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Kurt Vonnegut Jnr. THE BEST OF HIS NOVELS.


Kurt Vonnegut is truly remarkable. Many of his works take digs at religion as a force for controlling humanity. In The Sirens of Titan, (1968) a Gideon Bible salesman is exploited by the religion calling itself The Church Of God The Utterly Indifferent, and the book concerns the control by aliens of human destiny for one purpose alone; to get themselves a vital spare part far one of the alien group's spaceships. The conclusion Vonnegut comes to be that God is more present for other beings in the Universe than he is to us; and we should laugh at the absurdity of our existence. In Cat’s Cradle (1963) Vonnegut creates Ice Nine, a powerful freezing agent intended for use in freezing mud so soldiers and tanks don’t get bogged down on waterlogged battlefields, but the substance has the potential to freeze any and all water, so it is deemed too dangerous to use at all, but of course, its escape is inevitable. At the conclusion, even the seas are frozen solid, like cast iron, and the world is doomed. Cat’s Cradle also gives us the Calypso religion, a bogus belief that sings its dissent to all; ‘All religions are false, including this one,’ is its central assertion. Vonnegut survived the Firestorm that destroyed d the city of Dresden in WW2 and this serves as a powerful reference and starting point in his most famous novel, Slaughterhouse Five (1969) in which Billy Pilgrim is caught in a time loop that snatches him between captivity as a POW in Dresden (Vonnegut’s own experience) and being a sex slave on the planet of Tralfamadore, where he is expected to mate for the amusement and study of his alien captors. Vonnegut argues convincingly that the wonders of the imagination and the horrors we can imagine are nothing compared to the wonders or horrors of the reality of life. Vonnegut dislikes being thought of as an SF writer at all, but merely as a writer. His finest work is in fact a non-SF novel Mother Night, about an American living in Nazi Germany who is trapped into performing a Lord Haw Haw style role sending out treasonous messages on propaganda radio, under the belief that the messages will carry coded messages for allied intelligence. After the war, he finds himself hunted as a war criminal and a traitor, and his only friends are the neo nazis who still venerate him. Captured, and sharing a cell block with Adolph Eichmann, the hero finally finds a chance to prove he is no nazi, but he sacrifices himself to the myth instead, believing that the atrocities blamed on him deserve remembering more than himself and any pretensions he has to innocence. Mother Night is as fantastic in conception as any SF work Vonnegut presented, and shows that any SF writer is as capable of transcending the medium to write any other kind of literature. Slapstick 1976, (subtitled Lonesome No More) is one of SF’s most original and unlikely works - a hideously ugly ape like figure, Wilbur Swain, a virtual Elephant Man style freak of nature, is separated from his twin sister when it is discovered that they are not only ugly, but also highly intelligent. His campaign and his sense of tragic poetry and his offbeat social theories propel him towards US presidency. Swain argues that America has fallen into decline because the Nuclear Family has stopped us being essentially social animals. We are too busy looking after the limited needs of a few, rather than the need s of many. Swain. influenced by his own intense loneliness at the loss of his sister, argues that everyone must become a member of a new family, and designates everyone with a personal family name at random. He argues that you may be more inclined to give aid to a beggar in the street if he was one of your own families. Swain himself becomes a member of the Daffodil family, and his ‘Lonesome No More’ campaign bags him the presidency. It sadly never gives him back a cure for his own loneliness however. This is also the novel in which the Chinese solve their over-population problem by shrinking people. Soon they become microorganisms, and get blown round the world, becoming a very literal ‘yellow peril’ virus. It is such humour and the use of ideas that so few writers even in the imaginative worlds of SF ever conceive that makes Vonnegut one of the best of them all.

 

Copyright. Arthur Chappell                              

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