A Tribute to William Sleator

I’m a fan of science fiction.

But unlike a lot of sci-fi fans, I wasn’t raised on Asimov or Clarke or Heinlein or Verne or Wells.  I discovered sci-fi through a regrettably obscure young adult writer named William Sleator.  When I was in fifth grade, I stumbled across his novel The Boy Who Reversed Himself in a Scholastic catalog.  reversed himselfIt sounded interesting, so I ordered it (you know, with my mom’s permission and money and everything).

The concept of the book absolutely blew my mind.  It concerned a teenager who was able to travel into a fourth spatial dimension.  If you were to have a 2D cardboard cutout of yourself sitting on your desk and you lifted it up into a third dimension and moved it around, you could return it to the 2D surface facing the opposite direction.  Much in the same way, the boy returned from the fourth dimension reversed–his hair would keep falling over one eye instead of the other, for example.  It was subtle changes like that which clued the narrator in to the fact that something pretty weird was going on.

I voraciously read everything by Sleator that I could find in my local libraries.  Although not everything he wrote was straight-up science fiction, he had this wonderful ability to blend fascinating premises (especially Singularity and Marco’s Millions) with a healthy appetite for absurdity (most notably in Interstellar Pig) and a delicious creepiness factor (on display in Fingers and House of Stairs).  He had such a unique brand of writing.  It was always relatable, always conceptually challenging and never above having a little fun.

If I flatter myself, I consider Tiem Mechine to be a spiritual descendant of Sleator’s work, although it’s not aimed at young adults.  I enjoyed working through a mindbending world of time travel while keeping my characters grounded and entertaining.  I hope the fun I had writing it shows through in the same way that Sleator’s did in my favorite books of his.

As far as my childhood heroes go, William Sleator is definitely somewhere near the top.  Sadly, he passed away a few years ago and there will be no more of his adventures.  I would have loved to have met him.  I would have loved to discuss his books and to see what he thought of mine.  But more than anything else, I’d have loved to have been able to thank him for the countless hours of reads and rereads and for the inspiration he gave me both to consume and to create more science fiction.

I also hope he’s not forgotten.  He’s never been a household name, but it’s encouraging to see that his Goodreads page is approaching 19,000 ratings.  If you ask me, that’s not nearly as many as he deserves, but I’m still glad to see that others have enjoyed his tales as much as I have.

…and I will forever dream of the day when somebody takes it upon themselves to make a computer game or board game out of Interstellar Pig.


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