Sylvia Engdahl has crafted a chilling look at what extreme socialized medicine could become in the hands of a
dictatorial medical regime in her new adult novel, Stewards of the Flame. She has set this social debate on
a colonized world called Undine where crime is considered a disease and death is avoided by putting everyone in
stasis chambers that prolong the body forever.
When Jesse Sanders, a starship freighter captain, hits the local bar for a few cold ones and is involuntarily
hospitalized because he is drunk, his nightmare begins. Not only is he subjected to horrendous aversion therapy,
but he is threatened with medical chipping (inserting a tracking device to monitor his vital signs). A nurse and a
psychiatrist hide Sanders at a lodge on a remote island and recruit him into a subversive organization, the
Stewards of the Flame, that is bringing about change through the paranormal power of the mind.
Engdahl's premise is chilling and her solution to the dilemma is unique. Her characters are quite likeable and
often heroic. The real villain is the medical government. I enjoyed this book and understood much of the esoteric
practices the Stewards of the Flame used to train their members. However, Engdahl spends about half of the book
dealing with this training and the discussions between the trainers and Sanders, explaining either the philosophy
or science behind the training itself or about some aspect of the medical culture on Undine. This exposition got a
bit long. However, when a plan to escape was formed and the action started, it was well worth the philosophy and
background behind it.
I also was disappointed with the ending. I expected much more detail about where the people were going and what
they would do when they got there. It would have been interesting to see this particular group of people set up a
new society based on their paranormal talents. Perhaps Engdahl will write a sequel.
The author does include an afterword that cites scientific and medical innovations, which are already being
tested or being used, that are mentioned in the narrative of this book. Stewards of the Flame would make an
excellent discussion topic for a book club or church group.