brothercyst: Underappreciated: William Sleator

Friday, January 02, 2009

Underappreciated: William Sleator

Recently I've been thinking back to books I've read and loved. Most readers, I think, like to return to old favorites and either reassess or reassure. One book I've been rereading is The Magus. It still seems excellent but now, as a "young man," I find that I read it as a completely different book than I did as an adolescent or barely-into-college student.

In the bookstore the other day I saw a book by an author I had almost forgotten: William Sleator. He writes YA science fiction novels and from the ages of about 9 to 14 or 15, I used to read them all the time. The best ones I remember were Singularity, House of Stairs, Interstellar Pig, Fingers, and maybe one or two others. (I also saw him speak once at Yale, when I was a freshman. He lives in Asia, I believe.)

Anyway, I picked up Singularity again. I reread the whole thing last night (it's slight at ~170 pages). It is fucking great! I loved it as a kid--and it is way better than I remembered. An elegant, excellent novella. You can buy a new copy for $6.99 and, despite the silly kid's cover ("It's not a playhouse... It's a portal to TERROR!"), it's more than worth it. Do it... get it... read it now.

The book's about twin 16-year-old brothers who stay in the rural house of a dead uncle about whom they know nothing except that cattle from neighboring farms used to wander over to his land and come back all... rickety. I won't divulge more of the plot (go buy the book but don't read details of what it's about!), I'll just say that while the science is sometimes laughable, the conceit is ingeniously conceived and put to perfect use. About two-thirds of the way into the book, the narrator makes an unexpected (but marvelously logical) decision that takes the plot in a whole new direction, and Sleator suddenly turns the story into this strange, zen prison diary. And the climax is perfect, smart, and unexpected.

Sleator's craftsmanship is really worthy of admiration. Singularity is a near-perfectly paced and structured story. Why is this guy not writing screenplays that sell for $1M each? (Somebody should certainly make Interstellar Pig a movie.) Sleator is way underappreciated. His Wikipedia page hilariously compares him to either R.L. Stine or Kafka. Now I need to reread House of Stairs and see if it's also as excellent as I remember.


j. a. tyler said...

man. interstellar pig was one of my favorites back in the kiddie days.

Gene said...

I still think about Singularity. For some reason that book has been stuck in the back of my head for fifteen years.

N A said...

Wrt both comments... me too.

I'm really glad you guys know his stuff.