A fiction book that I recently finished was Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five (1969) short novel. Vonnegut, in case the name sounds familiar, is the author who wrote the famous short story Harrison Bergeron where smart people have government implants in their head to make them not able to hold onto long thoughts etc.
If you don’t go into the novel knowing that it’s science fiction than you will be taken back. The first chapter develops as an average novel but the second chapter and onwards has a weird twist. After the first chapter you are in the protagonists Billy Pilgrim’s view from third person. Pilgrim sees time in a non linear way because of an alien abduction that gave him the new perspective. There are a few time lines that develop as time goes back and forth, but it’s not too hard to keep up. It’s not like Quentin Tarantino’s non linear sequence of events because the different times are clearly demarcated.
However, going into that I was taken back a bit because I had no idea that was going to happen and thought it would stop after a chapter. It doesn’t. I was also taken back at how sexually vulgar it could be at times. It doesn’t euphemistically talk about sex. It openly talks about ‘having sex’, and ‘jacking off’. It is very unnecessary and distracts from the plot many times. I don’t need to know that peoples’ genitals shrunk when they got cold. I can assume that on my own.
The book is an explicit anti-war book. In Slaughterhouse-Five it’s stated that the author of the book (meta, I know) is writing the book as an anti-war book. The first chapter is from the authors point of view and the rest is from Pilgrim’s. Billy Pilgrim was captured in the Battle of the Bulge during World War II as an American by Germans. He is then moved to the German city of Dresden where he describes that the city has no manufacturing or any other strategic or military interests that would make it a target.
As in real life, the city was fire bombed by the Allies in the waning days of the war. This is the main anti-war point that the book has. Why was a city full of civilians and of little to no military importance fire bombed to nothing?
It was nice to see humanity on all sides of the conflict. The German soldiers are not shown as heartless monsters (although it’s still recognized the evil they did), and the Allies are not shown as angels descending from the heavens. Instead it shows that everyone suffered and did evil in the war.
But the book is much more complex than that. It is also about determinism vs free will. At one point someone asks the author why he doesn’t write an anti-glacier book instead of an anti-war book because they’ll both have the same effect on things. Meaning that some see war as natural in humanity and no amount of words can change it the same way no amount of words can stop a moving glacier.
The book is a classic. It has received many accolades. I would give it a 7/10. It would score higher if it weren’t for unnecessary sexual references that distract grossly (pun intended) from the plot. But I’m just a casual consumer of books. So it goes.