I read this book about 20-30 years ago. It's about a group of teenagers who wake up in a huge room where each is on a separate platform. As the book progresses, they go unconscious and the platforms change, move or become connected. The children are punished or rewarded through a variety of methods including food and pain. The goal is to get them to either hurt each other, or see if they band together, I can't quite remember. Please tell me if this sounds familiar.

  • 1
    Maze runner has kind of a similar feel to it - at least the movie, I haven't read the books yet. – Wayne Werner May 15 '17 at 14:12

House of Stairs

enter image description here

Per Wikipedia:

House of Stairs (1974) is a science fiction novel by William Sleator about orphaned teenagers placed in a house of stairs, similar to the lithograph print by M. C. Escher, which provided the novel's title and setting, in a psychological exploitation of a social dynamics experiment.

Set in a dystopian America in the near future, the story tells of the experiences of five 16-year-olds who were living in orphanages who wake up to find themselves in a strange building that has no walls, no ceiling, and no floor: nothing but endless flights of stairs leading in every direction, seemingly infinite, so that it is impossible to get one's bearings or have perspective. On one landing is a basin of running water that serves as a toilet, sink and drinking fountain; on another, a machine with lights that intermittently produces food. The five, thrown together in these bizarre circumstances, must learn to deal with the others' disparate personalities, the lack of privacy and comfort, their clear helplessness, and a machine that only feeds them under gradually more exacting situations.

It fits with the bit about teenagers waking up on platforms (not really floating, but connected by stairs), as well as the time frame (1974).

There are some differences, though:

  • It's not meant to study group dynamics, precisely. Rather, the purpose of the experiment is to condition youth into soulless government operatives.
  • They don't seem to be subject to pain-based condition, besides the absence of a positive stimulus (food).
  • They don't seem to go unconscious, and the platforms don't seem to move around.
  • 2
    Thank you so much! I am going to go find this book and re-read it. It has been a VERY long time, and I was only about 10-12 when I read it, so it is quite possible that it changed in my head to a different story. I read a LOT, about 2-3 books/week, so it's likely that I forgot some of the details. I appreciate your help, I am so glad I came across this page! IRL so many people just look at me like I'm crazy when I try to explain old books that I read. – Felina Tanner-Allen May 15 '17 at 5:47
  • @FelinaTanner-Allen - So are you not quite sure whether this is it? I could (say) provide the names of the characters if that might help aid recollection. – Adamant May 15 '17 at 5:48
  • 1
    @FelinaTanner-Allen - In any case, if you read the book and it turns out to be it, feel free to accept the answer that best addresses your question. – Adamant May 15 '17 at 5:52
  • 1
    I am fairly sure that this is indeed the correct book. Using the description that you gave, and thinking back I believe that I am mixing in details from another similar story where a young art student is kidnapped and treated in a manner that made a connection in my brain to this story. Now I just have to remember if that was in a collection of short stories, or a book on its own so that I may read it again! I will find this book tomorrow and re-read it to be sure. – Felina Tanner-Allen May 15 '17 at 5:53
  • 3
    Per our previous conversation, I have purchased and re-read House of Stairs. It was the book I was looking for. (Every time I write/say that sentence I just picture Luke Skywalker, lol). I appreciate your help and wish there were more like you in TRW. Thank you again. – Felina Tanner-Allen May 16 '17 at 15:35

I agree with the comment — House of Stairs by William Sleator. From the Google Books description:

One by one, five sixteen-year-old orphans are brought to a strange building. It is not a prison, not a hospital; it has no walls, no ceiling, no floor. Nothing but endless flights of stairs leading nowhere, except back to a strange red machine. The five must learn to love the machine and let it rule their lives. But will they let it kill their souls?

  • I tend to refrain from posting my answers when I'm not quite sure, but seeing as this is already posted.... – Adamant May 15 '17 at 5:35
  • That said, I have some major doubts that this is it, since I can't find any evidence of the stairs moving or the kids falling unconscious (unless from hunger). – Adamant May 15 '17 at 5:43
  • 1
    This should really be a comment on @Adamant's answer – LocustHorde May 15 '17 at 15:57
  • 2
    This came before Adamant's answer. Adamant's should be a comment on this. – Edlothiad May 15 '17 at 16:06
  • @Edlothiad - Actually, I identified the story first (in a comment). That is why the answer says "I agree." – Adamant May 15 '17 at 17:33

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.