the Little Red Reviewer

Archive for the ‘Kurt Vonnegut’ Category

Kurt Vonnegut: The Last Interview, and Other Conversations, edited by Tom McCartan

published in 2011

where I got it: purchased new

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It’s been a while since I read any Vonnegut, but as soon as I saw this book I knew I had to have it. Sure, I’ve read plenty of Vonnegut, but I could count on one hand the things I knew about his personal life: he was very close with his sister, he studied chemistry, he was a prisoner of war in Dresden when it was bombed by the Allies. I accidentally learned that his family thought he was very strange. *

The Last Interview actually contains six interviews, spanning thirty years, from 1977 to 2007, and it’s interesting to see what changes over the years, and what says the same. In the first interview, a special edition of Slaughterhouse Five is coming out, and he’s been asked to write a special introduction for it. In a later interview, Playboy is interviewing Vonnegut and Joseph Heller at Heller’s home, and in a yet later interview, Heller has already passed away.   Vonnegut’s opinions on war and family never changes (he’s against the first, and for the second).

After the small talk of “what are you working on now?” and the like, every interviewer wants to ask the same thing: what was it like being in Dresden?  Slaughterhouse Five, Vonnegut’s most famous work, was inspired by his experiences there, and all the interviewers want to know what it was really like. And in his casual, newspaperman, just-the-facts way, Vonnegut tells them. that Dresden was a beautiful city. and then it was gone.  He wonders how he survived it. He offhandedly remarks that due to the profits of Slaughterhouse Five, he actually made money off the bombing. Like when I was reading Slapstick, I had no idea if I was supposed to laugh or not.

Other topics that come up again and again are Vonnegut’s feeling that everyone should have an extended family,  and that the closest he came to studying writing was being the editor of the student run newspaper at his high school. he was pushed into studying chemistry, and then after returning from the war he studying anthropology. He jokes that when asked where the best new authors are, he says something along the lines of “not in the English departments”.  ouch. but as always, brutally honest.

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Player Piano by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

written in 1952

where I got it: owned

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Ever read a book that takes place in the future?  of course, we all have, and we love them. How much manual labor do you see in those books? Probably not very much. Robots or machines do all the hard work so humans are available to have adventures and experience fun plot devices. Sure, people work, but not fifty hours a week at a saw mill or light bulb factory or textile factory. In the future, everything is automated.

But how did we get there?

In 1952 Kurt Vonnegut couldn’t have known what the future would bring. he couldn’t have known how labor unions would protest over robots in auto plants, that humanity would automate everything we possibly could and glorify automation, calling it  Freedom, in our science fiction. All he knew in 1952 was how fascinating it was to see a punch-card programmed machine cut highly detailed parts for a jet engine. And I imagine he thought to himself “how far can I take this?”

Taking place perhaps ten to twenty years in the future, Player Piano imagines a world in which everything is automated. Dr. Paul Proteus is the manager of the Ilium Works, a factory that includes acres upon acres of machines and motors and pistons and belts, but employs less than a hundred people, most of whom simply watch the machines to make sure they don’t break down.  Dr. Proteus’s star is rising in society, he’s all lined up for a promotion, and yet, he yearns to escape the system.

When his old friend Ed Finnerty arrives, Paul thinks Ed may be able to help him.  Ed knows something, but he’s useless and vague, and would rather get drunk on the poor side of town than have an actual useful conversation with Paul. The factory is split by the river: on one side lies the Illium Works factory and the wealthy people involved with it, and on the otherside live everyone else. If you can prove that a machine can’t do a job better than you can, your employment destiny lies with the army, or the government run Reconstruction and Reclamation Corps.  No matter how you choose to interpret that, it’s a shit gig, and alcoholism and suicide is rampant.

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Welcome to the Monkey House, by Kurt Vonnegut Jr

Published in 1968

where I got it: purchased used, this is a 1970 printing

why I read it:  been reading his stuff for a long time, and loving every word of it.

You can’t tell from the reviews on this site, but I’ve read a LOT of Kurt Vonnegut over the years. Although there is such a thing as Vonnegut overload, the more I read his stuff, the more I like it.  Welcome to the Monkey House is collection of his earlier short works, written between  1950 and 1968.  A lot of the stories are hilariously dated, but mostly, they are just hilarious in the darkest way possible.   A few of the entries are straight up Scifi taking place in the near or far future, but many of them take place present day (a la the American 1950’s) and have to do with humanity going sour, and us thinking we know everything when in reality all we’re doing is screwing things up more by trying to do right.

I read my first Vonnegut novel, Galapagos, at around age 19. I had no idea who Kurt Vonnegut was, or what the point of the novel was, I just knew that I liked it and that I wanted more.  As the years have passed, I’ve realized why I love Vonnegut so much:  The man says what he thinks, all the time.  in literature, in scifi, in interviews where politics come up.  He says what he thinks and believes, and doesn’t give a shit what anyone thinks.  One day I hope to be that brave.

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.