I recently read Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut, a science fiction novel also called The Children’s Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death. It is about the World War II and the bombing of Dresden. While it is a book about war, it is definitely not a book about heroes. It is about innocents who are made to fight for reasons they couldn’t begin to contemplate. About people who suffer terribly for no apparent reason. Combining black humour, satire and a great deal of imagination, Vonnegut has written this book without any overt drama or overflowing emotions. It’s a pretty incredible book.
Billy Pilgrim is unstuck in time. He believes that he can go back and forth in time. He has experienced his childhood, he has seen his death, and his birth and everything in between. He is a weak Earthling and a very ill-trained American soldier. In the book’s present, he is an optometrist. He is awkward and pathetic, and he cannot control the things that keep happening to him. He is a subject of great interest to the Tralfamadorians, a race of aliens who kidnap Billy Pilgrim and bring him to their planet to study.
The Tralfamadorians can observe time the way you can read a book. You see, just because something happens, doesn’t mean the time is gone. The past is just behind us, inaccessible to humans, but visible in its entirety to the Tralfamadorians. The aliens teach Billy Pilgrim the unimportance of death. You see, when a person dies, he is just unavailable in one time, when he is perfectly alright in another time. So why worry? The Tralfamadorians, who, incidentally, look like green toilet plungers, can live in all times at the same time. They do not fear death. Neither does Billy Pilgrim. He dismisses any mention of death with three simple words, ‘So it goes’.
Billy Pilgrim is an optometrist. He wants to change the way people see. Billy Pilgrim wants to change the way people view time. He tells people about the meaninglessness of death and also about his alien abduction. He is shot with a laser gun after his speech on flying saucers and the true nature of time before a large audience in the United States, in Chicago, to be precise. Billy Pilgrim dies on February 13, 1976. So it goes.