This was going to be a bigger romp, but once I got ahold of all these books I read as a kid, I just wasn’t as inspired as I thought I would be.
House of Stairs: 5/5 Stars
As with most of the William Sleator books this is one that I read as a kid. I recall having to make a few attempts to get through it, and I understand now. The book is relatively oblique about its characters and plot. One at a time, we are introduced to a series of teenagers who find themselves trapped in a strange building where stairs and platforms are placed and constructed at seemingly random intervals. We learn about each of the kids through some indirect characterization, mostly through them thinking through their situation. They realize, as we realize, that they were all state orphans, they fell asleep, they woke up here. One of the girls, whose personality in this is 50 year old YA book is “fat” has found a machine that distributes food at seemingly random intervals. She’s posted herself up at the machine being there and ready to receive the food as it comes out. As the gather at the spot, learn about themselves, and try to figure out what to do, they realize the food machine may or may not have a pattern, and that by working together they might figure it out.
The novel was one of my first forays into sci-fi, and dystopian fiction. It’s shrewdly dystopian, like a handful of William Sleator novels are, as we only learn small snippets of the outer world from the kids’ recollections. There’s never much of a info dump and it makes this book fascinating and cryptic, and as I learned when I was younger, a little more work to follow.
Interstellar Pig: 5/5 Stars
One of my OG favorite books as a kid. One of things I’ve always loved about science fiction and fantasy books (and this book is both) and about certain kinds of stories, movies, video games, etc, is the introduction of an array of characters and character classes, and then a discussion of their attributes and gear and that stuff. Maybe this book sparked that and maybe it just touched upon it, but it’s definitely one of the ones that showed that to me.
So Barney is a teenager renting a beach house with his parents. You get the impression this is a kind of New England beach house on a not hugely popular beach. His house is referred to as the “Captain’s House” because it was built by a well-known local history figure who captained a ship. We also learn that the captain’s brother was keel-hauled on the ship for murder and went crazy, dying in the front room, which just so happens to be Barney’s room. We soon find out that a trio of youngish people, two men and a woman, had tried very hard to get the captain’s house, and have had to instead settle for a small cinderblock bungalow next door. When Barney and his parents meet the three, Barney instantly finds all three exotic and appealing, while his mom really likes the men, and the dad really likes the woman. Manny and Joe, kind of maybe coded as gay (especially Manny for reasons that become uncomfortably clear later), and Zena immediately take to Barney and he realizes that among their youth, beauty, exoticism, also comes a kind of savagery and intensity. Their main appeal is that they are playing this interesting and alluring board game (which reminds me now of many recent board games — gotta remember that board games sucked in the 80s), and he wants to join. And of course, you know as well as I do that the game will have consequences!
It’s a lot of fun, and the first person narration helps keep this narrative tight throughout.
Parasite Pig: 2/5 Stars
A not very good sequel to one of my favorite books of all time. For one, some of the allure and fun is stripped away. The cleverness of the first book just doesn’t exist here. One of the fun features of the first book is how tied up the story was in the weird beach house and coastal town. It added a layer of depth and complication to the story and made the first half of that novel a mystery. Here, all that is stripped away straight to plot. There’s one element that keeps this book a little clever, which is that Barney is being controlled by a toxoplasmosis type parasite and so he makes irrational decisions that even he doesn’t understand. In the first book the aliens in disguise use incredibly weird language, and it’s really well down, and here the aliens are boring.
The second thing is that there’s both no suspense, and too much plot. Lastly, the aliens brought in here just as fun and inventive and scary as in the original.