This Star Shall Abide by Sylvia Louise Engdahl | Review
Publication: New York, Atheneum, 1972
Genre: Science Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Formats: Paperback, Hardcover
Source: Sylvia Engdahl’s Site
This book proved quite a rollercoaster for the emotions. Having given it my first read as an adult, I found myself wishing I’d come across it in my youth. This book is geared toward a YA audience, to be sure, but I feel the foundational concepts it explores would also do most adults some tremendous good. The plot is centered around questioning the nature of societal rules and traditional beliefs.
Engdahl does a very convincing job of pulling the reader along with her main character’s struggles (hence the emotional joy, and sometimes disparaging, ride) as he tries to stay true to his mission of . . . well, pursuing truth. Noren isn’t fooled for a minute during the first half of the book by the traditions he’s been spoon fed from birth. When he’s forced to accept these same ideals, albeit for reasons he’d never before suspected, near the end, I found my stomach churning with his at the dire proposition that humanity in its majority can’t often handle reality. Most of us need our comforts while those brave enough (or simply curious enough) to face the truth are left to deal with the consequences.
I remember years ago a mentor, in response to my endless stream of philosophical quandaries, warning me, “Most people don’t care that much.” In the over-hopefulness of youth, I disregarded her cautioning, but Engdahl seems to have been on the same page. I like how Jo Walton put it in her comments about this book, that even though some of the premises might stand on a precarious knife’s edge, “it’s a book that does encourage that most essential element of science fiction: thinking about it.”
While racing through This Star Shall Abide, I simultaneously consumed Cixin Liu’s The Three Body Problem. I can’t help but be amazed at the parallels between these two books with regard to protecting the masses through veiled explanations of scientific discovery and the power of religious feelings that often overtake new discoveries. When themes keep popping up in literature, those are probably the ones to stop and consider.
I still wish the world didn’t carry so much evidence in favor of the assertion, as proclaimed by both Engdahl and my mentor, that the masses don’t give a shit about reality or about the possibility of understanding truth (even if that truth is predicated on relativistic perspectives). As exemplified in Hitchcock’s Rope, people who don’t want to dig deeper on the philosophical plane certainly aren’t of less value. If the world were made up entirely of theoretical philosophers, the homeless and those overwhelmed with addiction or mental illness probably wouldn’t stand a chance.
Certainly this book inspires all types (Villagers, Technicians, and Scholars alike) to at least think about it, even a little. This is the beauty of books, as they enable a window of influence to seep into our subconscious, if we’re willing to at least take the time to engage. Caveats, always caveats.