Engdahl is the author of six science fiction novels, first
published by Atheneum in the 1970s as Young Adult (teen) books but also
liked by many adult readers. All have been reissued by different
publishers in the 21st century and are currently in
She is a long-term advocate of space colonization, which she has always believed is essential to human survival, and first developed her concept of the Critical Stage the point at which a planetary civilization simultaneously gains both the capability for space travel and the power to destroy itself in 1956, the year before Sputnik. Her 1971 novel The Far Side of Evil (updated in 2003) is based on this concept.
Sylvia was born in Los Angeles and received her degree in 1955 from the University of California at Santa Barbara. After teaching for a short time, she switched to the then-new field of computer programming, starting as a trainee with the RAND Corporation (later the System Development Corporation), which was developing the SAGE Air Defense System. For ten years she did assembly-language systems and utility programming for SAGE, ultimately becoming a Computer Systems Specialist.
In 1967 she left programming and moved to Portland, Oregon, where during the late 1970s she did graduate work in anthropology focused on the evolutionary significance of space colonization. Her first novel Enchantress from the Stars, which deals with her views on how mature extraterrestrial civilizations would view less advanced ones, was a 1971 Newbery Honor Book, winner of the Children’s Literature Association’s 1990 Phoenix Award given “from the perspective of time” to the best book for children published in the year 20 years prior to the award date, and a finalist for the 2002 Book Sense Book of the Year in the Rediscovery category.
Her later novels are for older readers and the 2000 edition of her trilogy Children of the Star was issued as adult SF. This trilogy is about the difficulty of survival in a colony that lost most of its technology after the destruction of its home world by natural disaster. The most recent of her books to be republished is Journey Between Worlds, a romance intended to interest teenage girls in the importance of colonizing Mars.
Sylvia has also written nonfiction for young people. Her 1974 book The Planet-Girded Suns: Man’s View of Other Solar Systems, dealt largely with the history of belief in extraterrestrial intelligence; it is now out of print but available free online. In the 1970s she coauthored teen books on genetic engineering and particle physics, and recently she has edited anthologies for high schools on Extraterrestrial Life, Genetic Engineering, and Cloning.
From 1985 to 1997 Sylvia was an online faculty and staff member of Connected Education, Inc., one of the earliest organizations to offer college-level online courses, where for several years she taught “Science Fiction and Space Age Mythology”, a Media Studies course dealing with pop-culture SF, for graduate credit from the New School for Social Research in New York. Her lecture material for that course can be found at her website.
Among the other things in the Space section of her website are her essay “Space and Human Survival”, which has been online since 1997 and has had over 30,000 visitors since the counter was added in 2000, and her large collection of quotations dealing with why humankind must expand into space. She now lives in Eugene, Oregon, where she continues to write.
Read Sylvia’s MySpace blog. Listen to her on The Space Show, and again on the The Space Show. Listen to her on WCBN’s Living Writers. Read her interview with SFF World. Read her advice to aspiring writers. Read her online essays and short fiction. Read her Frequently Asked Questions. Purchase signed copies of her books!