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Slaughterhouse-Five

A book by Kurt Vonnegut.

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So It Goes (or, How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love Time Travel)

  • Jun 9, 2010
Rating:
+5
Don't get me wrong; I'm a huge sucker for time travel. From my early years as a Star Trek nerd to my current days as a quantum theory enthusiast, I've loved it, wished it were feasible, focused all my writing energy on finding the perfect temporal paradox, the perfect science fiction excuse, something that wasn't forced and had the decency to treat time travel as something morally and philosophically as well as scientifically complicated. A good, seriously-done time travel story is hard to come by, and I've learned to suspect its involvement in a story, always fearing its misappropriation.

Kurt Vonnegut, however, has it all figured out. His brand of time travel has the thing every other example, great or not, lacks: subtlety. The time travel in this story is but a structural device for telling the story of an unremarkable man's life and experiences during the end of World War II, specifically the bombing of Dresden. Suddenly the time travel is not time travel as we might know it -- it's not about discovering some grand new future or revisiting an exciting historical event -- rather it's about one man, experiencing his life out of order.

With this device comes an extremely powerful motif, the idea that life is unalterable. Our unlikely hero Billy, endowed with the capacity to witness his life as moments occurring with a kind of simultaneity, unrestricted by a linear order, knows of his death, the deaths of those around him, every event that might befall him. The idea is not that by doing something differently he could avoid any of these, or even that he wants to -- and at the same time it's not really about predetermination. It offers a new perspective on time, removing the idea of causation.

These are of course some very large ideas, but what strikes me about this book is that in no way should it be classified as science fiction. Vonnegut has successfully taken a very familiar (even cliche) trope from a wholly different genre and implemented it in a drama piece. The time travel (though whether or not it should be called time travel at all is up for debate) has become the vehicle for some powerful philosophical ideas, about futility, about acceptance, about the resonant theme of "so it goes." If that's not originality, I don't know what is.

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June 23, 2010
I love the perspective you took on the novel through your appreciation for time travel. I read the book a long time ago, and the device Vonnegut uses for his method of time travel is often the element of the book I can never remember. But I disagree that the book can not be considered science fiction.
 
June 10, 2010
An extremely eloquent and persuasive review. I've never sampled any Kurt Vonnegut yet but it sounds like I should be adding him to my list. Thanks for the heads up on this one in particular.
 
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More Slaughterhouse-Five reviews
review by . June 24, 2010
I first read Vonnegut in high school and loved his subversive perspective in "Cat's Cradle." I returned home to my parent's over-flowing bookshelf after graduating from college eager to jump back into that whole "reading for pleasure" game. I picked this one up (my dad had it since he was in college!) and began turning the pages.       This book was definitely captivating and engaging - and the …
review by . May 23, 2010
I first read this book in high school when my English teacher recommended it. After completing it, I then went to the library and sequentially checked out and read all of the other books they had by Vonnegut. Fundamentally, it is an anti-war book based on the Allied firebombing of the German city of Dresden. The city had no real military or strategic value and was swollen with refugees; the goal of the allies was simply to kill as many German citizens as possible.    Billy Pilgrim is a …
Quick Tip by . July 02, 2010
A quirky satire of just about everything, this book is probably Vonnegut's most famous, and is an excellent introduction to the body of his work. One tale told sequentially, another told randomly, and both fitting together to create an ironic, iconic, bizarrely entertaining story. Another summer reading great.
Quick Tip by . July 02, 2010
Funny, smart, and unlike a lot of things I've read.
Quick Tip by . June 29, 2010
I've read all of Vonneguut. I liked Breakfast of Champions better.
Quick Tip by . June 27, 2010
so it goes
Quick Tip by . June 23, 2010
weird
Quick Tip by . June 21, 2010
great, but not my favorite k. von.
Quick Tip by . June 16, 2010
Classic!
Quick Tip by . June 15, 2010
I'm not the biggest Vonnegut fan, but the imagery and metaphors he uses in this book struck me forcibly. There are lines that still stick with me, despite having read it only once.
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Emily ()
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I'm a filmmaker, and as much as that means I love movies, reading is a passion I've always had and am always going to have. Often my first response to a book I love is a desire to adapt it -- … more
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About this book

Wiki


Kurt Vonnegut's absurdist classicSlaughterhouse-Fiveintroduces us to Billy Pilgrim, a man who becomes unstuck in time after he is abducted by aliens from the planet Tralfamadore. In a plot-scrambling display of virtuosity, we follow Pilgrim simultaneously through all phases of his life, concentrating on his (and Vonnegut's) shattering experience as an American prisoner of war who witnesses the firebombing of Dresden.

Don't let the ease of reading fool you--Vonnegut's isn't a conventional, or simple, novel. He writes, "There are almost no characters in this story, and almost no dramatic confrontations, because most of the people in it are so sick, and so much the listless playthings of enormous forces. One of the main effects of war, after all, is that people are discouraged from being characters..." Slaughterhouse-Five (taken from the name of the building where the POWs were held) is not only Vonnegut's most powerful book, it is as important as any written since 1945. Like Catch- 22, it fashions the author's experiences in the Second World War into an eloquent and deeply funny plea against butchery in the service of authority. Slaughterhouse-Five boasts the same imagination, humanity, and gleeful appreciation of the absurd found in Vonnegut's other works, but the book's basis in rock-hard, tragic fact gives it a unique poignancy--and humor. --This text refers to the Mass Market Paperback edition.

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Details

ISBN-10: 0385333846
ISBN-13: 978-0385333849
Author: Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
Genre: Literature & Fiction, Science Fiction & Fantasy
Publisher: Dial Press Trade Paperback
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