So it goes – Kurt Vonnegut’s dark anti-war/sci-fi satire Slaughterhouse-Five is being adapted for TV

4 min read

As someone who buys a fair amount of books online I’m regularly given recommendations based on what I’ve previously purchased when idly browsing for something new, and the late Kurt Vonnegut’s novels have often been among those recommendations. Finally earlier this year I got around to reading his most famous work, Slaughterhouse-Five, and now it’s being adapted for television. I’m not saying these things are related. I’m not.

Slaughterhouse-Five, or to give it its full name – Slaughterhouse-Five, or The Children’s Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death – was first published in 1969 and is a darkly satirical sci-fi tale with strong anti-war, both hot and Cold, sentiments. It’s also regarded as semi-autobiographical as Vonnegut (who passed away in 2007), like the protagonist Billy Pilgrim, was captured by the Germans during the Battle of the Bulge in WWII and imprisoned in a slaughterhouse in the city of Dresden, where he was one of the few survivors of the Allied forces firebombing of the city.

That’s, presumably, where the similarities end however. During his capture Pilgrim becomes in his own words “unstuck in time” and from his point of view experiences time in the way the novel is written – non-linearly – as he narrates the events of his life. This includes his recovery in hospital after being rescued, his career and family life after the war, being kidnapped by aliens from the planet Tralfamadore and forced to live in an alien zoo where he’s paired with a gorgeous movie star and with whom he has another child, and his later life in New York City where his best friend is a Soviet spy.

The novel is probably best known for the fatalistic expression uttered every time something bad happens in Pilgrim’s life, “so it goes”. It was previously adapted for the big screen in 1972, and is regularly attempted to be banned from schools in the US.

Now (as per Variety) Universal Cable Productions (UCP – and not to be confused with RoboCop’s OCP), a subsidiary of NBCUniversal who’ve predominantly worked on series aired through SyFy and USA, have snapped up the rights to the novel. They’ve also tapped Patrick Macmanus (Marco Polo and the soon-to-air Happy!) to adapt the novel for the small screen.

While the novel is fairly short and focuses exclusively on Pilgrim, Macmanus will look to expand the novel into the world Vonnegut created, saying:

“There are no lines that Vonnegut ever throws away. But there are certain lines within the book that allude to a much larger world. I’m not just talking about going off into outer space. He alludes to the Balkanization of the United States and to the hydrogen bombing of the United States. I feel like today’s TV is the only way to tell this story. Even though it’s only approximately 275 pages, I think that it’s ripe to be expanded upon exponentially.”

UCP’s Senior VP of Development Elise Henderson said they’d been keeping an eye on the rights to the novel for a while as it was “a favorite book for many of us” and that they jumped at the chance when it became available:

“As soon as they did, we jumped in. At that point, we needed a writer, and we had just been introduced to Patrick for ‘Happy!’ Having read his material, we knew that he has the ability to do the emotional character depth that we need but also the ability to figure out a complex story and how to crack it, and capture the humor and the tone.”

I’m very curious to see what comes from this. I really enjoyed the novel, and a satirical TV series based in its broader world could be very entertaining indeed.

Last Updated: December 7, 2017

Trevor Davies

I like pie, I think.

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