Freitag, Mai 12, 2006

The wisdom of Kurt Vonnegut

Like Philip K. Dick Vonnegut, being a prisoner of war, has something with the Second World War. Like Dick, he isn't afraid to use german in his novels. You'll notice that when you read his first masterpiece Slaughterhouse 5. In this novel Vonnegut tells a warstory mixed with the abduction of the lead character to Tralfamador, a fantasy he uses in many of his books. Just imagine being locked up in a zoo like we do to animals, and a whole bunch of curious Tralfamadorians looking at everything you do. Not always bad if you're imprisoned with a beautiful female... We also meet Kilgore Trout, the alter ego of Vonnegut, also seen in many of his novels. In Slaughterhouse 5 Vonnegut poses a theory about time that's very interesting, because according to his theory we can die in time, but because time is relative according to Tralfamadorians, we never really die. Slaughterhouse 5, as good as it is, is probably not the best Vonnegut novel, although it did introduce a new genre to the world, a genre that can only be described as pure Vonnegut.
The first Vonnegut novel I read was The Sirens of Titan, and I consider that novel - in my humble opinion - the best ever! Like Douglas Adams, Vonnegut explores the ever pressing question of the human condition: "What's the meaning of life?" Unlike Douglas Adams, we'll get an answer. And it fits. But there is more. Vonnegut critisises many aspects of our human society, one of them being science and how we as human beings interpret our observations of life. There's also a war going on, very similar to the Second World War, but in another time frame. It is, after all, an SF novel. This book is really a page turner, it being wittier than any Philip K. Dick novel (and knowing Philip K. Dick is my favourite writer, this means something).
I haven't read all Vonnegut novels yet, but among the above I really enjoyed the following. Timequake you probably noticed already has a lot of wisdom in it, and most of my quotes I post are out of this novel. The strange thing about Timequake is that it's the second version of a Kilgore Trout novel, where the original was never written in the new present, but it was in the old present. Again, time is one of the main characters in the books. Also fun in this novel is Vonnegut's alternative version of the "Adam and Eve" story, among others. Bluebeard is also one of my favourites. It's not SF, but it goes deep into human relationships. It's about an old forgotten artist who has hidden something in his barn, and his 'housekeeper' wants to know what. You will not be disappointed. Finally, I've just read Slapstick, a novel that's a bit like More Than Human (T. Sturgeon), but full of wit and insight. It's about two ugly human creatures that need each other to have a joint intelligence that outstrips the most advanced computers.
Now I still got some five more unread Vonnegut novels on my bookshelf. I expect to be surprised reading each of them.