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Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut (born November 11, 1922) is an American novelist and satirist. He was born in Indianapolis, later the setting for many of his novels. Vonnegut trained as a chemist and worked as a journalist before joining the U.S. Army and serving in World War II.

After the war, he attended Northwestern University as a graduate student in anthropology and also worked as a police reporter at the City News Bureau of Chicago. He left Chicago to work in Schenectady, New York in public relations for General Electric. He attributed his unadorned writing style to his reporting work.

His experiences as an advance scout in the Battle of the Bulge, and in particular his witnessing of the bombing of Dresden whilst a prisoner of war, would inform much of his work. This event would also form the core of his most famous work, Slaughterhouse-Five.

This background influenced his first novel, the dystopian science fiction novel Player Piano (1952), in which human workers have been largely replaced by machines. He continued to write SF short stories before his second novel, The Sirens of Titan was published in 1959. Through the 1960s the form of his work changed, from the orthodox science fiction of Cat's Cradle to the acclaimed, autobiographical Slaughterhouse Five, given a more experimental non-linear structure by using time travel as a plot device.

These structural experiments were continued in Breakfast of Champions (1973), which included the many rough illustrations, lengthy non-sequiturs and an appearance by the author himself as a Deus ex Machina[?]. Many hostile reviewers found the book formless, but it became one of his best sellers, and was later filmed.

Although many of his later novels embraced science fiction themes, they were widely read and reviewed outside the field, not least due to their antiauthoritarianism, which matched the prevailing mood of the United States in the 1960s. For example, his seminal short story Harrison Bergeron graphically demonstrates how even the noble sentiment of egalitarianism, when combined with too much authority, becomes horrific repression. A case could be made for Vonnegut's form of political satire through extrapolation and exaggeration requiring a science fiction theme, simply as a milieu for proposing alternative systems, while remaining essentially political satire nonetheless. In this sense Vonnegut's work is no more or less science fiction than is Swift's Gulliver's Travels.

In much of his work Vonnegut's own voice is apparent, often filtered through his proxy, science fiction author Kilgore Trout, characterised by wild leaps of imagination and a deep cynicism tempered by humanism. In 1974 Venus on the Half-shell, a book by Philip José Farmer in the style of Vonnegut and attributed to Kilgore Trout, was published. This action caused a falling out of the two friends and considerable confusion amongst readers.

There was an incorrect urban legend widely circulated on the Internet that Kurt Vonnegut gave a commencement address at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1997 in which he advised students to wear sunscreen - the main theme and title of a quite odd pop song by Baz Luhrmann. In fact, the commencement speaker at MIT in 1997 was Kofi Annan and the putative Vonnegut speech was an article published in the Chicago Tribune on June 1, 1997 by columnist Mary Schmich.

Table of contents

Quotation

  • "There is nothing intelligent you can say about a massacre." - Kurt Vonnegut in Slaughterhouse-Five
  • "What is the meaning of life?"

"To be
The eyes
And ears
And conscience
Of the creator of the Universe
You fool."

- Kurt Vonnegut in Breakfast of Champions

Bibliography

Film Adaptations

Novels

Short Story Collections

Television Script



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