I just found out that William Sleator has died. He passed away on August 2, in Thailand. I know that most of us will immediately think of his creepy SF novels full of very strange creatures and events (The Beasties (1997), & The Boxes (1998), with their very strange covers, etc.). He certainly knew how to tell a story and his were truly unique.
One of the books he was most known for, Interstellar Pig (1984) is a classic. Its title refers to a board game, that turns out to be real, that the main character, Barney, plays with his neighbors (aliens in disguise) where the object is to win the game by holding the Piggy card. The aliens will do anything to get the Piggy and Barney must keep it in order to save the human race. Barney realizes he has a psychic link to the Piggy. It tells him it created the game so that it could be loved and appreciated, despite its tendency to occasionally detonate planets when it hiccops.
Its sequel, Parasite Pig (2002), is just as riveting.
He’s books are mostly science fiction and many also contain elements of horror. I’m not surprised that R.L. Stine considers Sleator one of his favorite young adult writers. Another of his most famous books was House of Stairs (1974), a dystopian, Lord of the Flies type of story of 5 sixteen-year-olds who find themselves in a strange building with no walls, ceiling or floor â€“ nothing but endless flights of stairs leading in every direction. Only if they perform certain actions will the food machine feed them pellets of meat. They are part of a Pavlovian like experiment to see how cruel and ruthless they can be to one another to survive.
My first thought, though, wasn’t about his creepy science fiction books, but about his book Oddballs, a collection of short stories. I remember booktalking it for my local middle school and reading parts of it aloud. The kids were laughing hysterically at some parts because they were so funny. The stories were based on his own childhood and his crazy family. I particularly remember one of the beginning stories about family car trips where he and his sister wrapped themselves in brown blankets and pretended they were poo. They imagined what kinds of conversations poo would have if it could talk. Immature? Maybe, but also very funny and imaginative and sure to appeal to young readers.
I can’t say that I knew that much about him either. I just checked online and the website â€œIt Could Actually Happen: An Exploration of William Sleatorâ€ says he wrote his first story when he was six-years-old. He even typed it out. It was a brief novella of exactly four sentences: â€œOnce there was a fat cat. Boy was she fat. Well, not that fat. But pretty fat.â€ The title? Why, Fat Cat, of course. It also says he had a background in music and he entered Harvard intending to get a music degree. I, for one, am glad he became a writer instead. He’d been writing books since 1970, when he published The Angry Moon. He wrote Blackbriar first, but The Angry Moon came out before it.
There’s also a nice interview with Sleator on a Reading is Fundamental website www.rif.org/kids/readingplanet/bookzone/sleator.htm
I don’t think he’s been recognized or fully appreciated as much as he should have been. Maybe now more of us will go back and read or reread some of his books.
– Sharon Rawlins, currently reading the galley of Deviant by Adrian McKinty