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Kurt Vonnegut

(1922- )
Kurt Vonnegut was born in Indianapolis and studied at the universities of Chicago and Tennessee and later began to write short stories for magazines. His first novel, Player Piano, was published in 1951 and since then he has written many novels, among them: The Sirens of Titan (1959), Mother Night (1961), Cat’s Cradle (1963), God Bless You Mr Rosewater (1964), Welcome to the Monkey House; a collection of short stories (1968), Breakfast of Champions (1973), Slapstick, or Lonesome No More (1976), Jailbird (1979), Deadeye Dick (1982), Galapagos (1985), Bluebeard (1988) and Hocus Pocus (1990). During the Second World War he was held prisoner in Germany and was present at the bombing of Dresden, an experience which provided the setting for his most famous work to date, Slaughterhouse Five (1969). He has also published a volume of autobiography entitled Palm Sunday (1981) and a collection of essays and speeches, Fates Worse Than Death (1991).


The Sirens of Titan: An early Vonnegut classic about the randomness of life

The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut

The Sirens of Titan is a tough book to review. And it’s not really SF at all though it adopts the trappings of the genre. The thing about Kurt Vonnegut’s books is that they are so deceptively simple. The prose is spare, humorous, ironic, and to the point. And yet the story is very ambitious, as it seeks to provide answers to some very basic questions. Why do we exist? What is the universe for? Do we have any free will to determine our lives? Should we have chicken or fish for dinner?

The story focuses on Malachi Constant, the richest man in America; Winston Niles Rumfoord, an older wealthy man who travels throughout the solar system with his dog Kazak, manifesting in various locations in space and time; Unk and Boaz, two buddies in the Martian Army preparing to invade the Ear... Read More

Cat’s Cradle: Filled with bitter irony and playful humor

Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut

"Live by the foma that make you brave and kind and healthy and happy."

Like all of Kurt Vonnegut’s books, Cat’s Cradle (1963) is very easy to read but fiendishly difficult to review. It’s basically about two main themes: 1) Some scientists are completely unconcerned with what their research and inventions are used for, as long as they given the opportunity to pursue their own research. 2) Religion is a bunch of lies, but at the same time it can make you happier and less angst-ridden about life. It’s filled with bitter irony and playful humor, and it’s frequently hard to distinguish the two. Are you supposed to laugh at man’s foolishness and hubris, or feel sympathy for his plight, which is the same for all of us? Some detractors believe Vonnegut is the most bitter of cynics... Read More

Slaughterhouse-Five: Seems pointless, but that’s the point

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

[In our Edge of the Universe column, we review mainstream authors that incorporate elements of speculative fiction into their “literary” work. However you want to label them, we hope you’ll enjoy discussing these books with us.]

Kurt Vonnegut was a POW in Dresden during World War II. He only survived the allies’ bombing of Dresden because the Germans housed the American prisoners in a meat-locker in a building they called Slaughterhouse-Five. For years afterward, Vonnegut attempted to write a book about his experiences, and in 1969 he eventually produced Slaughterhouse-Five, a fictional biography of one of his fellow soldiers who he calls Billy Pilgrim. In the first chapter of Slaughterhouse-Five, Kurt Vonnegut explains that his nov... Read More

Galápagos: Don’t feel sorry for any of these people

Galápagos by Kurt Vonnegut

Kilgore Trout, who appears in many of Kurt Vonnegut's novels, is a science fiction writer whose ideas and stories are interesting even though his plots and characters are dreadful. My favorite Kilgore Trout story is summarized in Breakfast of Champions. Here, Trout writes about extra-terrestrials that come to earth to prevent nuclear holocaust. Unfortunately, they rely on tap dancing and farts to communicate, so the confused humans immediately kill their furiously farting and tap dancing visitors. This depressing depiction of humanity is common in both Trout and Vonnegut’s writing.

Trout is Kurt Vonnegut’s fictional alter ego. Vonnegut acknowledges that Trout isn’t a very good writer, and consequently publishes all of Trout’s work in pornographic magazines. So Kurt Vonnegut must have been surprised when he realized that had become one of the most accla... Read More

A Man Without a Country: Essays from the GWB Years

A Man Without a Country by Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut’s A Man Without a Country collects essays about living in George W. Bush’s America. Published in 2005, these essays were written after America invaded Iraq in order to defeat terrorism, to find and neutralize weapons of mass destruction, and to spread freedom and democracy throughout the Middle East.

Briefly summarized, Vonnegut is critical of the state of America, which has been hijacked by psychopaths, and let’s not forget the state of the world, which has been destroyed by a century of fossil fuel emissions that produced nothing more than transportation. He’s not especially glad that so many nuclear weapons remain, either. He defends the arts, humanism, and, generally speaking, compassion and mercy. He regularly mentions Mark Twain, Albert Einstein, an... Read More

Kurt Vonnegut Jr. Collection: The Big Trip Up Yonder, 2BR02B

Kurt Vonnegut Jr. Collection: The Big Trip Up Yonder, 2BR02B

Brilliance Audio is now producing some science fiction story collections on audio, and recently they sent me a few of them to review. The first one that caught my eye was this one by Kurt Vonnegut Jr. It contains two related stories: “The Big Trip Up Yonder” narrated by Emmett Casey and “2BR02B” narrated by Kevin Killavey. I recognized both as stories that were produced on audio by Jincin Recordings and have been available at for a couple of years. In case you didn’t know (and in case you’re interested), Brilliance Audio has a relationship with Audible and often produces CD versions of Audible titles a couple of years after the original release. In fact, it occasionally happens that Brilliance Audio sends me a review copy of a book I’ve already read at Audible.

These two Vonnegut stories happen to be on my wishlist at Audible, so I was happy to receive and ... Read More

If This Isn’t Nice, What Is?: Advice to the Young: Selected graduation speeches

If This Isn’t Nice, What Is?: Advice to the Young by Kurt Vonnegut

If This Isn’t Nice, What Is?: Advice to the Young collects nine graduation speeches delivered by Kurt Vonnegut. Published in 2013, this posthumous collection is introduced by the writer Dan Wakefield. The earliest speech was delivered in 1978, while the latest was given in 2004.

These speeches are almost exactly what Vonnegut’s fans would expect of him — so much so that I wish I’d attempted to write a speech from the point of view of Kurt Vonnegut before beginning this book. The speeches feature his darkly humorous assessment of the human condition, as well as his deeply felt esteem for mercy, compassion, and contributing in spite of it all to make the world a slightly better place. He is also happy to poke fun at himself, though I enjoyed t... Read More

SHORTS: Dicken, Martin, Sturgeon, Simak, Garcia-Rosas, Vonnegut

Here are a few short stories we've recently read and listened to that we wanted you to know about. This week's selection includes some excellent classic tales.

“The Uncarved Heart” by Evan Dicken (Nov. 2016, free at Beneath Ceaseless Skies, 99c Kindle magazine issue, 0.99£ UK magazine issue)
It’s hard to tell what someone is really made of, at least until you crack them open. Some have hearts fragile as spun glass, quick to break and impossible to p... Read More

Brave New Worlds: Dystopian Stories

Brave New Worlds: Dystopian Stories edited by John Joseph Adams

Even people who don’t usually read science fiction will often be familiar with a few classic titles in the “dystopian SF” sub-genre. After all, 1984, Fahrenheit 451, and of course the famous Aldous Huxley novel Brave New World are some of the few SF titles that have entered the mainstream literary canon to such an extent that they’ve become assigned school reading for many students. However, novel-length dystopian SF didn’t stop with those venerable classics, and can even be said to be thriving at the moment. See, for example, the recent success of Paolo Bacigalupi’s debut The Windup Girl ... Read More