Vonnegut uses science fiction and aliens as means of knitting together events in Billy Pilgrim’s life, and of enabling philosophical discussions about the nature of time and death. Vonnegut was a science fiction writer early in his career, and Kilgore Trout, a character in the novel who is an obscure and crude writer of wildly imaginative science fiction, might be seen as a caricature of Vonnegut. The author comments that Rosewater and Pilgrim, ravaged by war, need the “fresh start” of science fiction in order to build a new world amidst the rubble of the old. Similarly, the Tralfamadorian aliens become a part of Pilgrim’s life and enable him to see his own mortality in a new and, ultimately, optimistic way.
Science fiction is also contrasted with the other “fictions” that characters in the novel use to live in the face of extreme violence. The Englishmen embrace Cinderella, play-acting, and fantasy in their POW camp, insulated from the horrors of war. Valencia’s ideas of domestic bliss are punctured by Billy’s plane crash and her own death by asphyxiation. The crucifixion of Jesus is reinterpreted by Kilgore Trout in order to rebuild the Christian faith on a more “persuasive” story. And the larger topic of Vietnam is described, by Vonnegut, as an exercise in political fantasy: an unjust war justified by those in power. In this sense, science fiction enables important truths about death, life, and time to be revealed, while the “real life” presented to Billy Pilgrim often involves fantasy, delusion, and fiction.
Science Fiction and Aliens ThemeTracker
Science Fiction and Aliens Quotes in Slaughterhouse-Five
Listen: Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time.
Well, here we are, Mr. Pilgrim, trapped in the amber of this moment. There is no why.
But you’re right: each clump of symbols is a brief, urgent message—describing a situation, a scene . . . . There isn’t any particular relationship between all the messages, except that the author has chosen them carefully, so that, when seen all at once, they produce an image of life that is beautiful and surprising and deep.
And Billy had seen the greatest massacre in European history, which was the fire-bombing of Dresden. So it goes. So they were trying to re-invent themselves and their universe. Science fiction was a big help.
Somebody behind him in the boxcar said, “Oz.” That was I. That was me. The only other city I’d ever seen was Indianapolis, Indiana.
Tralfamadorians, of course, saw that every creature and plant in the Universe is a machine. It amuses them that so many Earthlings are offended by the idea of being machines.
Trout, incidentally, had written a book about a money tree. It had twenty-dollar bills for leaves. Its flowers were government bonds . . . It attracted human beings who killed each other around the roots and made very good fertilizer. So it goes.
Another one said that people couldn’t read well enough anymore to turn print into exciting situations in their skulls . . . .
If what Billy Pilgrim learned from the Tralfamadorians is true, that we will all live forever, no matter how dead we may sometimes seem to be, I am not overjoyed. Still—if I am going to spend eternity visiting this moment and that, I’m grateful that so many of those moments are nice.