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Stewards of the Flame
Book One of the Hidden Flame duology

Crime is considered illness, untreated illness is crime; ambulance crews are the only police. Dead bodies stay on "life support" forever. Can anyone gain freedom?

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.

If you don't have a high-speed Internet connection, click here to see stills from the video.
Bronze medal, 2008 Independent Publisher (IPPY) Book Awards
(Visionary Fiction category)

“A suspenseful and thought-provoking novel that seems so plausible that it sends chills up my spine . . . truly a masterpiece of parapsychological science fiction.” —Robin Witte, Rebecca’s Reads, May 2008

Read more review excerpts Discussion group study guide

“Experience should teach us to be most on our guard to protect liberty when the government’s purposes are beneficent.” —Louis Brandeis, Olmstead v. United States, 1928

“Of all tyrannies a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive.” —C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock, 1970

“Formerly, people rushed to embrace totalitarian states. Now they rush to embrace the therapeutic state. When they discover that the therapeutic state is about tyranny, not therapy, it will be too late.” —Thomas Szasz, Pharmacracy, 2001

Please note: Unlike Sylvia Engdahl's earlier novels, this is not a not Young Adult book and is not appropriate for middle-school readers. (If you are wondering why, read Why My Flame Novels Aren't Suitable for Kids.)

Here's a short excerpt:

“You mean everyone—everyone on this world who’s not killed outright—dies slowly in that damned hospital, hooked to machines?” Jesse persisted.

“I wish that were what we meant,” Bernie said. There was an uneasy silence. Then, with irony, he went on, “But you see, we have the galaxy’s finest medical facility in this colony—”

“And,” Kwame declared, “the galaxy’s finest medical facility can’t let people die.”

“Till they’ve disintegrated from old age, you mean.” God. It might take years, with unlimited forced treatment. . . .

“No, Jesse. It can’t let them die at all. At least not according to the Meds’ criteria.”

He stared at Kwame. “I guess I don’t quite see.”

“Our medical facility,” Bernie told him, “really is an advanced one. From the technological standpoint it’s superb. It has developed sophisticated techniques not common elsewhere, and as you know, its funds are unlimited. The law says everyone must be treated for everything. So you see, bodies are just—maintained. Indefinitely.”

“Even after they’re brain-dead?” Jesse asked in a low voice.

“Yes—like bodies from which organs for transplant were taken, back in the days before cloned organs were perfected.”

“But aren’t they going to run out of bed space someday?”

“Well, they don’t use regular rooms,” Carla said painfully. “The bodies are kept in stasis units, like those that were once used on slow starships. Besides the treatment floors there are maintenance floors. That’s a euphemism. The more accurate term is vaults.”

Peter put in quickly, “Jess, we need you to be aware that what you saw tonight was a crime involving all of us—even you, should it ever become known that you witnessed it. According to the law you’re now an accessory to murder.”

“Murder? All I got a glimpse of was a wrapped body, already dead. That’s all any of you saw.”

“But officially, you see, there is no death from natural causes here. This world has no cemeteries. To bury a body is murder.”

Think it couldn’t happen? We’re not quite to the stage of stasis vaults, but a lot of other things in the story are all too close to reality. In fact, some of them aren’t science fiction anymore. This site has lots of background information on implanted microchips, remote health monitoring technologies, medical overtreatment, moves toward compulsory medical care, and more -- including links, booklists, and even some videos, plus Sylvia Engdahl's comments.

Fortunately ESP, self-healing, and other powers of the mind are also real (read about them in the background information). Though they can't replace medical care in our own era, perhaps ways will be found for more people to gain the use of them in future centuries.

Please note: Stewards of the Flame was first issued in September 2007. In August 2009 its ISBN was changed due to a change in printer, and at that time it was reformatted to a slightly smaller size with wider page margins so as to match the sequel Promise of the Flame. The text of the two editions (and the ebook) is identical except for minor error corrections and the addition of a reading group discussion guide. In April 2015 the original cover, shown below, was replaced with the current one; no changes were made to the book itself. The present ebook cover, also shown below, has different lettering than the paperback edition (shown above) to make it more legible when seen online in a small size.

Read quotes from the reviews

Look inside the book at Amazon.com

Ebook Purchase links
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Main Flame Duology Page
The two Flame duologies, The Hidden Flame and The Rising Flame, are separate stories that can be read independently, although the backstory included in the second one may affect some of the suspense of the first.