Journey Between Worlds
by Sylvia Engdahl
Now available - A new inexpensive ebook edition!
This novel was first published by Atheneum in 1970 and a new, updated hardcover edition was published in May, 2006 by Putnam. A paperback edition was published in June, 2007 by Firebird (which also released an overpriced ebook edition). The rights have now reverted to the author, who has issued an ebook priced consistently with her others.
The 2006 edition was revised to update descriptions of Mars and references to computer technology, as well as to remove assumptions and phrasing that would strike today's readers as sexist. A few similar modifications were added to the 2015 ebook edition. The action of the story hasn't been changed, and with the recent public interest in Mars, it's more timely than ever.
Though the story was written as a Young Adult romance, many adult readers
also enjoy it, especially those who don't usually read science fiction.
Melinda Ashley has a plan for her life, and a trip to Mars isn't part of it. When she receives a spaceliner ticket as a high school graduation gift from her dad, she is dismayed, but reluctantly agrees to go with him--in part because she's infuriated by her fiance's high-handed declaration that she can't. Her outlook begins to change when she meets Alex Preston, a second-generation Martian colonist who is going home after college on Earth. Alex believes settling Mars is important. He's looking forward to the role he expects to play in the colony's future. Melinda finds this hard to understand, yet she is more and more drawn to him and, while on Mars, to his family. Torn between what she has always wanted and upsetting new feelings, she wonders if she can ever again be content. It takes tragedy and a terrifying experience to make her aware of what really matters to her.
Although this novel is set on Mars, it's not about technology or exotic adventure. It's usually enjoyed more by readers who like romance than by avid science fiction fans.
Read the Author's comments on some of the reactions to the book
See more quotes from reviews of the book
Read a short excerpt from the book
Look inside the book at Amazon.com
Author's Comments on Some Reactions to Journey Between Worlds
November 1, 2015: I have just published a new ebook edition of my YA novel Journey Between Worlds, a realistic story about the colonization of Mars. It's about ordinary people living on Mars, with the focus on why settlement of new worlds is important, and is enjoyed more by young women who like romance than by avid sci-fi fans. The National Space Society review of the 2006 hardcover edition called it, "A must-read for all future space pioneers who wish to persuade their friends to join them in making that future journey between the worlds of the known and the unknown."
The novel is "science fiction" because the story takes place on Mars, but it's not about technology or exotic adventure. It's mainly a story about human aspirations and human love. It has had two past hardcover editions and a paperback issued by major publishers, yet despite good reviews it has never reached the audience it was meant for. The publishers marketed it exclusively as science fiction rather than romance, yet science fiction fans aren't likely to sympathize with a heroine who doesn't want to go to Mars. And they aren't the readers who need to be convinced that colonizing Mars is worthwhile. My aim was to appeal to romance readers who may or may not be in favor of space travel, and who wonder whether in a changing world, there's hope for their descendants to find happiness. And in fact, the 2006 hardcover edition was well received by adult romance websites to which I personally arranged for it to be sent; some reviewers said they enjoyed it as adults as well as recommending it for teens, and even that it made them think. Of course space enthusiasts interested in Martian colonies also like the book. But it has remained largely invisible to the appropriate market. Now that I have the rights back, I'm hoping it will at last be discovered by the readers for whom it was intended.
Comments at Amazon, Goodreads, and Facebook show that many readers of the 1970 or 2006 edition of the book loved it and remember it as one of their favorites. Naturally there are critical comments, too, and where these concern the reader's personal lack of sympathy for the heroine, that's okay. If a character is portrayed as anything but perfect, not everybody will like her (and after all, if she were perfect, the book would be criticized as unrealistic). In this case, some found her particularly unlikeable because her attitudes were different from their own and from those most prevalent in today's society.
But though I don't usually comment on negative reviews, there were several criticisms to which I feel compelled to reply. In the first place, many readers said that the heroine doesn't seem like a modern woman and that her outlook is sexist and obsolete. In the 1970 edition, this is certainly true. I wrote the book in the late sixties, and it did indeed reflect the views still common in that era--girls wanted mainly to get married and weren't very ambitious with regard to their careers. A lot of revision was done for the 2006 edition to eliminate dated phrasing and assumptions, as well as to update the description of Mars and references to technology that is now obsolete.
Yet a number of reviewers complained that in the 2006 edition she still doesn't seem like a modern woman, let alone like a woman of the future--and though this too is true, it's not a matter of when the book was written. It is an intentional portrayal of her individual personality. She is shy and dependent (although it's not true as some asserted that she lets her boyfriend control her; on the contrary, her rebellion against his attempt to tell her she can't go to Mars is the deciding factor iin her decision to go). If she were typical of her generation she'd be eager for a trip to Mars! Moreover, there would be no plot conflict, no room for the growth and change that's the main point of the story. Apparently some of these readers never finished the book (a few stated that they didn't) because by the end of it, her views have changed. Her basic personality hasn't. She still wants marriage and a home--as most women do today, even when it's not their prime objective. She is still somewhat homesick for Earth, as the average person would be. But she's looking forward, not back, and her career plans have become more ambitious and more important to her.
If I were writing the book today I would not change Melinda's personality. It is, or is supposed to be, more significant than a mere plot device--it's basic to the book's theme. There is symbolism that my readers, even those who praised the book, seem to have missed. (I'm sometimes accused of spelling ideas out too much, but when I don't make them explicit, they don't get across. I guess I don't know how to be successfully subtle.) Melinda initially clings to what previous generations considered normal and natural, what she has always believed she wants, and sees no need to move beyond the confines of her past experience. So too do most people today cling to the idea that confinement to Earth is "natural" and see no necessity for the human race to go beyond the limits of the world where our ancestors evolved. I doubt if any such people grasped this parallel, or even that space supporters who didn't like Melinda did; but it is, in my opinion, quite exact. In both cases the underlying factor is a deep-seated longing for stability and fear of the unknown.
This bring me to the other criticism of the book that I want to comment on. One reviewer said, "The author has a definite bias in favor of space colonization." Well, if this is bias I plead guilty. But "bias" is not the right word. We don't normally call deeply held convinctions "bias." We wouldn't say authors of anti-war novels are biased against war, or that advocates of banning industrial pollution are biased in favor of protecting the environment. Open supporters of a cause don't claim to be impartial, and no book other than a nonfiction survey of an issue should be expected to give weight to views unlike its author's. I make no secret of the fact that I believe space colonization is essential to the long-term survival of the human race. I recognize that not all readers share my opinion, and it's their right to disagree with it. But to imply that I ought to present both sides objectively in a novel is to ignore the difference between educational material and literature.
A short excerpt from the book:
I never wanted to go to Mars. So many girls plan to be flight attendants, or ship's technicians, or if they're going to get a degree, they hope to land a position in the Colonies just as soon as they can qualify; and not only because of the fabulous salaries. I was never like that. In our senior year, we used to talk about college and jobs, and all the things we wanted to do with our lives--though of course we knew that for most of us, Europe or Africa or maybe Tahiti would be the extent of our travels. Even then, what I wanted was to live in a house overlooking the bay, with the sparkling blue water in front and dark trees behind, near the town where my mother's folks had always lived. And since teaching was a career that would let me do that, I did not intend to let anything stand in the way of getting my Oregon teaching credentials as soon as I possibly could.
Yet here I am in New Terra. There are times when I still can't believe it.
Sometimes I dream about the water lapping on the rocks below Gran's beach house. Or the sand, white instead of red and damp where the tide has left it, and the breeze smelling of salt and seaweed and free oxygen. And the firs, ragged green against a pale blue sky, and white clouds billowing up behind the mountains . . . or fog. Fog, soft and wet against my face, and indoors, the comforting fragrance of a crackling wood fire.
Then when I wake up and first remember how far away those things are,
I don't see how I can bear it. And I lie there thinking about all that's
happened, and wondering whether making a trip to Mars was very foolish
of me or very mature. You can't ever plan everything out in advance, I
guess. But I used to think I could. I don't think I wanted too much;
the trouble was, I didn't want enough. . . .
I was disappointed not to get even a glimpse of the Susie from the outside, but we never were outside; outside was vacuum. I had seen pictures and knew that she was huge, and shaped rather like a dumbbell, with the power plant in one sphere and the passenger decks in the other. But all I saw when I went aboard was a perfectly ordinary passageway with doors opening off at the sides and some steps going off at unbelievable angles. The Susie's flight attendants, who wore red uniforms instead of blue, came to meet us and escort us to our staterooms. We wouldn't be allowed to walk around by ourselves until the ship broke contact with the shuttle and got her spin back.
That was where I was separated from Alex and also from Dad. I already knew that I'd be sharing my stateroom, for there's no room to spare on a spaceship and all the cabins are double. I wasn't prepared for just how small it would be, though. (If you've ever seen one of those "sleeping cars" they have in railroad museums, you've got the general idea.) There was barely room to stand up next to the double-deck bunk. And of course, no window. When the flight attendant closed the door behind him, I thought for a minute I was going to get claustrophobia after all, especially since that door wouldn't open again. Then I saw the sign on it: THIS EXIT IS AUTOMATICALLY SEALED DURING MANEUVERS AND ZERO-GRAVITY. IN CASE OF EMERGENCY RING FOR THE ATTENDANT. I spotted the bright red "panic button" and felt a little better.
The cabin lights were dim, and my roommate was lying on the lower bunk with a blanket pulled up over her and the safety net loosely fastened; all I could see of her was the back of a blonde head with short, tousled curls. She didn't move when I came in, or even when there was a knock and another flight attendant appeared with my duffel bag. I wondered if she was sick until I remembered that by ship's time it was nearly midnight.
I didn't want to go to sleep. I wanted to go out and find Dad. I wanted him to hug me tight and call me "Mel, honey" in that comfortable, affectionate way of his that I was coming to depend on, and maybe tell me once again just why it was that we were in this cramped, chilly cocoon of a ship on our way to Mars. But there was no way to do that, so without bothering to undress I clambered onto the upper bunk--which wasn't really up, of course--and buried my face in my arms.
Eventually I did fall asleep because I was worn out. Sometime later,
about the time that would have been dawn if there were any dawn in space,
we sailed. I never knew it. It was a low-g maneuver; I didn't wake to
feel the weight seeping back into me as the Susan Constant
slowly eased into her outbound orbit, toward another world.