Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time.
With those words, one of the more interesting novels of the late 20th century begins. Poor Mr. Pilgrim....traveling back and forth through time, re-living bits of his life over and over whether he wants to or not.
At least he gets to settle down with a porn star. Lucky guy.
Of course, this is Kurt Vonnegut's "Slaughterhouse Five". I read it once in the 80s, not very long after catching the movie of the same name on a local TV channel. I eventually forgot about it and lost the book in my cellar. So it goes.
I used to belong to the book of the month club. Every other month, they'd send me religious texts or crime novels, and every other month, I'd send them back. I finally got tired of playing this game and cancelled. The last book they sent me was a small volume featuring three by Mr Vonnegut; Cat's Cradle, Slaughterhouse Five, and Breakfast of Champions.
I kept it.
Tralfamadorians have an interesting concept of time. We Humans have been accused by many different races throughout science fiction of being "so linear". There's no exception here. For all of us, we're born, we become aware, some of us marry and make copies of ourselves, but then we all get feeble and die.
I don't know when it's going to happen for me. I'm hoping to make it to the 100th anniversary of V-E day, September 1, 2045. I'll be 79 then....seems like a good age to me. The Tralfamadorians already know when I'm going to die. With my luck, I'll be hit by a bus riding my bike to work next week. So it goes.
One thing I took away from the novel was that nobody ever dies in this timeline. We all exist in a multitude of uncounted moments in time, and the savvy time-traveler can revisit them again and again. Two weeks ago, I was sitting on my mother's back porch and we were talking about grandpa. He stopped existing in this timeline 16 years ago this week (June, 1993). But we got a good chuckle...sitting and remembering his escapades with a couple of cherished family friends and Kane's Donuts. We all went back in time that afternoon, and grandpa was sitting right there laughing about it with us.
I'm betting some among you were expecting a blog about war today. At this hour, 65 years ago, Americans on the East Coast were waking up to the news that Europe had been invaded. Our President is standing on the beach again this morning, with a bunch of old men. We tell them they did heroic things, but only because we won. A long time ago, they were scared, seasick, and cold. Our guys went ashore and killed a bunch of the other guys that were also scared, hungry and cold. So it goes.
There's two other novels in the volume I'm reading. "Cat's Cradle" is an interesting little thing about a chemical that can turn all the water on earth into a solid. A dictator in the Caribbean commits suicide with it, then it falls into the sea. "Polywater" was all the rage in the 1960s; there was even a Star Trek episode about it before the theory was debunked.
But...as long as there are men, there are men searching for ways to destroy the planet. We have nukes today, but what will man have tomorrow? Of course, if we keep going on the way we're going, we'll destroy the world just fine without any more interesting weapons.
I've just started reading "Breakfast of Champions". A passage a few pages in grabbed my attention. "In some places people would actually try to eat mud or such on gravel while babies were being born just a few feet away..." I blinked, then I had to look up when the novel was written. (1973). I remember something I read about maybe six months ago. Half of a little island in the Caribbean is so poor, the people there are being forced to eat dirt just to stay alive. It's the western part of Hispanola.
One of the themes I've already found in this book is that Mr. Vonnegut seems obsessed with a certain disease. "Little corkscrews" that worm their way into the human body and eat your brain. You get them by having intercourse with questionable women. If you don't treat it, you go nuts. Maybe this is what happened to the entire Bush administration.
Poor President Bush. I hope he ends up unstuck in time like Billy Pilgrim. Then he can go back and forth and experience his sorry life over and over again. I wonder where he'd go? Would he go back to the day he went AWOL? Would he sit in a schoolroom and read "The Pet Goat" again and again and again while the world explodes?
Or would he go back to New Orleans and tell everyone that there's a lot of stuff here while doing nothing and listening to the birds asking him:Poo-tee-weet?10 comments