Veteran's Day is a day to honor those who have served in the military. We thank them for their service and their sacrifice. Many beloved authors of classic works have served in the U.S military, and their experiences fighting in various wars have shaped the things that they write about. The five following authors were all shaped and inspired by their time in the military, and some of their works might not have ever been created if they did not serve.
The Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library's new location will open Sept 22, the first day of Banned Books Week.
...even if you’re reading this at any other time of the year when you just managed to scrape out a whole day (or two) to read, then it wouldn’t hurt to keep this list in mind…
I wish I could tell you the exact circumstances under which I first encountered Kurt Vonnegut‘s Slaughterhouse-Five for the first time, but I can’t. Not exactly. I’m not sure whether it was assigned reading in one of my middle school English classes or if I just stumbled upon it. The latter makes more sense when taking into consideration two facts: a lot of schools had banned books like Slaughterhouse-Five, and I was a pretty awful student back when George W. was in the white house. What I do remember is that when I first began reading the soon to be fifty-year-old novel (March 31th) I was in a white, windowless room, being stared at by a teacher who had clearly drawn the short straw that afternoon. Detention. I would like to think that Mr. Vonnegut would find irony in that scenario; perhaps it would even make him smile.
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Imagine being an unsuspecting delinquent, opening Slaughterhouse-Five or The Children’s Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death for the first time: I was blown away by how psychedelic it was. Vonnegut’s prose was irreverent, ridiculous, and, above all, courageous. Vonnegut plunged blindly into the abyss of existential uncertainty and danced in the darkness. One of the most imaginative novels ever written with a minimalist style—Slaughterhouse-Five felt like Vonnegut knew a hell of a lot more about the world and grammar than me and was choosing words that I could understand. Maybe there was nothing to understand? It was pretty damn cool. Vonnegut made literature cool—especially for a kid in detention.
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In the introduction to Slaughterhouse-Five, Vonnegut explains how he had been trying to write about the firebombing of Dresden during World War II ever since his imprisonment there. This is the reason that Slaughterhouse’s protagonist, Billy Pilgrim, was also in Dresden during the bombing. Billy’s story is an interesting one—the narrative of his life involves just as much love, humor, and tragedy as anything you could probably imagine. What makes it uber unique is that Billy acquires a certain amount of objectivity similar to the reader’s own. Billy is “unstuck” in time as he has no control over where and when in his life he might be at any given moment. One moment, Billy could be at his daughter’s wedding—the next, fornicating with a movie star. It’s all very non-linear. This ability is supposedly a side-effect of his Tralfamadorian kidnapping; extraterrestrial beings teach Billy to see time in a very Matthew McConaughey-like (Interstellar) way. All moments are permanent, always happening, forever. Billy is most definitely an unreliable narrator throughout, and Slaughterhouse-Five‘s chaos can undoubtedly be interpreted in a variety of ways. All I knew at that time was that I needed more Vonnegut.
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Vonnegut is famous for incorporating reoccurring elements into his novels, such as characters, names, and themes. (He also likes to write himself into his stories and could be considered a pioneer of “meta,” but that’s beside the point.) One of the things about Slaughterhouse-Five I found most compelling was the incorporation of the Tralamadorians or the planet Tralamadore. So I followed the Tralamdorians. Tralamdore is the name of various fictional planets in Kurt Vonnegut’s novels; the race and history of the planet vary from novel to novel (Slaughterhouse-Five; God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater; Hocus Pocus; and Timequake). My alien chasing eventually led me to one of Vonnegut’s earlier novels, The Sirens of Titan.
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While not as popular as Slaughterhouse, The Sirens of Titan is considered by some to be Vonnegut’s best novel. (Maybe just me… no, I read someone else say that before. I’m sure of it.) Douglas Adams has even cited Sirens as being his inspiration for The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. Written ten years prior to Slaughterhouse-Five‘s publication, simply to satisfy Vonnegut’s publisher as they awaited Cat’s Cradle, Sirens is considered less “experimental.” Although the story is linear and Vonnegut himself does not make an appearance—its message is anything but typical.
Sirens follows Malachi Constant, a man with an extraordinary amount of luck—men and women of the cloth might even call his luck divine (although Vonnegut would make fun of them for doing so). At the beginning of the novel, the reader meets Malachi’s father, Noel, who builds the family fortune buying stocks based on words from the book of Genesis. Malachi inherits this fortune and builds upon it, becoming the wealthiest playboy in the world.
One day, Malachi is invited to witness the materialization of a man, Winston Niles Rummford, whose existence has been stretched across space and time (due to a mishap with his dog and something called a chrono-synclastic infundibulum), similar to Billy Pilgrim’s conundrum. Rummford’s ability to read minds and predict the future startles Malachi as Rummford tells him about his future. In addition, he shows Malachi a photograph of the most beautiful women Malachi has ever seen—women who supposedly inhabit the planet of Titan. As Malachi tries to outwit Rummford’s manipulation and pursue the kind of unattainable beauty of the women in the photo, the reader goes on a nihilistic yet humorous journey through space. It is with an engrossing amount of ridiculousness that the novel contemplates free-will, morality, and existence.
Some might find the novel’s humor cold. Others may find its message to be a commentary on the futility of fighting fate or attempting to understand it, given that even the novel’s omniscient character succumbs to the inevitable. I found the novel’s climatic revelation actually quite moving.
Mild Spoiler Alert!
After years of space travel, mind control, a Martian invasion, and a religion formed in his honor (sort of), Malachi finally finds himself on Titan. There, Vonnegut reveals that the beautiful sirens from Rummford’s photo are inanimate statues on an uninhabited planet. In fact, the only people who reside on Titan are Malachi and his family. As Malachi sits there, alongside a woman he never intended to be with and a son that thinks he’s a bird (didn’t I say ridiculousness?) he realizes that the “purpose of human life, no matter who is controlling it, is to love whoever is around to be loved.”
Vonnegut wrote both Slaughterhouse and Sirens with a serious outpouring of emotions—but, most importantly, he wrote with immense joy. He loved writing: he did it to discover more about the world and himself. In 2006, a group of students from a high school in New York City was assigned the task of writing to their favorite author. Their letters warranted the following response, which I think epitomizes the heart and soul behind 50+ years of kick-ass storytelling:
Image Via Letters of Note
Featured Image Via My Student Voices.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi is blowing audiences away because it’s Star Wars and it’s amazing. It’s just a great franchise that makes people happy. The quirky droids are like comedians, the jedi are like superheroes, and the spaceships are like boats but in space. Every part of the franchise, point by point, is awesome. It’s good for all ages and all sorts of people. It’s a funny, adventurous space romp that’s, yes, also tender. It’s a family story!
Unfortunately, only one Star Wars movie comes out a year and that’s not enough. Every movie should be a Star Wars movie. But that’s not the world we live in. Luckily, we do live in a world with many awesome books. Some of those books are very well suited for Star Wars fans. So once you’re home from the theater, go to the library and pick one of these books up to satiate your Star Wars thirst, complete with Amazon’s descriptions.
1. The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut
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The Sirens of Titan is an outrageous romp through space, time, and morality. The richest, most depraved man on Earth, Malachi Constant, is offered a chance to take a space journey to distant worlds with a beautiful woman at his side. Of course there’s a catch to the invitation—and a prophetic vision about the purpose of human life that only Vonnegut has the courage to tell.
2. The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson
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Roshar is a world of stone and storms. Uncanny tempests of incredible power sweep across the rocky terrain so frequently that they have shaped ecology and civilization alike. Animals hide in shells, trees pull in branches, and grass retracts into the soilless ground. Cities are built only where the topography offers shelter.
It has been centuries since the fall of the ten consecrated orders known as the Knights Radiant, but their Shardblades and Shardplate remain: mystical swords and suits of armor that transform ordinary men into near-invincible warriors. Men trade kingdoms for Shardblades. Wars were fought for them, and won by them.
One such war rages on a ruined landscape called the Shattered Plains. There, Kaladin, who traded his medical apprenticeship for a spear to protect his little brother, has been reduced to slavery. In a war that makes no sense, where ten armies fight separately against a single foe, he struggles to save his men and to fathom the leaders who consider them expendable.
3. A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs
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Edgar Rice Burrough’s vision of Mars was loosely inspired by astronomical speculation of the time, especially that of Percival Lowell, who saw the red planet as a formerly Earth-like world now becoming less hospitable to life due to its advanced age. Burroughs predicted the invention of homing devices, radar, sonar, autopilot, collision detection, television, teletype, genetic cloning, living organ transplants, antigravity propulsion, and many other concepts that were well ahead of his time. The books in the Barsoom series were an early inspiration to many, including science fiction authors Robert A. Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke and Ray Bradbury, they influenced renowned scientist Carl Sagan in his quest for extraterrestrial life, and were instrumental in the making of James Cameron’s Avatar, and George Lucas’ Star Wars.
4. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
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It was a dark and stormy night; Meg Murry, her small brother Charles Wallace, and her mother had come down to the kitchen for a midnight snack when they were upset by the arrival of a most disturbing stranger.
“Wild nights are my glory,” the unearthly stranger told them. “I just got caught in a downdraft and blown off course. Let me sit down for a moment, and then I’ll be on my way. Speaking of ways, by the way, there is such a thing as a tesseract.”
A tesseract (in case the reader doesn’t know) is a wrinkle in time. To tell more would rob the reader of the enjoyment of Miss L’Engle’s unusual book. A Wrinkle in Time, winner of the Newbery Medal in 1963, is the story of the adventures in space and time of Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin O’Keefe (athlete, student, and one of the most popular boys in high school). They are in search of Meg’s father, a scientist who disappeared while engaged in secret work for the government on the tesseract problem.
5. Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
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Written by Eisner Award-winning “Best Writer” BRIAN K. VAUGHAN (Y: The Last Man, The Private Eye) and drawn by Harvey Award-winning “Best Artist” Fiona Staples (Mystery Society, North 40), SAGA is the story of Hazel, a child born to star-crossed parents from opposite sides of a never-ending galactic war. Now, Hazel’s fugitive family must risk everything to find a peaceful future in a harsh universe that values destruction over creation. Fantasy and science fiction are wed like never before in a sexy, subversive drama for adults that Entertainment Weekly called, “The kind of comic you get when truly talented superstar creators are given the freedom to produce their dream book.”
6. Dune by Frank Herbert
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Set on the desert planet Arrakis, Dune is the story of the boy Paul Atreides, who would become the mysterious man known as Muad’Dib. He would avenge the traitorous plot against his noble family—and would bring to fruition humankind’s most ancient and unattainable dream.
A stunning blend of adventure and mysticism, environmentalism and politics, Dune won the first Nebula Award, shared the Hugo Award, and formed the basis of what is undoubtedly the grandest epic in science fiction.
Feature Image Via Lucasfilm