by Kurt Vonnegut
Reviewed date: 2007 Jan 5
Rating: 3
215 pages
cover art

I read Slaughterhouse-Five because it often shows up on various "Best SF novels" lists. But it isn't science fiction. Sure, it includes time travel and abduction by aliens, but those are mere story-telling devices. They are wholly incidental to the story.

What is the story, then? Slaughterhouse-Five is about Billy Pilgrim, a man who is unstuck in time. He slips from time to time, living his life all out of order. One moment he is a child, the next he is a soldier fighting the Germans, the next he is on the planet Tralfamadore in a zoo. The main event is the firebombing of Dresden, which Billy Pilgrim experiences during his time as a POW. Rather than talk about the bombing directly, Vonnegut beats a path around it, highlighting its significance but spending little time discussing any details.

Slaughterhouse-Five is not an anti-war book per se. As Vonnegut says in the first chapter, writing an anti-war book is like writing an anti-glacier book. When Billy Pilgrim is abducted by the Tralfamadorians, they find his concept of free will quaint. Tralfamadorians experience time in all dimensions, not linearly as humans do, so they view the universe as a whole, not as a series of consecutive events. Tralfamadorians understand the horrors of war, but rather than prevent it, they just choose to look at the periods of time that are at peace.

Slaughterhouse-Five is a good book, but nothing out of the ordinary. Vonnegut writes well. The novel reminds me of Catch-22; both are bizarre books about war. Slaughterhouse-Five is shorter and leaner, and is the better book.

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