Like George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-four (1949) and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1932), Kurt Vonnegut’s novel projects into the future, taking certain technological and political trends of the present and extrapolating them into a vision of a terrifying authoritarian and dehumanizing world. The technological tyrant Rumfoord is also a victim of cosmic forces that he finally realizes are beyond his control. Unlike Orwell, Huxley, and other science-fiction writers, Vonnegut apparently believes that no manipulative force, however powerful, can ultimately extinguish the human will.
For example, the Tralfamadore Salo, the product of an advanced civilization of virtually perfect machines, becomes infected with human feelings. Even though it is ironic that his emotions should attach to the unworthy Rumfoord, both Salo and Rumfoord have a gnawing sense of unfulfillment and search for a happiness that eludes them. They are human in their incompleteness, and Rumfoord is also human—if terrifying—in his desire to control everything, to take unpredictability out of life.
Vonnegut’s novel is whimsical and poignant. Although Constant, transformed into Unk, is pathetic in his inability to remember his own past, he also is deeply moving in his quest to recover his memory and family. Vonnegut’s style, except for the quasi-scientific words he invents, is quite simple and reminiscent of science-fiction comic books. Human...
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