Monday, January 7, 2013

"Slaughterhouse-Five" Book Review

Time travel and aliens?
How could this not be sci-fi?

     Yes. A book review. I'm shaking things up. It a new year and it time to get more profesh. Proper reviews, with big words and fancy language. Yes. Soon I'll be going to Cannes and eating caviar with Roger Ebert. Right, so proper reviewing. Slaughterhouse-Five is an exquisite illustration of the magnificent transcendence of the genre science fiction into au courant cosmos, destined for the history books... This is stupid, let's review like normal.
    Billy Pilgrim is unstuck in time. In one moment he's is a prisoner of war, the next minute he's in his office thirty years in the future. It also doesn't help that he gets kidnapped by aliens from Tralfamadore. Inbetween the time travel and alien abduction, Billy survives the infamous Dresden bombing, marries a woman he kinda sorta likes and becomes an eye doctor.
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    Slaughterhouse-Five is a very good book. But, is it really one of the greatest book ever? Well, not really no. See, characters are to me the most important part of a story. If I like the characters and want to see them succeed, then I can usually forgive the story's other problems. However, if I can't connect to the characters, then I usual am a lot harsher on the rest of the film (Or, err, book). If I don't get invested in the story and characters, then I usually don't care about what's going on. Billy Pilgrim isn't a great character. The story basically washes over him, with Billy making little attempt to explain why the things happening to him are happening or why he should care.
    And I do get why author Kurt Vonnegut writes Billy this way. It allows the novel to wash over us as it does Billy. Because Billy never fights the time travel or Tralfamadorians, Vonnegut is allowed free range with those aspects of the book, without having to worry about Billy's responses. And for the most part, it works. While I was reading the novel, I did feel like I was getting the full brunt of the story. However, upon finishing the novel, I liked Billy less and less. He had left no impact on me. I didn't care about him, nor would I care to learn more about him. I don't think I would even be interested in re-reading the novel. It's a lot of time and effort to put into a story about a guy that doesn't care.
    However, the book does excel in other areas. The story is usually great, expertly using the time travel and aliens. The book could have easily gotten silly with those elements in it, but Vonnegut makes them work so well. That's in part to the great humor. The book is consistently very funny, combining so absurd and lighthearted moments with some great uses of dark humor. This contrasts the darker moments of the story, with some genuine heartwrenching moments. But there are a few flaws. The book is short, but there are some moments in it that aren't as interesting as others. But overall, the book is pretty consistent throughout.
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    Slaughterhouse-Five is a strong book. I understand why it's considered a classic. Kurt Vonnegut provides a book with just as cool a message as it's time travel and aliens ideas. The novel is often darkly hilarious and usually surprisingly poignant as well. The story expertly works in the true tale of Dresden and the fictional Tralfamadorians. However, protagonist Billy Pilgrim isn't all that interesting and the book can be a bit draggy. I personally don't think it's a classic, but I do think it's a very good book. Slaughterhouse-Five gets 5 stars out of 6.


  1. Alex, I would like to learn more about why the Sf elements are cool, profound, funny, heartwrenching, and poignant. As a hard-core SF fan, I am all about the cyber-blend of trope and tech, but after your review I was unsure of how the SF elements meshed with the plot. Examples? ---Jessup Ocelot Pythagoras

    1. They meshed rather well. The book has a relatively simple story about war and life after war if you took away the SF elements. Vonnegut delicately inserts the SF elements into the story. The time travel allows for a unique structing of the story. Instead of linearly telling the story, Vonnegut is able to reveal what he wants about Billy when he feels its the right time. The aliens allow for a smart contrast to Billy's Earth life. He's happy on Tralfamadore, but uncomfortable on Earth. Vonnegut uses the SF elements wisely. He does even make them plot point, he uses them more to enhance our understanding of the book and story.