Children of the Star Trilogy
Frequently Asked Questions
A new trade paperback edition of This Star Shall Abide alone, published in January 2010, is also available, as it is of interest to younger readers than the others.
Purchase links for ebook editions of the Children of the Star trilogy can be found here. They are $2.99 each for the separate books and $6.99 for the omnibus edition. Kindle, MOBI, EPUB and PDF formats are available, depending on the retailer.
An audiobook of This Star Shall Abide is now available at Audible, Amazon, and iTunes.
You've said that you don't want people today to read the first two volumes of the trilogy without going on to the third--even though they were originally published years before the third. Why don't you?
Because the justification in those two novels for the Founders' actions is not completely valid in the light of today's knowledge. (This issue is discussed in more detail below.)
I used to say that the three would never be published separately again. However, I have since decided that an Afterword at the end of This Star Shall Abide can make plain that the story is not finished without spoiling the suspense of the later books. I found that many potential readers hesitated to choose a book as long as the single-volume edition, and in any case the first book can be enjoyed by younger readers than the others. Some middle-school teachers wanted to use it in their classes, yet didn't want to buy the whole trilogy.
Some readers felt that the second and third volumes of the trilogy, Beyond the Tomorrow Mountains and The Doors of the Universe, should have been issued as adult novels in the first place--they are slower moving than your other books and are more difficult even for advanced YA readers. If you wanted a YA audience, why did you write them that way?
For one thing, it was a requirement of the original publisher that each volume be independently understandable, so I had to repeat background information in the later ones that some readers of This Star Shall Abide were bored by. Mainly, however, the second and third books seem "slower" than the first because they deal with more mature themes--the third novel is, in fact, about Noren as an adult. The outcome of the story demanded this, yet since the first novel had appeared as a YA book, the others had to be issued as YA also, although they were never meant for kids below high school age. I wouldn't have chosen to cut the introspective parts of the story--which do appeal very strongly to some readers--in order to attract others; then it wouldn't have pleased anyone! My books have never pretended to be action-adventure fiction.
Why is only This Star Shall Abide being reprinted separately?
Because there is a much greater demand for books appropriate for middle-school age readers than books for older teens. The second and third novels will remain available indefinitely as ebooks and in the single-volume edition of the trilogy, so anyone who wants to know how the story turns out can read them.
Why did This Star Shall Abide appear under the title Heritage of the Star in the UK?
Because the British publisher didn't happen to like the original title and thought a different one would sell better. This often happens when an American book is reprinted in the UK, and vice versa.
Incidentally, the titles for the three novels, and also the trilogy as a whole, are all phrases taken from one paragraph of the Prophecy.
You stated in an Author's Note to Beyond the Tomorrow Mountains that the people of the trilogy aren't descended from people of Earth, although some readers of This Star Shall Abide assumed that they were. Why did you think it was important to clarify this?
Because I didn't want to imply that all the traditional religions of Earth will be forgotten by future colonists. Not only might that have offended some readers, but it wouldn't fit the story; a new religion developed by our descendants wouldn't have quite the same characteristics as the one of Noren's planet.
There is also another reason. All my fiction takes place in the same "universe"--ours, as I imagine it may someday be, though of course the details aren't meant to be predictions. To picture the events in Children of the Star as happening to our descendents would settle the question of whether Elana's people in Enchantress from the Stars are our descendents or visitors to our ancestors, which is intended to be an open question that could be answered either way. Moreover, it wouldn't be consistent with my later novels, which are about the future of Earth and its colonies in other solar systems.
I originally thought by describing the home civilization in the story as "the Six Worlds" and stating that there were six all very similar to each other in that solar system, it would be clear that it wasn't ours; but the reviewers of This Star Shall Abide, some of whom weren't knowledgeable about astronomy, didn't all see that.
Is the the story intended to comment on attitudes toward religion on Earth?
Different readers interpret it in different ways. I have received mail from people of many different religions, including members of the clergy, who admire it; and it won a Christopher award for "affirmation of the highest values of the human spirit" from a Catholic organization (though I am not Catholic). On the other hand, several atheists have interpreted it as an endorsement of their views. What I was actually trying to say about religion becomes clearer in the second and third volumes of the story, and I have made more comments on this in the part of this FAQ that deals with them.
What revisions did you make in the 2000 edition?
The main thing I changed was some of what was said about computers. I wrote the books before desktop computers existed, based on my own experience with real-time systems in the late 50s and early 60s. I'm amazed that I got as much right as I did--for instance, I guessed networked computers could replace a large central one--but one crucial point was wrong. I stated that all the data would be lost if the power were interrupted (which was true of the computers I'd worked with; our only external storage medium was magnetic tape, and I couldn't imagine tape having the capacity or reliability to store a fraction of a civilization's knowledge, certainly not in the hot climate of that planet). I assumed that truly advanced computers would rely on immense RAMs. ROMs, CDs and even hard disks didn't occur to me; I had never heard of such technologies. It is true enough that if power for air conditioning were lost for a long period, they'd deteriorate, and if the computers themselves were damaged stored data would be useless in any case, so the premise that knowledge would be lost without preservation of the City is valid. But I've taken out the remarks about the disastrous effect of momentary power loss and the statement that the networking was originally implemented without turning off the power to any of the computers involved.
Another thing that was outdated was phrasing that now sounds sexist, such as many references to the survival of "man" and "mankind." Personally I think these are perfectly good words that don't imply male more than female (after all, "human" and even "woman" contain "man") any more than they imply our own species as distinguished from the hypothetical "human" species of the story. But I have given in to today's majority opinion because I don't want anybody to read in implications that I didn't intend. Incidentally, when I replaced "the sons of men will find their own wisdom" with "the children of the Star will find their own wisdom" in the Prophecy, that gave me the idea for the title of the omnibus edition.
I've also tried to make clearer that although the culture of the villagers in the story is sexist, that of the City is not. What did the feminist reviewers who objected to sexism in the books expect of a society that had reverted to backward ways? One theme of the story is that the loss of technology leads to loss of everything else that goes with advancement, including attiudes toward equality--furthermore, village women necessarily devote most of their time to childrearing since large families are need to increase the planet's population. So of course they have sexist customs. I no more advocate this than I advocate their custom of lynching heretics!
Finally, for the single-volume edition, I cut some of the explanations that were needed to make the second and third novels clear if read independently, which caused them to be slower moving than would otherwise have been necessary. The story is better when read as an integrated whole, though the cuts have been retained in the separate ebook editions.
Why did the lack of metal on Noren's planet completely rule out the possibility of developing high technology? Couldn't there have been more technology based on plastics, glass and ceramics?
The problem with plastics is that in order to produce them you need more than the raw materials; you need metal equipment and you need a power source, which in turn requires metal machinery, because they're molded using high heat and/or high pressure. The same for glass--presumably the villagers know how to make it, but they don't have anything that will burn hot enough to melt it, or cauldrons that can stand the heat. And they can't fire ceramics for the same reason; they're limited to unfired pottery.
Aren't some of Noren's reactions in the first two novels rather adolescent?
Certainly they are! Noren is an adolescent--I pictured him as about 16 at the beginning in terms of our years, which couldn't be stated since the setting isn't Earth or an Earth colony. To my surprise, some readers assumed he was older and then felt his reactions weren't mature enough.
Isn't he too serious for a teenager?
If you'd grown up in a society like his and undergone the experiences
he does, you'd have been serious at 16! Anyway, teenagers are underestimated
by our society; many are more serious than they're given credit for, and
a lot of them are disturbed by serious issues. A teenager came up to me
in a library once and said of Beyond the Tomorrow Mountains, "Noren
really tripped out, didn't he?" She didn't seem puzzled as to why.
The rest of this FAQ contains major spoilers! You don't want to look at it unless you have already read all three novels: This Star Shall Abide (aka Heritage of the Star), Beyond the Tomorrow Mountains, and The Doors of the Universe.
If you have read This Star Shall Abide but not the others, please skip down to the essay I wrote at the time of its original publication for a handout to librarians -- epecially if you are a teacher. It contains some ideas that may inspire discussion questions.
Here's where to go if you haven't read any of the three novels:
Why did The Doors of the Universe appear so long after the first two volumes of the trilogy?
Originally I didn't plan to write more than two volumes. The story was about faith in the face of impossible odds; I didn't want to weaken it by letting Noren single-handedly and unrealistically save his people. Furthermore, I had no idea what could save them; I'd done such a good job of making survival in their world impossible (because under no other circumstances would I have justified their bad social setup) that there wasn't any solution, or so I thought.
However, years after the second volume's publication, in the course of writing a nonfiction book about genetic engineering, it dawned on me, to my dismay, that I had been mistaken. I had known nothing whatsoever about genetics until I began to research it; once knowledgeable, I realized that there was no good reason why genetic engineering could not have enabled Noren's people to survive. This appalled me, because I feared that now genetic engineering was being talked about, new readers might assume I'd simply ignored it for plot purposes and justified the social evils in the story on false grounds. So I knew I had to write another volume. The uncanny thing was that after I finished it, the story was obviously better as a trilogy and seemed as if it had been planned that was all along--many things in the first two novels looked even to me as if they had been "planted" for their relevance to the third! What still bothers me is that many of the original readers may never have learned that a third exists.
In the final Epilogue, Noren developed trees through genetic engineering--at least the people could have had wood and paper. So why would their civilization's knowledge been lost if no metal source had been found?
The amount of knowledge in a spacefaring civilization's computers would far exceed the size of all our print libraries on Earth, and in any case paper deteriorates in time--especially in a hot climate and a corrosive atmosphere such as the planet had. As to wood, I slipped in the Epilogue by not making clear that the trees had thin, weak trunks and thus weren't good for much except shade (having already written about metal being obtained, I didn't notice the implication of my brief statement about trees; I fixed this in the 2000 edition.) Noren couldn't have continued genetic engineering after the City was opened and the computers lost, so wood could never have been obtained.
Why did you decide to combine your two series by letting the Service from the Elana books meet Noren?
The ultimate, subtle aid provided by the Service was necessary because it had been firmly established that the planet hadn't enough metal to restore technology. If the Founders had known what the Service knew about recovering trace metals (which incidentally, is something that's already been done with genetically engineered bacteria here on Earth) they would have used that knowledge in the first place. So, to achieve a happy ending, aliens had to help without revealing themselves--and if there was going to be an alien federation with the same policy as the in the Elana books, there'd have been no point in making it a different one. Furthermore, having established the presence of an alien artifact in the previous book, I had to follow it up.
Concerning that artifact, you've said you have trouble thinking up action for stories--is that why you had to resort to what some felt was a coincidental and contrived rescue at the end of Beyond the Tomorrow Mountains?
Ironically, no. The discovery of the alien artifact, which one reviewer called "deus ex machina," was meant to imply that coincidences occur that aren't just due to chance--synchronicity, if you will. Or you can call it divine providence. That was the point, after all. How could the book have ended as it does if the rescue had not been unforeseeable through reason? (This was one of the remarkable cases in which the way for the concluding novel turned out to have been prepared, because the arrival of the Service depended on the artifact's discovery, and that, too, needed to be not merely unforeseen but unforeseeable; otherwise the actions of the Scholars would have been unjustified.)
Are you saying the story is about actual religious faith, not just ethical issues?
Of course it is--to a much greater extent than I realized when I originally conceived the first novel (which was inspired by the issue of adolescent rebellion in general). Some readers apparently think it isn't, merely because the religion portrayed isn't like their own.
But isn't the religion in the story a false religion?
Individual readers may, of course, consider any religion other than their own "false." But when people speak of a "false religion" in the context of this trilogy, or of any science fiction, they usually mean something more like "fake religion." Did the mere fact that its central symbol, the Mother Star, was purposely chosen by the First Scholar make it fake? Or the fact that the Star didn't really have supernatural power and that what people said about it wasn't literally true? Those are questions readers will have to answer for themselves after reading the second and third novels.
Personally I believe that many religious ideas are metaphors that cannot be taken as literal fact, but nevertheless express concepts that we have no better way of expressing. As Noren discovered, they are symbols of "the unknowable." Metaphor often conveys truth, and is in fact the only way of conveying truth beyond our rational understanding. To me, it is what the metaphor stands for that's important.
Still, to readers who don't have any religious faith of their own, it looks as if the outcome of Beyond the Tomorrow Mountains depends too much on coincidence. Why did you write yourself into such a corner?
Because neat story plotting isn't how things happen in real life. I deliberately set up a situation that demanded hard work and sacrifice on the part of the characters, yet could not be completely solved by them. The issues here weren't all religious by any means. In the late 60s and early 70s (and to a lesser extent today) young people tended to believe that all our world's evils could be eliminated overnight if only everybody would try hard enough. Also, they--and many adults--tend to believe that if we can't predict the future to the extent of making reliable plans for reversing dangerous trends, we're headed for disaster. I do not believe that is true. Since we are not omniscient, things we can't foresee are always going to come along.
Wouldn't a less than happy ending have been even more true to life?
Not in my opinion. Some readers have assumed that the happy ending was necessitated by the books having been originally published as YA instead of adult novels. This wasn't the case; I wouldn't write even an adult novel with a tragic outcome for a whole civilization. An open ending, yes, as I did when I planned to conclude with Beyond the Tomorrow Mountains, but not outright disaster. And unlike some readers I've talked to, I believe the permanent loss of high technology would be a disaster that would lead ultimately to the species' extinction, even if its survival had been prolonged. I don't agree with the the view that a primitive low-tech lifestyle can be indefinitely sustained, and in any case I believe that no species can last forever if confined to a single planet. The restoration of interstellar travel was essential to the long-term survival of Noren's people, just as the development of it is essential to ours (see my essay Space and Human Survival).
If the religious aspects of the story are to be taken seriously, then doesn't it say that there's no incompatibility between religious values and genetic engineering of humans?
Yes, Noren's simultaneous service as innovative priest and genetic
engineer was meant to imply it. I'm not opposed to genetic engineering--or
even to human cloning--assuming that techniques are first thoroughly proven
and experimentation follows the ethical rules applying to all medical
research. (Although I don't think it will be safe to try with humans,
except for cure of a few genetic diseases, in the foreseeable future,
because not nearly enough is understood at present about the regulation
of genes and the extent to which their combination, as distinguished
from the presence of individual genes, affects human characteristics.)
I believe there's more to human beings than their genes--which we need
more genetic research to demonstrate.
More questions? Feel free to write to me at sle [at] sylviaengdahl [dot] com. I will answer you personally, and also add answers of general interest to this page.
If you enjoyed this trilogy, please add your review of it to some
of the reader review sites on the Web. Because the 2000 edition was issued by
a small press, it fell through the crack again -- the original editions
weren't reviewed in SF media because they were issued as Young Adult books,
and when it was issued as adult SF, the media didn't review it because it
was a reprint! So though I got lots of mail from people happy to see it back in
print, new readers didn't hear that it exists. I am hoping some new readers
will find the ebooks.
Several years ago while cleaning out a file I came across this, which was printed as a publicity leaflet by Atheneum for distribution to teachers and librarians at the time This Star Shall Abide was initially published (1972). It was written before the second novel of the trilogy, and of course long before I had any idea of writing the third, and we had not recognized that the story as a whole would turn out to be of adult interest; so since it wasn't intended to be seen by the end audience of young people, it includes a lot of spoilers. On that account I wouldn't circulate it now apart from this Web page, but it may be of interest to those who have enjoyed the book.
A Background Paper for This Star Shall AbideCopyright 1972 by Sylvia Louise Engdahl
It is a strange experience for a writer to find more themes inherent in a story than were originally meant to be there. This has happened to me before, but never to the same extent as in my newest science fiction book, This Star Shall Abide.
The ideas for my three previous novels, as well as for this one, came to me some fifteen years ago; I was not free to write the books then, nor would they have been thought timely. When I did write them, it was largely a matter of finding ways to express what I had long wished to say. But the story that became This Star Shall Abide underwent more change during its development than did the others. I always knew that the subject of space exploration and of man's place in the universe would be timely someday; it has been my prime concern for as long as I can remember. That the issue of youthful heresy would become central in our society was less obvious to me. And certainly I did not foresee that the concept of technological innovation as essential to human progress would ever be questioned, as it is questioned by some today, thereby giving the story's setting a thematic importance of its own. Thus what began as a relatively simple story grew into one so involved that its telling demanded not one volume, but two, of which This Star Shall Abide is the first.
This Star Shall Abide is about a boy who rebels (justifiably) against the religious and secular authority of his world; who is convicted of heresy, which in the eyes of his people is a serious crime; who refuses either to recant under pressure or to sell out for personal gain--and who is then confronted with proof that most of his beliefs are mistaken. The people's religion is not mere superstition. Their social system, although condonable only as the lesser of two evils, is not corrupt. Their world is not as it should be; it is not as it will become; but there are valid reasons--unique ones not comparable to any that could arise in our world--why no immediate change is possible, and the goal of change must be pursued by constructive rather than destructive means. Noren, in the story, has the courage to acknowledge this, whereupon he discovers that the heretic's path leads to rewards and burdens beyond any he has ever imagined.
Something that seems false or foolish to a person whose knowledge is limited may turn out to be true ... it is possible that outward appearances are misleading and that more complete information would give him a different viewpoint ... it is right to question orthodoxy; truth must not be accepted merely on the grounds of authority or tradition; yet on the other hand, it must not be rejected merely because it is orthodox, since to do so is equally dogmatic. These, among other things, were the intended themes of the story. Initially I considered their religious aspects alone. In taking up the material after a lapse of years, however, I realized that they have acquired wider significance. For many of today's young people heresy has become a way of life: not just the rejection of traditional religious symbols, but outright repudiation of society's established values. Contemporary readers will find Noren's defiance of secular authority even more relevant than his scorn of a seemingly unreasonable faith.
While this fact added pertinence to the story, at the same time it created complications. If the social system that Noren defies were a good one, the book would not say anything to young people who see only the bad features of ours; they would dismiss it as a defense of the system itself. The science fiction form was thus of great advantage to me in that I could devise a system totally unlike ours and wholly indefensible apart from the singular conditions under which it exists. But science fiction, to me, is more than allegory; science fiction must deal not only with what is true for the people of our planet, in our time, but with what I believe about the universe and about underlying truths applicable to whatever sentient races may inhabit it. Having once established a situation in which a human race is faced by disaster so great as to justify an admittedly evil system as the sole alternative to extinction--something I am convinced does not occur on this planet, nor indeed anywhere, in the normal course of evolution--I found that I could not simply stop there. To do so would be to leave readers wondering how such a situation can be reconciled with the optimism I've expressed in the past.
Moreover, the situation cannot in one volume be made entirely clear to readers, for Noren does not learn the full truth about his world until the story's climax. He cannot see why his people have reverted to ways more primitive than those of their ancestors; he cannot understand that their inability to progress is the inevitable result of their being thrust into an alien environment with resources so limited as to make technological advance virtually impossible. Nor can he truly comprehend the hope their religion offers them. He lacks the background to grasp the real nature of the means through which that religion's promises are to be fulfilled.
Hence the forthcoming second volume, Beyond the Tomorrow Mountains. In This Star Shall Abide Noren seeks and eventually finds, but what he finds is not the ultimate truth he assumes it to be; readers whose background is less restricted than his will know that there are deeper mysteries than he has so far encountered. Someday he will question further. Someday he will seek answers that can be found neither in the awesome City of his world nor, for that matter, in any other. It will eventually occur to him to ask why his people suffered a tragic setback that no human wisdom could have prevented, and why anyone who knows the facts should be sure that the setback can be overcome. He will then challenge the system anew, unaware that those who have won the right to share its secrets are no less dependent on faith than those who give a literal interpretation to the symbols.
For in the last analysis, faith--or in other words, a positive view of the
universe--is essential to all progress. Science is necessary, but one cannot
rely solely upon science, which by definition concerns only that portion
of truth that no longer demands faith for acceptance. This is something
Noren has yet to discover at the conclusion of This Star Shall Abide,
and something that our own society too seldom recognizes. It is as basic to
this story as to my earlier ones, a part of the universal pattern for which
today's young people, like Noren, are desperately searching; I hope that
the book will offer them encouragement in that search.