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Frequently Asked Questions about Sylvia Engdahl's
Flame duologies

Why have you removed all online references to "Flame Trilogy" and "Flame Series" and now refer only to two duologies, "The Hidden Flame" and "The Rising Flame"?

Orignally I used the term "trilogy" when I wasn't expecting to write a fourth book. The Flame novels now are now described as two duologies rather than a series because Defender of the Flame and its sequel Herald of the Flame are a separate story that has a different hero from the two preceding books and takes place 200 years later; it doesn't depend on having read them. Each duology should be read in order (though both Promise and Herald can stand alone), but the only disadvantage to starting with the second one is that the included backstory would spoil some of the suspense of the earlier books if you plan to read them all. And few readers want to start with a book labeled No. 3 or No. 4 in a series. Also, it's generally impossible to get reviewers to read a book that is not the first in its series, and I need reviews of the later books.

I am hoping that readers to whom Stewards of the Flame didn't appeal will try the Rising Flame duology, which is in many ways quite different from Stewards of the Flame. Adults who enjoyed my earlier novels Enchantress from the Stars and The Far Side of Evil may be especially interested in some of the ideas in Defender and Herald, even if they don't want to read Stewards. I have found that readers who disagreed with the controversial view of medical issues expressed in that book, or who felt it was slow-moving, often like Defender better.

What makes these novels inappropriate for middle-school readers?

Stewards of the Flame was my first adult novel, and since I'm known as a YA author, some assumed that probably it was suitable for young teens as well as adults, considering that YA books are more mature than they used to be. After all, I've been saying for years that my trilogy Children of the Star 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 single-volume edition was issued as adult SF.

The situation with the two Flame duologies is different. In the first place, it's unlikely that the story would interest teens, as there are no young people in Stewards--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. Because the hero of Defender of the Flame is quite young during the first part of it, older teens may enjoy that book and may want to go on to its sequel. But I've found that if I say a book is of interest to older teens, many people give it to middle-school kids anyway. I do not believe these books should be given to readers of that age.

There are two reasons why I emphasize that these books aren't appropriate for YA readers. First, they contain 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. Some might also object to Promise of the Flame's endorsement of sex among young teens, albeit in a society very different from ours, and to an incident involving the execution of a 13-year-old boy who killed a younger child. And I believe that the discussions in all four books about how, in my imagined future, sex enhances telepathic sensitivity and vice versa would confuse kids too young to know much about the reality of sex today. I certainly wouldn't want to encourage them to experiment! It is these discussions, rather than the brief sex scenes (which are not very explicit) that make me feel that the books demand maturity on the part of readers.

Second and perhaps most significant, Stewards of the Flame 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 these, that's okay--but I think it's important to make clear that librarians shouldn't order them for the YA collection. Also, if I didn't emphasize that they are not YA novels, people who've heard my name might erroneously assume that they're for kids and therefore not of interest to adults. (I've found that I need to be careful about calling them "adult novels" in contexts not clearly comparing them with YA novels, however. Some software has rejected my descriptions because it interpreted "adult" as "X-rated." This why in some places you may see them called "novels for grown-ups.")

Why did you publish these books yourself?

Because publishers of adult fiction demand that it be strictly categorized by genre, and these novels don’t fit genre marketing requirements. Since they’re set in the future on other planets, they’re considered science fiction--yet like my YA novels, they appeal more to general audiences than to those with extensive science fiction background. They're not action-adventure stories and yet they're not far enough removed from today's reality in terms of the culture and concepts portrayed to be suitable for mass-market sf paperback lines. (For the same reason, my YA novels were never reprinted in that form, though most other successful YA science fiction has been.) In any case I want my books to reach people who don't usually read science fiction as well as those who do. At my age, I feel it’s unlikely that marketing criteria will change during my lifetime. So I decided to make use of my desktop-publishing skills.

That said, a lot of science fiction fans have liked Stewards of the Flame and they may like the other three novels even better since they deal with topics and events more typical of science fiction. The problem is simply that in order to to be accepted by a genre publisher nowadays, a book must be expected to sell to mass audiences within that genre, not just to a subset of its readers. Also, fiction sales depend heavily on "name" and my name is known only in the YA field, which from the marketing standpoint is entirely separate.

If Stewards of the Flame won a 2008 bronze IPPY medal, why isn't it listed among the science fiction IPPY award winners for that year?

Because it won in the Visionary Fiction category. 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. However, it didn't seem to catch on and was often confused with "New Age" type fiction with a somewhat different conception of the paranormal from mine, so I stopped using the term in marketing. Recently a Visionary Fiction Alliance has arisen and I'm hoping this will prove to have a broader focus.

Why are there two trade paperback editions of Stewards of the Flame with different ISBNs, and what's the difference between them?

The ISBN of the original edition belongs to BookSurge, a Print-on-Demand company, so it could not be used when I switched to a different POD company, CreateSpace. I wanted to get my own ISBNs and I wanted to reformat Stewards to match Promise of the Flame (they are slightly smaller and easier to hold than the original edition, have wider page margins, and are printed on off-white paper.) Also, I corrected minor errors and added a reading group discussion guide. The text is otherwise the same.

The 2007 edition lists BookSurge as the publisher; the 2009 edition lists Ad Stellae Books. Also, the lettering on the cover of the new edition is larger and includes "A novel" (the original cover could be confused with nonfiction by people who saw it without a description). If you care about a uniform format with Promise, be sure to check with the seller--both listings will remain at Amazon.com because there are used copies in circulation, and people who list used books are not always careful about matching ISBNs.

Why did you switch POD publishers?

At the time, it was mainly because it allowed me to lower the price of the book and thus attract more readers, and to offer a better discount to libraries and bookstores. Since then BookSurge has been merged with CreateSpace, which is owned by Amazon.

What is "Ad Stellae Books"?

It is my personal imprint, not a publishing company. It's best for self-published authors who provide the actual PDF files that are printed to get their own ISBNs instead of using ISBNs belonging to a POD company, which will then be listed as the publisher even if it has not designed the book and has not been paid to publish it. Also, if a book is issued under a POD company ISBN, the same ISBN cannot be used if the author switches to a different printer. When Stewards was first published it was not possible to get one's own ISBN without buying a whole block of them. Now it is, but a name must be listed in "Books in Print" as the publisher. Ad Stellae Books is the imprint I chose. It was originally intended only for my own books, but I have now used it on my mother's ebooks, and temporarily for some ebooks of my friend Shirley Rousseau Murphy, whose website I maintain and for whom I produced the ebook files.

Unfortunately, however, it has turned out that my current POD company, for reasons I cannot understand, will not list books in the distribution catalog used by libraries unless they are issued under its own ISBNs. I have therefore been forced to reissue some of my books with new ISBNs that don't show my personal imprint. This is one reason I published the omnibus editions of the Flame duologies in paperback when they were initially available only in ebook form.

Why aren't these books in more public libraries?

Because most libraries have a policy against buying books that are not reviewed by the major review media, and there is no way to get a review in any of the major media without submitting galleys months in advance of publication (and even then, they rarely review self-published books). Also, most libraries will not buy books unavailable from their regular distributors. I sent many review copies of Stewards to public libraries, asking them to consider the copy a donation even if they chose not to buy more, but only a few put it into their collections. I suspect they do not have staff available to look at unsolicited books, even if by authors whose YA books they already have.

There is one way to get a book into a library, however, and that's for a local patron to submit a request for it. If anyone reading this will do so I will be deeply grateful! Also, if anyone wants a copy to donate to a library, I will sell it to you at half price--but you must personally give it to a librarian and say something about it; if it's merely put in a donation barrel it will be sold at a used book sale. Also, the Smashwords ebook editions of my books have recently become available at no charge to libraries through OverDrive, a system that provides books to libraries; but since Smashwords offers thousands of titles, libraries don't realize mine can be obtained there. I would greatly appreciate help in making them aware of it.

Some people think that authors aren't eager for their books to be in libraries for fear that it would cut into sales of personal copies. That isn't true. Being in libraries is the best publicity a book can have. The more people read a book, the better known it becomes, whereas if nobody has a chance to see it, it sells few copies to people not already familiar with the author's work.

Why was there a long period when the ebook editions of the Flame duologies were unavailable anywhere except at Amazon.com?

Because Amazon demands the exclusive right to distribute them if they are made available for free borrowing by subscribers to Kindle Unlimited. Also, Amazon promotes ebooks exclusively available there, so that they are seen by many people who would not otherwise know they exist. I don't approve of this policy since I don't believe any retailer should have the sole right to sell a book, but I felt forced to accept it in order to get new readers. For awhile more people read these novels through Kindle Unlimited (under which authors are paid by the number of pages read) than were buying them from other retailers. However, not enough did so to justify limiting their distribution..

The characters in the two Flame duologies have many of the same abilities as those in your YA books. Was this intentional?

Yes. My original idea for the novels 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 YA novels Enchantress from the Stars and The Far Side of Evil, who had very advanced psi powers. The two groups are set in the same SF "universe," although the new books deal with colonies of Earth. (For more detail about this, see the Afterword to Defender of the Flame, which in early copies appeared as a Preface). It is never said in any of the books whether Elana lived at the time of our ancestors or our descendants; either assumption will fit.

How much do you personally believe of what's said in the story about paranormal capabilities?

A lot of it, though some of the capabilities the characters have are obviously exaggerated and are intended more as symbols than as predictions of what may become possible. I literally believe everything I've said about unconscious telepathy. The degree to which conscious control of it may someday be attained, I don't know. It probably will never be expressed the way it's written in words, as dialogue; that's a necessary literary device. Be sure to read the page at this site with background information about psi.

In both Stewards of the Flame and Defender of the Flame, the protagonists fall in love very quickly without enough time to get to know each other. Isn't this unreasonable?

My assumption is that because they are telepathic, they know each other's personalities very well through unspoken and sometimes unconscious communication. Telepathy is an instantaneous mode of perception; it doesn't take the time ordinarily required to gain familiary with someone. In addition, in both stories the man and woman have been without partners for some time due to circumstances, and are eager for a caring relationship.

In the past everything you've written has focused on the importance of the space effort. Why have you now turned to other themes?

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.

However, I have been writing about space for more than 40 years and 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 other issues I care about. Moreover, space colonization is a premise of the two Flame duologies in a larger sense than the plot preventing them from being set on Earth. 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 widespread, there will necessarily be many colonized worlds; the mere assumption that the two developments are inseparable is in line with what I've been saying all along.

What do you think of the Affordable Care Act?

It increases government intrusion into health care decisions, so if you've read Stewards of the Flame you don't need to ask! I will say in general, though, that society can never provide medical care to everyone who really needs it as long as so much money is being spent on unecessary -- and often even harmful -- treatment for those who do not. This is something nobody on either side of the argument about health care reform has recognized. Please read the background information pages dealing with overtreatment and compulsory medical care. Also, I strongly recommend the recent nonfiction book Overtreated: Why Too Much Medicine Is Making Us Sicker and Poorer by Shannon Brownlee, along with several other more recent ones listed there.

Main Flame duology page