Sunday, November 18, 2007

Stewards of the Flame-Sylvia Engdahl

Stewards of the Flame
Sylvia Engdahl
BookSurge, 2007, $19.99
ISBN 9781419675065

On the colonial planet Undine, Captain Jesse Sanders Unified Colonial Fleet star freighter Eureka awakens in a medical facility in which two technicians ignore his denial as they claim he is an alcoholic. He insists otherwise as he never drank onboard or excessively with the crew on-world; he occasionally got drunk when he was off duty and alone.

He learns he has been sedated for three nights as his doctor says he cannot leave until he is detoxed. If he fails to depart on time with his vessel he will be classified as AWOL and stuck on this backwater orb for life. Worse as he complains they label him hostile and in need of Aversion Therapy. That means special treatment without his consent needed to include visits to Psych. His Starship Fleet career is dead as the health system imprisonment gets worse until he meets a group who believes in the illegal right to die. These STEWARDS OF THE FLAME enables him to escape to an island hideaway where he learns to use much more of his mind’s powers to ignore pain and to telepathically communicate.

The premise behind this novel is that Big Brother monitors an individual’s mental and physical health in order to “take care’ of the person in accordance with laws even if a competent person rejects such treatment. That hypothesis is grounded in current efforts to make the medical field more efficient and effective; it is not a stretch to expand the electronically documented military health records of soldiers or the President’s push for electronic transferable medical records to become the basis of required treatments. When the STEWARDS OF THE FLAME moves into more esoteric new age elements the story line remains extremely entertaining mostly because of the hero, but loses some of its social commentary. Still Sylvia Engdahl provides her readers with a cautionary tale that Big Brother is coming through the government medical complex.

Harriet Klausner

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