The alien Tralfamadorians surely won’t be the only sentient beings celebrating the 100th anniversary Nov. 11, 2022, of Kurt Vonnegut’s birth.
Anyone who appreciates a blend of humor with social commentary in novels and stories that often incorporate science fiction should celebrate the memory of one of the most influential and popular American writers and novelists of the 20th century.
Libertarians remember and honor Vonnegut, too – and not just because “Harrison Bergeron,” Vonnegut’s satirical cautionary fable about the authoritarian excesses inherent in radical egalitarianism, has been recognized by the Libertarian Futurist Society with its 2019 induction into our Prometheus Hall of Fame.
He wrote about the alien Tralfamadorians and/or their planet Tralfamadore in five of his sf novels, first in The Sirens of Titan (1959), then in God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater (1965) and much later in Hocus Pocus (1990) and Timequake (1997).
But most notably the aliens appear in Slaughterhouse Five, or, The Children’s Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death, Vonnegut’s best-selling semi-autobiographical novel.
This anti-war sf classic, published in 1969 and adapted into a 1972 film, follows the life of Billy Pilgrim from childhood through World War II and his later life in America – but in a non-linear way, since Billy is unstuck in time and has no idea of where and when he may be going next.
Inspired by Vonnegut’s own WWII experiences as a prisoner of war, the novel most poignantly focuses on Billy’s capture by the German army and his survival of the Allied firebombing of Dresden as a prisoner of war while imprisoned underground with other soldiers in a slaughterhouse.
In his novels, Vonnegut popularized postmodern techniques that fragment time and memory while often weaving in elements of science fiction and fantasy to highlight life’s absurdities, ironies and horrors.
Vonnegut published 14 novels, five plays, five nonfiction works and three short story collections. His novels The Sirens of Titan (1959) and Cat’s Cradle (1963) were nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Novel.
Vonnegut’s last novel was the bestselling Timequake and his last book was non-fiction: A Man Without a Country, a collection of essays. He died at 84 several weeks after getting head injuries from a fall in his home in New York.
Although Vonnegut was not a libertarian, his quirky sense of humor, skeptical attitude about the human comedy and anti-authoritarian themes as an anti-war liberal with civil libertarian views continue to resonate with LFS members and libertarian futurists, as well as sf fans.
As the Prometheus Blog appreciation of Vonnegut’s cautionary fable “Harrison Bergeron” observes:
“Vonnegut was serious through his humor, as all the best satirists are.
“Harrison Bergeron” exposes and mourns the chilling consequences of radical egalitarianism taken to inhuman, Orwellian and Kafkaesque extremes that denies individuality, diversity and the opportunity to excel.
In satirically challenging such dangerous, cruel and inhumane trends and by dramatizing a dystopia in which the natural diversity of people’s talents, tastes and abilities is suppressed and denied in “Harrison Bergeron,” Vonnegut underlines that the road to hell is often paved with good intentions.”
* Prometheus winners: For the full list of Prometheus winners, finalists and nominees – for the annual Best Novel and Best Classic Fiction (Hall of Fame) categories and occasional Special Awards – visit the enhanced Prometheus Awards page on the LFS website, which now includes convenient links to the full set of published appreciation-reviews of past winners.
* Read “The Libertarian History of Science Fiction,” an essay in the international magazine Quillette that favorably highlights the Prometheus Awards, the Libertarian Futurist Society and the significant element of libertarian sf/fantasy in the evolution of the modern genre.
* Join us! To help sustain the Prometheus Awards, join the Libertarian Futurist Society (LFS), a non-profit all-volunteer association of freedom-loving sf/fantasy fans.
Libertarian futurists believe that culture matters! We understand that the arts and literature can be vital, and in some ways even more powerful than politics in the long run, by sparking innovation, better ideas, positive social change, and mutual respect for each other’s rights and differences.