About the 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 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 appeals not just to science fiction fans but to a wide range of readers who question the dominant medical philosophy of today’s society, or who value personal freedom of choice.
Read an excerpt:
They went to a restaurant on a side branch near the island’s main waterway. Undine was a water world, and canals permeated the seaward areas of the city. “Like Venice,” Carla said, “on ancient Earth.”
Jesse wanted little to do with food, but Carla ordered for him anyway. She also ordered wine, and poured him some. Jesse accepted the glass gingerly. “You’re offering me this?” he asked in amazement.
“The drug they gave you wore off hours ago. I checked the file on it to be sure.”
“But all the same—”
“I believed you when you said you’re not an alcoholic,” she said. “I want to know.”
“Whether I can stop with one or two, you mean? Carla, I’m not going to want any of this for quite a long time.”
“Yes, you are. To hell with their goddamned aversion games! A few days of treatment can’t affect you unless you let it. Don’t.”
Impressed, he took up the glass and sipped it. Her eyes were on him. Presently he began to eat, and found he was hungry.
Carla seemed radiant, even elated, as if it were she who had escaped from prison. Her color was high. “You won!” she said. “It’s good to see you able to celebrate.”
“With wine, you mean?” He raised his glass. “It’s nice, but not worth the price. Was it for this I let you risk your job, and God knows what else?”
“Not for this. For a principle. And in the end, there wasn’t much risk.”
“You managed an official discharge,” he agreed. “How?”
She averted her gaze. “I’ve got a close friend on the staff. He—does favors for me sometimes.”
“Then I was not really cleared for release.”
“No. The substance abuse unit would never have let you go. Psych had to override, which required some hacking. That part was easy, but without the staff signature seal you wouldn’t have got past the door.”
He frowned; hacking could be a criminal offense. “Why should you stick your neck out for me, Carla? Before you brought my clothes the first time, you’d only talked to me for five minutes.”
“Sometimes that’s enough.” She smiled at him. “I do what I can, Jesse, and you’re from offworld. It’s bad enough for the rest of us, but when they start in on offworlders—”
“Medics are a pain everywhere,” he said, trying to be fair. “I suppose they mean well. Here, they seem to have got hold of all the funds they want, and I’d judge that makes them even more arrogant than on Earth.” That was the root of it, of course. Compulsory treatment couldn’t have been established without unlimited funding. He knew, without wanting to know, that the thing itself would not be hard to get people to vote for. Ongoing medical care was a blessing; most people would believe anything they were told about the need to force it on those who didn’t want to be blessed.
“They mean well,” Carla agreed. “So did the Verquistas, I’m told.”
“It’s not quite as bad as that,” Jesse said. “The Verquistas were a political party. They had the citizens of New America so thoroughly sold on their platform that there was no opposition to them; bit by bit, people on that planet voted away their own freedom.”
“And how do you think it is here?” she demanded, with some bitterness.
“Well, I guess the majority supports the medical lobby,” he said, “since they do seem to get the funding. I must say I don’t see how they get so much in a colony as small as this, though my ship’s cargo manifest showed that it’s a rich colony. But they’re not the government, after all.”
“But Jesse,” Carla said, “they are. Didn’t you know that?”
“That the Meds are the government here, literally. There is no colonial administrator other than the Hospital Administrator. There is no legislative body other than the Medical Review Board. There’s no police force apart from the ambulance officers; all crime is classed as illness, and untreated illness is considered crime. That’s why they picked you up.”
“God!” Jesse said, staring at her. For the moment he couldn’t think of anything more to say.
“It’s one reason the Hospital’s so large,” Carla went on. “All our government offices are in it. As for funding, the Board levies taxes and skims health care costs off the top. They say all treatment’s free, of course, but we pay through the highest tax rates of any colony in the League.”
Horrified, Jesse protested, “All colonies have free elections now; that’s Colonial League law.”
“Oh, the Board is elected. The Administrator’s elected, too. We have campaigns just like anyplace else; there are lots of candidates and the vote’s close sometimes. But they are all Meds. It’s in our constitution—you can’t run for office without a medical degree.”
He sat for a moment, toying with his wine, absorbing all this. “How did it get into the constitution?” he asked finally.
Carla said, “It was approved by vote, of course. People thought it would be a waste of money to duplicate too much in a new colony. Obviously medical judgment had top priority. The history books say we have a unique arrangement that eliminates unnecessary bureaucracy.”
“And nobody pushes for constitutional change?”
“Oh, no. Almost everyone’s happy with this system. People feel secure with it; they know their health is being protected. Those who’ve grown up here don’t object to forced treatment even for themselves. But I—well, I knew that you, being from offworld, probably would.”
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 www.stewardsoftheflame.com. Her main website is at www.sylviaengdahl.com.
Thanks to the author I have one copy to give away!
Contest runs from October 26, 2009 to 11:59 PM EST November 2, 2009. Open worldwide! No PO boxes.
- Leave a comment on this post. Please include your e-mail address so I can contact you.
- Follow or subscribe to this blog, and leave me a comment on this post telling me you're a subscriber. If you're already a follower or subscriber, comment telling me that.
- Blog about this contest and include a link to this post. Leave a comment with a link to your blog entry.
- Leave a comment on any other post (anything except another giveaway, i.e. reviews, interviews, Bored Now, Mailbox Monday, Library Loot, etc.) and leave a comment here telling me which post you commented on. You can do this up to five times for five additional entries.
- Grab my button (in sidebar), post it on your blog, and leave me a comment with a link to your blog. If you already have my button, leave a comment telling me that.
Post one comment for each entry.
Each comment must include your e-mail address.
Each comment must include your e-mail address.