Cecily's Reviews > Slaughterhouse Five or the Children's Crusade

Slaughterhouse Five or the Children's Crusade by Kurt Vonnegut
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Sep 18, 2016

really liked it
bookshelves: canada-and-usa, scifi-future-speculative-fict
Read in November, 2010

A strange and intriguing book that I found very hard to rate: a mixture of wartime memoir and sci fi - occasionally harrowing, sometimes funny and other times thought-provoking.

PLOT
It is the episodic story of Billy Pilgrim, a small town American boy, who is a POW in the second world war, later becomes a successful optometrist and who occasionally and accidentally travels in time to other periods of his life, so he has "memories of the future". Oh, he also gets abducted by aliens, along with some furniture. "So it goes." (That is the catchphrase of the book, and I found rather annoying after the umpteenth time. It's used in Philip K Dick's "Ubik" (review here), which I assumed was a nod to Vonnegut, until I discovered both were published in the same year).

It starts with an old man reminiscing about his life. He is asked about the point of writing an anti-war book, "Why don't you write an anti-glacier book instead?" After that, it jumps about, much as Billy does, "Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time... he is in a constant state of stage fright".

The most thought-provoking bits for me were Billy's mother who tried "to construct a life that makes sense from things she found in gift shops", the bathos with which some war events were described (e.g. being executed for stealing a teapot), and the alien Tralfamadorian's multi-dimensional and multi-sexual world. For instance, they have five sexes, but their differences were in the fourth dimension and they couldn't imagine how time looks to Billy (they also told him that seven sexes were essential for human reproduction!).

MESSAGE
A main message is surprisingly positive: if we could only see or feel the fourth dimension, we would realise that "when a person dies he only appears to die. He is very much alive in the past".

SPOONS
Spoons are mentioned oddly often, as a description of how people lie (lovers or fallen soldiers). Then, near the end, actual spoons are briefly important. I have no idea whether this is significant.

UPDATE: Thanks to a comment from Matthias on his excellent review (read it here), I have, not an answer, but a great spoon reference in The Matrix:
"Do not try and bend the spoon, that's impossible. Instead, only try to realize the truth: There is no spoon."
Spoon Boy

RELATED BOOKS
It has strong links with several other books: as it's Vonnegut, the "fictitious" sci fi writer, Kilgore Trout, gets several mentions.

The mode of time travel clearly influenced Octavia Butler's Kindred, review here,
and Audrey Niffenegger's The Time Traveler's Wife, review here.

When he watches a WW2 film in reverse, it's very like Amis's Time's Arrow, review here.

For a more linguistic and philosophical take on the implications of Tralfamadorians living in all time, simultaneously, see the heptapods in Ted Chiang's The Story of Your Life, review here.

Also compare it with the Borges short story A Weary Man’s Utopia, which is in The Book of Sand, review here


It also left me wanting to read a Tralfamadorian book with its simultaneous threads, "no beginning, no middle, no end... What we love in our books are the depths of many marvellous moments seen all at one time", which is surely what Vonnegut was trying to create for mere human readers.



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Quotes Cecily Liked

Kurt Vonnegut
“And so it goes...”
Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five

Kurt Vonnegut
“Like so many Americans, she was trying to construct a life that made sense from things she found in gift shops.”
Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five

Kurt Vonnegut
“There is no beginning, no middle, no end, no suspense, no moral, no causes, no effects. What we love in our books are the depths of many marvelous moments seen all at one time.”
Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five

Kurt Vonnegut
“All moments, past, present and future, always have existed, always will exist.”
Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five


Reading Progress

02/10 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-50 of 52) (52 new)


message 1: by Will (last edited Apr 15, 2013 12:23AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes accidentally travels in time to other periods of his life
I took this to be a form of PTSD. Billy cannot handle the horrors of his experience, so drops out in a way.

Theodore Sturgeon, a sci-fi writer, wrote at least one book under the Kilgore Trout nom de plume.


Cecily I couldn't decide how literally I was meant to take that, but PTSD is certainly one possibility.


message 3: by Rand (new) - added it

Rand Will wrote: "Theodore Sturgeon, a sci-fi w..."

*ahem*
Sturgeon is the template for Trout, yes, but it was Philip Jose Farmer who went ahead and did the deed of writing under that name.

While the PTSD idea is certainly interesting, it would carry more weight were this book narrated by Billy Pilgrim himself. Unless the narrator is a construct of Pilgrim's mind...


Will Byrnes Of course it is PJ Farmer. A careless mistake. Oops :-(


message 5: by Rand (new) - added it

Rand no, it's an understandable error.

What I don't understand is 1) why Vonnegut never published under Kilgore Trout himself and 2) why V became miffed over the homage. He even refused PJF's offer of royalties prior to publication.

Wikipedia has a very nice page for Trout.


Cecily Rand wrote: "...What I don't understand is 1) why Vonnegut never published under Kilgore Trout himself..."

Good question; I guess we'll never know.

Rand wrote: "...Wikipedia has a very nice page for Trout. "

Thanks.


message 7: by Lynne (new)

Lynne King What a beautifully written review Cecily. I'm envious...


Travelling Sunny I didn't realize this book had a sci-fi element to it. I'd always envisioned it as more of a "Catch-22" kind of book. But, it sounds really good!


message 9: by Cecily (last edited Aug 28, 2013 06:04AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Cecily Thanks, Lynne.
Sunny, it's very strange - but in a good way!


message 11: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes Rand wrote: "http://kilgoretrout.com/"
A true travesty


Cecily Travesty indeed. And just bizarre.


message 13: by Rand (new) - added it

Rand Yeah, Kurt's estate should totally collect a check for that one.
So it goes.


Lit Bug I've forgotten most of this book but I remember I loved it...


Apatt Great review Cecily (I really have to come up with less common adjectives). I didn't like this book as much as I expected to. Also Vonnegut said this thing which annoys me to this day:
"I have been a soreheaded occupant of a file drawer labeled 'science fiction' ever since, and I would like out, particularly since so many serious critics regularly mistake the drawer for a urinal."

I can't imagine Alastair Reynolds saying that!


Cecily Thanks, Apatt - and thanks for that "great" quote. ;)

I can't imagine Reynolds saying that, but I think sci-fi is possibly a little more respectable these days. It's rarely regarded as literature, but as stories are no longer widely published episodically in cheap-looking magazines, perhaps they do at least have the feel of proper books?


message 17: by Rand (new) - added it

Rand Vonnegut was successful because he wrote to the audience of those "cheap looking magazines" as well as to the more cerebral yet sensitive sort of audience which he wished to cultivate.

He addresses this trick (with regard to visual art) to a degree in his novel Bluebeard, though it has been years since I read that one & I am not even sure if I read it all.


message 18: by Cecily (last edited Jun 14, 2014 08:52AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Cecily I wasn't meaning to denigrate those magazines, but merely to reflect the way those who look down on them think.

As for Bluebeard, I read it only last month, and really enjoyed it. The art is specifically abstract expressionism, so if that rings a bell, you probably did read it. I reviewed it here: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show....


Zanna I like your reading of the MESSAGE = )


Cecily Thanks, Zanna. I don't think it would be an appropriate thing to say to comfort anyone recently bereaved, though.


Zanna Good point!


message 22: by Apatt (last edited Sep 09, 2014 12:24AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Apatt "The mode of time travel clearly influenced Niffenegger's "The Time Traveler's Wife" "

No blue box for Billy Pilgrim then? (here we go again with the DW ref - as Madame Vastra said). At least he has a spoon eh?

Seriously though I suspect Vonnegut's episodic style is not something I can really get into. I have read this book and again I don't particularly care for it. I prefer your review to the actual book.

"So it goes." (That is the catchphrase of the book, and I found rather annoying after the umpteenth time.

I agree, "Kidneys" or "Attack eyebrows" are better catchphrases (oh no, here we go again).


Cecily If he's not for you, there's no shame it that.
So it goes...


message 24: by Rand (new) - added it

Rand @Apatt Forsooth, mayhaps V's style is not sporadic, not episodic enough for today's fractalized yet hyper-attentive span of concentrated word-image-thought cloudbursts?

Billy is just a pilgrim plodding in piddling progress, hardly a native after all.

Me myself, I pretty much stopped going to the movies once I learned that the reviews were printed in the newspapers. I could even skim them!


Cecily Rand wrote: "I pretty much stopped going to the movies once I learned that the reviews were printed in the newspapers. I could even skim them!"

By that logic, you could stay on GR and never open a book!


Seemita I can understand why this book turned out to be so difficult to rate, Cecily. I wasn't inside it until I breached the 30% mark. But despite your dilemmas, you have done a wonderful job, rounding up the themes. And like you, I too was captivated by the Trafalmadorian ethos; and that remark about the merging of all images to form one had an intellectual as well as artistic mark for me.

P.S. I felt a little itch to read a Trout novel as well! I hope I am normal ;)


Cecily Thanks, Seemita.

Seemita wrote: "P.S. I felt a little itch to read a Trout novel as well! I hope I am normal ;) "

Of course you're not, but to paraphrase The Mad Hatter, none of the best people are.


message 29: by Cecily (last edited Feb 10, 2016 10:38PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Cecily Trout crops up as a character in quite a few Vonneguts, but I've shied away from reading any of his actual writing. ;)

Meanwhile, I'm still waiting for someone other than Apatt to comment on the spoons, and preferably explain them...!


Apatt I looked up the spoon thing, apparently it's one of the motifs to connect the disjointed scenes. Personally I didn't notice it at all, I was busy waiting for a wurst pun. There is, however, a lumberjack song at the beginning of the book:
"My name is Yon Yonson,
I work in Wisconsin,
I work in a lumbermill there.
The people I meet when I walk down the street,
They say, 'What's your name?
And I say,
‘My name is Yon Yonson,
I work in Wisconsin... "


Nothing about crossdressing then :(


message 31: by Cecily (last edited Jun 11, 2016 01:38AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Cecily Apatt wrote: "I looked up the spoon thing, apparently it's one of the motifs to connect the disjointed scenes. Personally I didn't notice it at all, I was busy waiting for a wurst pun. There is, however, a lumberjack song...
Nothing about crossdressing"


At last! An answer, of a kind. Thank you, my kind and crazy friend.

Beware of crossdressing, or just hastily dressing: you may find yourself out and about with your shirt on inside out, or wearing shoes of different colours.


Apatt Cecily wrote: "Apatt wrote: "I looked up the spoon thing, apparently it's one of the motifs to connect the disjointed scenes. Personally I didn't notice it at all, I was busy waiting for a wurst pun. There is, ho..."

Billy Pilgrim is an accidental cross dresser towards the end of the War.


message 33: by Ruth (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ruth Recently I read something similar to the Message in, of all places, a Peanuts cartoon.

Some day we will all die, Snoopy.

True, but on all the other days we will not.


Cecily Ruth wrote: "Recently I read something similar to the Message in, of all places, a Peanuts cartoon.
Some day we will all die, Snoopy.
True, but on all the other days we will not."


I love it. Thanks, Ruth.


message 35: by Betsy (new)

Betsy Robinson I loved all the fourth dimension stuff. It's stuff I think about all the time. Interesting the earlier comment about that being PTSD. That never occurred to me. If you want to fry your brain, take a look at https://youtu.be/uDaKzQNlMFw


message 36: by Dolors (last edited Jul 17, 2016 07:58AM) (new) - added it

Dolors I link Vonnegut to David Mitchell in my mind, because both seem to write fiercely original works that defy categorization that I am not sure will be my cup of tea. But I know I need to read them...some day.


Cecily Betsy wrote: "I loved all the fourth dimension stuff.
...If you want to fry your brain, take a look at https://youtu.be/uDaKzQNlMFw "


Whoa! That's frazzling (and I say that as someone who works with 3D software, 360 video, and VR).


message 38: by Cecily (last edited Jul 18, 2016 08:31AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Cecily Dolors wrote: "I link Vonnegut to David Mitchell in my mind, because both seem to write fiercely original works that defy categorization that I am not sure will be my cup of tea...."

Interesting connection, though they seem pretty dissimilar to me - I've read all Mitchell's books, some of them twice, but only five Vonneguts. From that sample, I think Mitchell would be far more to your taste than Vonnegut, but if you're tempted to try Mitchell, don't start with The Bone Clocks. I'd suggest The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet (single historical novel, peppered with haiku-like phrases, and not much of a quasi spiritual angle) or else Ghostwritten (a series of loosely connected stories/novellas).


message 39: by Brian (new) - added it

Brian You wrote a splendid review. I knew nothing of this but heard about it from others. I bought it yesterday on Kindle for two bucks. It's on sale today too. Not sure how long. After reading your review I'm excited to have this to read in the future!


Cecily Brian wrote: "You wrote a splendid review.... I'm excited to have this to read in the future!"

Thank you, Brian. It's a strange book (but it IS Vonnegut), but a classic as well. I hope you enjoy it.


Matthias Great review Cecily! I took away the same main message and thought it so beautiful it merited 5 stars. Kurt Vonnegut's brand of humor and his expert way of getting across the time dimension with time jumps, without it ever becoming a burden, further sealed the deal. Didn't think about those spoons until you mentioned them, but it's true they pop up a lot.
One of my favorite parts was the one where the war movie is being described in reverse.
And the main thing I'd like to read after this novel is the stuff Kilgore Trout has written. Sounds brilliant!


Cecily Matthias wrote: "Great review Cecily!...
One of my favorite parts was the one where the war movie is being described in reverse.
And the main thing I'd like to read after this novel is the stuff Kilgore Trout has written. Sounds brilliant!"


Thanks, Matthias. I enjoyed yours, too (despite the absence of spoons). It's a while since I read this, so I forget the details, but the reverse film is neat (and much better than Amis). I should definitely read more Vonnegut/Trout some time soon. Meanwhile, if you want more, my favourite is Galapagos.


Derek You learn something everyday (well, at least you should). I own a copy of Venus on the Half-Shell, and I always assumed it was written by Vonnegut. I bought it because I assumed it was written by Vonnegut - but that was decades before I could have googled to check.

I don't remember a bit of it, but I don't remember there being anything that seemed unlikely to have been Vonnegut's!

I do know I liked this book a lot more when I read it in the 70s than when I reread it a couple of years ago.


Cecily Derek wrote: "You learn something everyday (well, at least you should). I own a copy of Venus on the Half-Shell, and I always assumed it was written by Vonnegut...."

Illusions shattered. Ah, the perils of growing up.
Some books are perfect at one time of our life, but not at another, aren't they.


Matthew Quann One of my favourites, though I haven't read it since high school! Great review Cecily.


Cecily Matthew wrote: "One of my favourites, though I haven't read it since high school! Great review Cecily."

Thanks, Matthew. I didn't read it until adulthood, but I expect it's one that reads very differently at different stages of life.


Matthew Quann Cecily wrote: "Matthew wrote: "One of my favourites, though I haven't read it since high school! Great review Cecily."

Thanks, Matthew. I didn't read it until adulthood, but I expect it's one that reads very dif..."


Absolutely! I remember having difficulty connecting with the quotidian monotony of Billy's job as an optometrist when I first read it, but I think I'd see it differently now. I'll have to do a re-read soon!


Cecily Matthew wrote: "I remember having difficulty connecting with the quotidian monotony of Billy's job as an optometrist when I first read it..."

If you were anything like me, you thought most jobs were dull, and desperately wanted something exciting, even if you had no idea what.

Matthew wrote: "optometrist... I think I'd see it differently now."

I see what you did there.
;)


Matthew Quann Absolutely, most jobs were dull. However, one of my favourite summer jobs was in medical records filing. It was similar enough to bookshelf organization that I loved it (though I realize that most other people hated he work).


Cecily Matthew wrote: "Absolutely, most jobs were dull. However, one of my favourite summer jobs was in medical records filing...."

I can't say that sounds riveting to me, but I'm glad you enjoyed it.


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