If social isolation has an upside it’s that it gives some of us a chance to binge watch things we’ve missed. I’ve been doing a lot of reading too, although with libraries closed I’m no longer able to go and browse and pull whatever looks interesting, so I’m pretty much stuck with my own collection, which is pretty substantial but, the way things are going, I may actually run out of books I haven’t gotten to yet. I’ve revisited some old favorites too, although one of the downsides of binge reading a book you’ve already read is that it goes faster the second, third, or fifty-fourth time around, but that’s another story.
One book I’ve gone back to is one I picked up as a kid because it looked interesting and passed it around to all my friends, sort of like a disease, but in a good way. The book is Interstellar Pig by William Sleator, a young adult novel published way back in 1984, before “young adult” was a big deal. And even for the adult me it’s a fun book: a teenager named Barney is staying in a beach house and mostly bored out of his gourd when three interesting slightly older people come to stay in the cottage next door. They invite him to join them in playing the game Interstellar Pig, which they’re obsessed with. The object of the game is simple but sinister: be the player holding an object known as “The Piggy” when the game ends. All other players, and their home planets, are destroyed. Barney gets hooked too and can’t back out when he discovers he’s brought Earth into the very real interplanetary game of Interstellar Pig and that the real Piggy is very close.
What makes it not just fun but kind of timely is the sense of entrapment and isolation. Barney can’t go for help, and is forced into close quarters with three adults who not only don’t have his best interests at heart, they’re not even human.
Themes of isolation and entrapment recur throughout Sleator’s books: one of his earlier novels, House Of Stairs, is an eerie psychological story of teens trapped in a mind-control experiment. In Singularity, Sleator’s best book, published the year after Interstellar Pig, twin brothers discover a shed where time runs at high speed, and one of them decides to spend a year—which, to the outside world, is just a single night—alone in it. Time and isolation are also themes of The Boxes, published in 1998, and its prequel, Marco’s Millions, published in 2001. Sleator also wrote a 2002 sequel to Interstellar Pig, Parasite Pig, that finds Barney on another planet being fattened up for an alien’s main course.
Still Interstellar Pig is the one I keep coming back to, one I pull off the shelf sometimes to keep me company, mostly because it’s the one I have, and I can enjoy it knowing it’s just a game. Yeah. Maybe.