Reprinted from Jim Anderson’s Multijimbo blog of 4th August 2018.
This might be Vonnegut’s most famous novel, the story of Billy Pilgrim. Billy, like Vonnegut himself was, is an American soldier in World War 2 who survives the fire bombing of Dresden.
And it contains a lot more. Billy starts traveling through time, bouncing back and forth to different points in his own life, his own time stream. The aliens from Tralfamadore make an appearance.
And we start encountering other characters that we’d already met in earlier novels, and it is this aspect of Vonnegut’s art that I want to talk about. We encounter Rumfoord, who we met earlier in The Sirens of Titan. We spend more time with Kilgore Trout, the underappreciated science fiction writer whose work we’d read about in other novels.
And there are others – this isn’t intended to be an academic treatise and so I don’t feel the need to give a complete list.
I’m sure that someone has gone through and done a detailed analysis of which characters appear or are mentioned in more than one of Vonnegut’s stories and novels, and has done the analysis of the extent to which Vonnegut’s world is internally consistent.
I should say that I don’t really care how internally consistent his world is. I’m curious, but we have gotten used to long form stories set in internally inconsistent worlds, the Simpsons being a famous example.
I like Kilgore Trout’s ideas and titles, and it appears that I’m not the only one. A quick run to amazon.co.uk reveals that Philip Jose Farmer wrote a novel under the pseudonym Kilgore Trout back in the 1970s, and there are others making (less appropriate) use of the name more recently.
I like these connections that Vonnegut makes between his novels through the characters, and I’m curious to see the extent to which he continues this as I continue on in my reading.
Jim Anderson (available on-line at http://www.multijimbo.com) is a Professor of Mathematics at the University of Southampton, and is also the Associate Dean (Education and Student Experience) for the Faculty of Social, Human and Mathematical Sciences. Beyond mathematics, he practices the traditional Japanese martial art of aikido and writes science fiction and fantasy.