History in Reverse

Ever wondered what the effects of becoming unstuck in time might have on the horrors of warfare?  Hardly surprising that a writer as fantastically creative as Kurt Vonnegut has done so.  In his wonderfully original anti-war novel, Slaughterhouse Five, the main character, Billy Pilgrim witnesses World War II in reverse.

American bombers, replete with holes and wounded and dead men, take off backwards from an airbase somewhere in sunny England.  Over France, some German fighter planes kindly fly at them backwards, and helpfully suck bullets and shells from a few of the American planes and crewmen.  Wrecked bombers on the ground get the same treatment, so are able to fly up backwards and join the growing formation.

This humanitarian effort then grows momentum as the formation flies backward over a German city in flames.  The wonders of science have resulted in miraculous weapons of peace.  As the bombers open their bomb bay doors, a mysterious magnetism is exerted on the conflagration below, and the fires shrink, to be gathered into conveniently small and cylindrical steel containers.  The containers are neatly stored in racks, and everybody and everything is made as good as new.

When the bombers return to base, the steel cylinders are taken from their racks and shipped back to the US.  Back in America, factories are operating night and day, dismantling the cylinders, separating the dangerous contents into minerals.  Touchingly, it was mainly women who did this work


    Kev Mears

    November 21, 2006

    Coincidentally, I’ve just finished “Time’s Arrow”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Time%27s_Arrow_%28novel%29 by Martin Amis. The main character, Tod Friendly is inhabited by the narrator who is a former doctor and solider in world war II. His entire life is run backwards and described. Much like Vonnegut, Amis has the doctor enagaged in the miracle of healing at Auschwitz and then ultimately returning the his mother’s womb.


    November 21, 2006

    Funny you should say that. I’ve just read Amis’ account of astronomy:

    ??????The history of astronomy is a history of increasing humiliation. First the geocentric universe, then the heliocentric universe. Then the eccentric universe ??????? the one we??????re living in. Every century we get smaller. Kant figured it all out, sitting in his armchair ?????? The principle of terrestrial mediocrity??????

    Very true.

    By the way, the end result of Vonnegut’s time reversal was ending up with Adam and Eve. Though somehow I don’t think he’s entirely serious

    Sue Burnett

    November 21, 2006

    Not strictly time reversal, but time travel at least… a quote from last night’s ‘I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue’ in a SciFi round, when they find their Tardis has broken down:

    “That’s funny… it was working tomorrow!”

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