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

Slaughterhouse Five or the Children's Crusade by Kurt Vonnegut
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Jun 14, 14

bookshelves: american-canadian, sci-fi-or-futuristic
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.

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" (http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...), 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!).

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 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.

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 Niffenegger's "The Time Traveler's Wife" (http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...).

When he watches a WW2 film in reverse, it's very like Amis's "Time's Arrow" (http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...).

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

Comments (showing 1-18 of 18) (18 new)

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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..."

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. "


message 7: by Lynne (new)

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

Sunny in Wonderland 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....

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