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Authors: William Sleator

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Mom hadn't been able to reach Dad at work. When he got home that evening and Mom emotionally broke the tragic news to him, he responded with his usual distant, noncommittal “Huh” and sat down with the paper.

But eventually he made a few phone calls. He spoke to the dean of the medical school where he worked and other department heads at the university, several of them with Ph.D.s from Harvard and all of them widely recognized academics. They were more than willing to write letters to the Harvard dean of admissions, pointing out that his treatment of me was lacking in professional ethics. Mom wanted to write him, too. Dad advised her not to. Instead, he waited until his colleagues' letters had arrived in Cambridge and phoned the dean himself.

Dad was very polite, and calm and reasonable as always. He even managed to be jocular. In a pleasant, conversational voice, he pointed out that it was really not the best policy to unconditionally accept someone—influencing him to turn down offers from other schools—and then reject him without warning three months later. The Harvard dean could hardly dispute this impeccable logic, especially since Dad was not the least bit emotional or argumentative, as most other parents would have been.

It was almost certainly on the basis of Dad's cool behavior during this phone call that Harvard decided to accept me, after all—where I went on to spend the four most miserable years of my life.

Oddballs

I lied.

Writers of fiction always do. We take something from life and then tidy it up, tying loose ends together, changing the results of actions, arranging situations to suit our whims, playing God. We do this because it's fun—and to make our stories appear to
mean
something, which events rarely do in real life.

But—though it's possible that I may have exaggerated slightly in a few instances—I have told only one
real
lie about my family in this book. Except for that, everything I've described did happen, and that's the truth, whether the reader chooses to believe it or not. The single story in which I actually invented something is “The Hypnotist.”

Don't get me wrong. Jack did hypnotize Tycho. Tycho really drank water out of the toilet and appeared to be under the influence of a post-hypnotic suggestion to throw the nearest object to the floor whenever he heard the word
window
. The only part I made up was the tidy little suggestion at the end that Jack used his hypnotic powers to make Danny stop picking on Tycho.

When Danny was around eleven or twelve, he did stop abusing Tycho, but it had nothing to do with hypnosis. The ostensible reason for this change was that Tycho suddenly grew taller and stronger than Danny and was now capable of beating him up.

But there was more to Danny's change than Tycho's size, since he knew that easygoing Tycho would rarely strike back. And for a while, he did go on flinging insults at him.


You
can't come to the movies with us, Tycho,” Danny said one Saturday afternoon, as he and a friend were putting on their jackets.

Tycho, who was practicing the cello in the front hall, shrugged indifferently, not lifting his eyes from the music.

“Let's get out of here,” Danny's friend said, putting his hands over his ears. “That horrible noise is driving me crazy.”

“That's not noise! Tycho plays really good,” Danny said, suddenly turning on his friend.

“Tycho was messing things up in my room,” Danny complained to Mom a few days later. “He did something with my Phillips screwdriver, and now I can't find it.”

“I've told you a million times to leave Danny's things alone, Tycho,” Mom snapped at him. “Don't you ever listen?”

Tycho placidly turned a page of his book. “Danny left the Phillips screwdriver down in the basement yesterday,” he said.

“Oh,” Danny said, after a minute. “That's right, I did. You shouldn't get mad at Tycho for something he didn't do, Mom. It's not fair.”

This shocking and totally unexpected streak of decency and justness that began to surface in Danny (where had it come from?) eventually made it impossible for him to go on tormenting Tycho. Another factor was that they turned out to have many interests in common.

Together they built a Van de Graaf generator in the basement. It was a large metal ball atop a four-foot-high cylinder. When you put your finger near the ball, a bright bolt of lightning would leap from the ball to the finger, spectacular in appearance but harmless and much less painful than you would have expected.

When Vicky and I had parties, we loved demonstrating it to our friends. We would all hold hands in the dark basement, and when one person put his hand near the ball, the fizzling arc of electricity looked just like something out of
The Bride of Frankenstein
. Everyone in the line could feel the startling but not very powerful electric jolt flowing through our bodies. Our friends thought Tycho and Danny were geniuses.

Danny is a computer scientist, Tycho a physicist. They both began their scientific careers at Bell Laboratories. A little joke of Danny's caused a sensation his first year there. The lab had an abundant supply of liquid nitrogen, a super-cold substance that boils at room temperature. Ingenious Danny poured some liquid nitrogen into an empty plastic soft-drink bottle, screwed the lid on tight, and left the bottle out in the corridor. In a few minutes the nitrogen boiled, and the expanding gas blew up the bottle. The tremendous explosion echoed up and down the long corridor, startling everybody on the floor. This act did little to increase Danny's popularity at work. But popularity has never been much of a motivating factor for any of us.

All four siblings are friends. Our personalities and styles of living have evolved differently, but in one respect the four of us are the same: We don't base our behavior on what other people will think about us.

Danny expresses his opinions bluntly, even when he knows other people may violently disagree with him—and they often do. He acts according to strict moral principles and can be quite unbending at times. He is also very outgoing and makes friends whenever he visits me. He has given me many creative ideas for my books.

Tycho has never owned a television; he would rather play the cello or go on four-day hikes in the mountains with his wife, Marina, a zoologist who has spent a lot of time studying primate behavior in the African jungle. They also lived in Zurich, Switzerland, for several years, where they had a beautiful house overlooking the lake, which was a ten-minute walk from the Lindt chocolate factory.

Vicky, a nurse, has not hesitated to tell
doctors
that they may have made a mistake about a patient. Her husband Dave—a true oddball to the core—did a lot of the child rearing while Vicky was at work. She and her daughter, Julie, who is as good an actress as Vicky, often participate in local theatrical productions—Julie won acclaim as one of the no-neck monsters in Tennessee Williams'
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
. It was Julie who decided on her little brother's name, Spencer, well before he was born. Now she calls him Fluffy.

I have never had a full-time job in my life, though I worked part-time for many years as rehearsal pianist for a ballet company, touring with them all over Europe and the United States and having many memorable encounters with dancers and choreographers, some of them regrettably famous. But eventually the remorseless totalitarian regime of the ballet company began to make me feel a little sick. I hated working for an organization that treated everyone—dancers as well as staff—like dispensable plastic objects. I was also making enough money from writing to live on. So I quit. I currently live and write in Bangkok, Thailand—one of the hottest, ugliest, most polluted and congested cities in the world—because I am so happy here.

Most parents can't help loving their children, and I suspect that Mom and Dad might love us just as much even if we had—by some cruel and improbable joke of nature—turned out to be conventional. But it's a meaningless question.

Because, somehow or other, we have grown up to be the kind of oddballs that Mom and Dad like.

About the Author

William Sleator (1945–2011) was an American science fiction author best known for his young adult novels. Raised outside of St. Louis, Missouri, Sleator was the eldest of four children. After graduating from Harvard University with a degree in English, he moved to England for a short time, where he played music for ballet classes and developed the ideas for
Blackbriar
, his first novel. For many years, he was the rehearsal pianist for the Boston Ballet.

Sleator is the author of over thirty books, including
The Angry Moon
, which was awarded the Caldecott Medal and nominated for the National Book Award, as well as the quasi-autobiographical science fiction thrillers:
The Night the Heads Came
,
Others See Us
, and
Oddballs
. In his later years, he split his time between Boston and rural Thailand.

Author photo © 2002 by Abrams

All rights reserved, including without limitation the right to reproduce this ebook or any portion thereof in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of the publisher.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, events, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Copyright © 1993 by William Sleator

Cover design by Angela Goddard

ISBN: 978-1-5040-1910-1

This edition published in 2015 by Open Road Integrated Media, Inc.

345 Hudson Street

New York, NY 10014

www.openroadmedia.com

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