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Jeff Baker: Boogieman in Lavender – Sleator and Selden; of Genies and Singularities

Jeff BakerWe are out there. We are not always obvious. In the days before the 21st Century’s sometimes grudging acceptance of LGBT YA authors, such authors labored largely in the closet, their works publicly known while their orientation was not. Two authors whose works have recently crossed my desk again are William Sleator and George Selden.

Both names are probably jogging a bygone memory or two. Both had at least one familiar hit; Sleator with “Interstellar Pig,” and Selden with “The Cricket in Times Square.” And both men had definite LGBT connections.

I’ll start with Sleator (pronounced “Slater.”) I first encountered his work in one of those book order catalogs they used to have in schools. (Do they still have them?) The cover of Sleator’s book “House of Stairs” caught my eye; a group of teenagers dancing and jumping on a staircase which hung in a void. Yes, I ordered the book and still have it.

“House of Stairs” sets up Sleator’s themes; young adults caught up in strange events with dark, dystopian implications, with a genuine dystopia just offstage. “Interstellar Pig” features a teen who plays the title game with his mysterious new neighbors and discovers they and the game are not of this world. Comparisons to “The Twilight Zone” have become cliché but for Sleator’s work, they fit.

To me, Sleator’s masterpiece is “Singularity.” Twin brothers Harry and Barry, who don’t get along, discover a mysterious building where time passes differently. In what I consider one of the finest scenes I have read in science fiction, Harry decides to use the building to become older than his dominating brother. In describing the carefully-planned regimen Harry uses to time himself and pass the time with reading, self-education and rationing his food supply as only a few minutes pass in the outside world, Sleator shows Harry maturing in ways far beyond the physical acceleration of his aging.

Sleator’s YA story “In The Tunnels” appears in the LGBT YA anthology “Am I Blue?”

William Sleator did not publicly identify as gay or bi but he was partnered with two different men during his lifetime. He outlived each, and died in 2011.

Much of George Selden’s output is aimed at much younger readers, especially the series that begins with “The Cricket in Times Square.” The book which made the biggest impact on me was 1973’s “The Genie of Sutton Place.” A still very-readable book, it actually started out as a teleplay co-written with Kenneth Heuer some two decades earlier with none other than William Marshall (“Blackula”) playing the genie.

In the book, orphaned young Tim Farr is sent to live with his rich Aunt Lucy and finds a magic spell (in the Necronomicon!!) that summons the title genie from an ancient carpet in the museum. What follows is a fun and at times very sweet read through a “wondrous summer of parakeets and dogs and men,” with Abdullah the Genie disguised as Dooley the chauffer. The real magic is in Selden’s storytelling and words, such as Dooley’s flair for language (“Peace mortal! And dream of thy delight!”) And Dooley’s first time driving a car, magically turning all the lights on Second Avenue green, is a riot!

George Selden’s sexual orientation has been a source of speculation. He never married, and was, under the name “Terry Andrews,” the author of “The Story of Harold,” about a bisexual children’s author which was not a YA novel. For years, Selden was not publicly known as the author of “Harold.”  No one has ever confirmed Selden’s own orientation or whether he ever found a partner. Selden died in 1989.

Identity and orientation did not change the fact that these two men wrote good stories which still have the power to entertain and compel, far beyond their intended audience. Good stories have a definite magic.

Best to let young Tim, from “The Genie of Sutton Place,” have the last word:

“That must be the magic. It makes everything feel unreal.”

—end—

 

Jeff Baker blogs about writing and reading sci-fi, horror and other sundry matters around the thirteenth of each month. He has been published in SciFan Magazine and in Queer Sci-Fi’s “Flight” among other places, and also appears on Facebook as Jeff Baker, Author. He also blogs and posts fiction at http://authorjeffbaker.com. He lives in Wichita, Kansas with his husband Darryl.

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