Interview with Sylvia Engdahl

Q: How has it been having your SF trilogy “Children of the Star”republished as adult SF?

A: It will potentially reach a wider audience, because most olderteenagers don’t want to read YA books and the 2nd and 3rd volumesof the trilogy aren’t interesting to readers below high schoolage–though younger teens often enjoy the first volume–whereasadults like them. A number of people who’ve reread it have toldme that they remember being bored as kids by the 2nd volume, butnow find it meaningful; one said she was sure I must have revisedit extensively until she realized she’d been too young for itbefore. A lot of adults who read one or more of my books in thepast have bought the omnibus. But so far not many new readershave discovered it because most SF media won’t review reprints,even though they never reviewed the original YA editions.

Q: One of your most successful novels “Enchantress from theStars” is also being reprinted this year, can you tell us a bitabout it?

A: It’s about the relationship between peoples of differentworlds at different levels of evolution, and is science fiction,not fantasy (despite the impression some people get from thetitle). It was a Newbery Honor Book, which gave it a largeaudience among middle school readers, although it’s also enjoyedby older ones–it has a much wider age range of appeal than myother novels. Walker is promoting it as a teen book, and thecover art for the new edition was done by Leo and Diane Dillon,artists who have won a Hugo as well as major awards in thechildren’s field. Unfortunately many people who see the words”Newbery Honor” assume I’m a children’s author. But there are nochild characters in any of my books; they are all college age orolder.

Q: Of your own works which one is your favourite?

A: It’s hard to say because they are quite different from eachother, and I like them for different reasons. From the literarystandpoint, I’m most pleased with _Enchantress from the Stars_,but in terms of the psychological development of the protagonist,I have special feeling for the trilogy.

Q: How much science and how much fiction do you think thereshould be in SF?

A: I think there’s room for the wide range that exists.Personally I write about the relationship of human beings to theuniverse beyond Earth, not about science. The technologicaldetails don’t matter to me although I am a strong advocate oftechnology; my portrayal of advanced developments is more or lesssymbolic. For this reason I have never felt that “sciencefiction” is an appropriate blanket term for all fiction about thefuture. Certainly “hard” SF about science is needed, but so isfiction focused on other forms of speculation. Since today’sscience does not understand all aspects of human existence, andlacks data from worlds other than our own, what we imagine aboutfuture progress is necessarily fiction.

Q: What did you like to read when you were a child?

A: I didn’t read science fiction because little if any SF foryoung readers existed when I was a child–Heinlein’s earliest YAbooks didn’t appear until my late teens. I wasn’t exposed to theSF of the 30s and 40s, as I got practically all my books from thepublic library; there were no mass-market paperbacks then, and Iwas unaware of pulp magazines. (I first became interested inspace at the age of 12, but read only what little nonfiction thelibrary had.) I didn’t care much for fantasy of the kind thenavailable, either; I read mostly historical fiction.

Q: What plans do you have for the future?

A: For a long time I’ve been working on a scholarly nonfictionbook about the mythology of the Space Age, a topic on which Iused to teach online college courses, which may or may not seeprint. There was only a short period in my life when I had ideasfor fiction–though I have plenty of theme ideas, I’m rarely ableto think of the key events needed for stories. So I don’t knowif I will write more novels. I’d like to, now that I’vediscovered how many people on the Internet have been searchingfor my books.

Q: How much do you use the Internet?

A: I use it constantly, as I don’t get out much and it is my maincontact with the world. The establishment of my Web site waswhat enabled me to get my books back into print, and I enjoy e-mail correspondence with readers. I also created and maintain asite for another author, and do what other freelance work I’mable to obtain online, besides selling things I no longer need ateBay and half.com. I’d be lost without the Internet!

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