Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Wonderfully Epic House of Stairs

A few weeks ago an author randomly popped into my head. That author was William Sleator.

I went through a period when I middle school, I think, and read everything that I could find by him. The ones that really stick out in my head are Into the Dream, Among the Dolls, The Beasties, and...House of Stairs. When I looked into them I discovered that most of them are out of print. The only one I can still order is House of Stairs. Which is the one I found at a used bookstore about a week later.

I remember being startled by the book but I didn't remember too much about it. So I was excited to reread it.

House of Stairs is a dystopian book. With that being so big now I'm a little surprised that more people haven't heard of it or that it hasn't made some sort of resurgence. I think what's different and sort of cool about it is that it's kind of a subtle dystopian. So many of the ones that are out now are so focused on society as a whole. We get every little detail about the twistedness of the world and how it came to be that way.

The whole premise of House of Stairs is that these five 16 year old orphans wake up in some sort of space made entirely of white stairs. They're all different kinds of people. Withdrawn, tough, rich, shy, aggressive, charming, etc. The find this machine that only feeds them when they preform these elaborate rituals and dances. The dance changes subtly until suddenly it stops working. The machine wants them to turn on each other. Every time one of them does something against the others they are rewarded.

In House of Stairs we only get hints and mentions of the society because it is so focused on what's going on inside. The inside, with the five children becomes its own mini society. There's a power struggle over who should lead, Oliver or Lola. Who is really the one controlling everyone, Blossom. The one with surprising strength, Peter. And the easily manipulated, Abigail.

At the end of the book we get a startling insight into their society. The kids were put into the House of Stairs in hopes of conditioning them to be ruthless and be used as weapons.That tells us a lot about the kind of society. The other mentions we get are that only diplomats live in houses and books are considered old when compared to screens. It's perhaps not the most outwardly twisted dystopian society but the experiment that they do is appalling enough.

Since the novel is grand total of 167 pages there isn't a terrible lot about the characters. We get enough about them for them to be put into roles but not enough for them to have solid back stories. Instead any affection we feel toward the characters is created based on their personalities. Peter and Lola are the obvious ones we are supposed to like. And that worked because I'm disgusted by the other characters. But they didn't all start inherently bad. It's uncomfortable to think about who would act how given a similar situation.

What, of course, bothered me was that Blossom, the over weight wealthy one, was immediately characterized as terrible and piggish. There was no chance for her to be anything other an manipulative. And part of that is the lack of characterization, which I could allow but she is the only one with wealth. The only one who is overweight. That irked me throughout the novel.

I still think this is an excellent book. It's a good, short, look at Dystopian fiction.

Overall I give William Sleator's House of Stairs a rating of Epic.

Next I am reading James Owen's Here, There Be Dragons. I'm excited because the idea is so interesting.


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