Renowned science fiction writer William Sleator, a master of the macabre who wrote primarily for young adults, died on August 3 at age 66. He divided his time between Boston and Thailand, where he died.
Sleator was best known for creating an offbeat blend of real science, horror, and psychological suspense. In his groundbreaking YA book House of Stairs (1974),Sleator imagines a nightmare world in which five teenagers find themselves in a building with nothing but endless flights of stairs. A precursor to the current wave of dystopian fiction for teens, House of Stairs was named one of the best novels of the 20th century by YALSA, and selected by the New York Times as one of the 100 Best Books of the 20th Century. Also among his more than 30 books are Interstellar Pig, The Green Futures of Tycho, Strange Attractors and The Spirit House, as well as the 1971 Caldecott-winning picture book The Angry Moon, illustrated by Blair Lent.
Sleator’s work was widely praised; calling his work “gleefully icky,” Publishers Weekly said, “Sleator treats us to the best that YA science fiction can offer.” School Library Journal said, “This is an author who knows exactly what adolescents care about. His genius is in taking vague science fiction whimsy and using imagery to word paint it into a stunning virtual reality. Nobody does it better!”
After graduating from Harvard, where he claims he was miserable, Sleator spent a year in England where he worked as a pianist at the Royal Ballet School and lived in an ancient cottage in the middle of the forest. His real-life experiences there became the basis for his first YA novel, Blackbriar, but gradually he moved further into science fiction. In 1970, after only one rejection, Blackbriar was accepted by Ann Durell at Dutton, where he remained for 30 years. In 2002 he followed editor Susan Van Metre to Abrams, and has been published there ever since. The Boy Who Couldn’t Die was on the launch list for the Amulet imprint in spring 2004. This October, Amulet will release Sleator’s final novel, The Phantom Limb, co-written with Ann Monticone.