- VONNEGUT, Kurt Jr
- (1922-)US writer born in Indianapolis. He was a PoW near the end of WWII in Dresden during the saturation bombing of the city and the subsequent firestorm. He later studied at the universities of Tennessee and Chicago, and began to write for various magazines in the early 1950s, his first sf story being "Report on the Barnhouse Effect" for COLLIER'S WEEKLY in 1950. His first appearance in an sf magazine was "Unready toWear" (Gal 1953), but KV tried hard to avoid categorization as a GENRE-SF writer. He first became widely popular in the mid-1960s and is now recognized as a major US writer of the post-WWII period.His first novel was the DYSTOPIA of AUTOMATION, PLAYER PIANO (1952; vt Utopia 14 1954), which describes the dereliction of the quality of life by the progressive surrender of production and political decision to MACHINES. The mixture of heavy irony, bordering on black HUMOUR, and unashamed sentimentality displayed in this novel became the hallmark of KV's work, and is progressively exaggerated in later novels. THE SIRENS OF TITAN (1959) is a fine complex SATIRE about the folly of mistaking good luck for the favour of God; it features the first of a number of mock- RELIGIONS that KV would invent - the Church of God the Utterly Indifferent - and concludes with the revelation of the manipulation of human history by Tralfamadorian ALIENS sending messages to one of their kind stranded on Titan. Oneleading character has an extratemporal viewpoint from which all moments appear co-existent - a theme which crops up again, along with the Tralfamadorians, in KV's novel about the firestorming of Dresden,Slaughterhouse-Five, or The Children's Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death (1969). Mother Night (1962) is a non-sf novel about the struggle of a US ex-Nazi double agent to discover his "true" identity; several of its characters reappear in later work, helping to connect all his work into a single evolving patchwork. Cat's Cradle (1963) features a confrontation of the opposing philosophies of scientist Felix Hoenikker, inventor of "ice-nine" (which threatens to bring about the END OF THE WORLD), andBokonon, a rebel against rationality and architect of an avowedly fake religion whose purpose is to protect believers against the harshness of reality. God Bless You, Mr Rosewater (1965) is a non-sf novel about the one man in the world who does not suffer from samaritrophia (chronic atrophy of the conscience), but it is closely allied to much of KV's sf; it contains an oft-quoted paragraph about sf writers, makes much of the misadventures of sf writer Kilgore Trout - who reappears in Breakfast of Champions, or Goodbye, Blue Monday! (1973) - and overlaps somewhat withSlaughterhouse-Five, the story of Billy Pilgrim, survivor of the Dresden firestorm, who finds peace of mind after being kidnapped by Tralfamadorians and thus learning that the secret of life is to live onlyin the happy moments. Most of KV's 1970s work showed a marked decline in vitality - both Breakfast of Champions and Slapstick, or Lonesome No More! (1976) verge on lachrymose self-parody and are shot through withshoulder-shrugging, verbal tics-but he recovered a measure of his authority in a series of novels about unfortunate innocents abroad: Jailbird (1979) and Dead-Eye Dick (1982). His most impressive novel ofthis period is, Galapagos (1985), a darkly humorous apocalyptic fantasy narrated by a remote and happily devolved descendant of the few survivors of the HOLOCAUST; but Hocus Pocus, or What's the Hurry, Sam? (1990), which carries its protrayal of a self-destroying USA through the turn of the century, is almost as compelling.Vonnegut's best sf - which includes some of the short stories first assembled in Canary in a Cat House (coll 1961) and subsequently recombined with new material in Welcome to the Monkey House (coll 1968) -has a unique flavour, not only because of its sardonicWeltschmerz but also by virtue of his consistent refusal to look for scapegoats to blame for the sad state of the world. KV is content to attribute human misery and misfortune to the carelessness of God the Utterly Indifferent; he is full of pity for the human predicament but cansee no hope in any solutions, save perhaps for the adoption of actions and beliefs which are absurdly irrational. This is a philosophy very much in keeping with the contemporary Zeitgeist. KV has also written a play with sf elements, Happy Birthday, Wanda June (1973), and had a hand in the production of a tv play based on extracts from several of his works, Between Time and Timbuktu (1972; book version Between Time and Timbuktu,or Prometheus-5: A Space Fantasy 1972). KV's essays, talks and various journalistic oddments are assembled in Wampeters, Foma and Granfalloons (coll 1974), Palm Sunday: An Autobiographical Collage (fixup 1981), andFates Worse than Death: An Autobiographical Collage of the 1980s (fixup 1991). A novel attributed to Kilgore Trout, written by Philip Jose FARMER, appeared as Venus on the Half-Shell (1975).BSAbout the author: Much has been written about KV; the following is a selection of books. Kurt Vonnegut Jr (1972) by Peter J. Reed; Kurt Vonnegut: Fantasist of Fire andIce (1972) by David H. Goldsmith; The Vonnegut Statement (anth 1973) ed Jerome Klinkowitz and John Somer; Kurt Vonnegut Jr (1976) by Stanley Schatt; Kurt Vonnegut (1977) by James Lundquist; Kurt Vonnegut (1982) by Jerome Klinkovitz.See also: ABSURDIST SF; COMMUNICATIONS; CYBERNETICS; DISASTER; DISCOVERY AND INVENTION; EVOLUTION; FANTASY; GENERATION STARSHIPS; HISTORY OF SF; INTELLIGENCE; ISLANDS; MEDIA LANDSCAPE; MERCURY; METAPHYSICS; OUTER PLANETS; OVERPOPULATION; PARANOIA; PERCEPTION; POLITICS; POLLUTION; PREDICTION; RECURSIVE SF; SCIENTISTS; SPACESHIPS; TIME TRAVEL.
Science Fiction and Fantasy Encyclopedia. Academic. 2011.