Many people need desperately to receive this message: "I feel and think much as you do, care about many of the things you care about, although most people do not care about them. You are not alone.
: Kurt Vonnegut (November 11, 1922 — April 11, 2007) was an American science fiction writer. His work is known for its satirical, anti-authoritarian, humanist, absurdist and often brutally depressing worldview
. If this worldview can be pinned down to one event, it would be the bombing of Dresden.
Vonnegut served in World War II
. When in Germany he was captured by the enemy and brought to Dresden. Dresden was a large German town known for its doll-making that had little to no strategic military significance, yet was still fire bombed by the Allies into a smoldering charred pile. So it goes
. This event would become a major theme in many of his books, especially the later ones.
Vonnegut is also notable because he was one of the first modern science fiction authors to get serious attention in the literary world. Although your literature professors (and Vonnegut himself) may try to tell you he's not actually a science fiction writer,
the aliens and time-travel seem to disagree.
Vonnegut's stories with their own pages
Tropes common in his work:
Examples of tropes from his other storiesShort Stories
A Man Without A CountryDeadeye Dick
- Brown Note: A radio telescope in "The Euphio Question" picks up "the music of the spheres", which gives such pleasure to listeners that they stop whatever they're doing, and only snap out of it when the playback is interrupted.
- Death by Sex: Specifically cited in "Welcome To The Monkey House" (the short story itself, not the collection that borrowed the name).
- Evolutionary Levels
- Graceful Loser: In "EPICAC", the eponymous machine's response when it is told that it would never be able to be with the woman that it and its operator are competing for? Wish the operator well and commit suicide by overtaxing itself... writing thousands of love poems for him to give to her.
- Gravity Is Only a Theory: In Slapstick, the protagonist and his sister theorize that gravity was once variable, which is how the Pyramids in Egypt were built. This turns out to be true when their theory is used by the Chinese to change gravity back to how it used to be. From that point on it varies daily.
- Her Code Name Was Mary Sue: Mercilessly deconstructed in "Shout it out from the Rooftops." The author is shunned by everyone in her town, loses her living and is on the verge of breaking up her marriage after "Hypocrites' Junction", a book about a thinly disguised version of her town, becomes a smash hit.
- Instant A.I., Just Add Water: "EPICAC", in which the old-school punch-card computer learns how to love when its operator flicks a couple of positions at random.
- Lost in Character: "Who Am I This Time?".
- Rape as Drama: Quite gruesomely used in "Welcome To The Monkey House". Sex is repressed and discouraged to the point where a vigilante thinks the only way to convince women to try it is to rape them. The women he does this to end up being his loyal followers, and eventually help him do it to other women. It may sound unreal, but this happens in a lot of societies and cultural subgroups.
- Sadistic Choice: In "All The King's Horses," the captain at one point sees the one way he can save all but one of the remaining Americans... but he has to choose one of his twin sons to die. Due to intervention from one of his adversary's concubines, the child doesn't have to die.
God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater
- Artistic License – Physics: deliberately invoked; as Vonnegut points out in the preface, neutron bombs do a lot more damage than is suggested in the story, where a neutron bomb is dropped on Midland City and kills all its inhabitants, but leaves buildings intact.
- Asexuality: Rudy Waltz, the narrator, is asexual or, as he describes himself, a 'neuter'. Word of God states that Rudy's asexuality is supposed to represent Vonnegut's declining sexuality.
- The Atoner: Rudy sees himself as this after he shoots Eloise Metzger. He becomes his parents' sole carer, and only when he leaves Midland City for New York does he realise that he was doing this as a way to atone for his crime.
- Doomed Hometown: Midland City.
- Driven to Suicide: Celia Hoover, who commits suicide by eating Drano chips, which does so much damage to her body that her coffin has to be kept closed at her funeral. Why she commits suicide is never explained; it may be a result of her descent into madness due to drug abuse.
- Food Porn: many delicious-sounding recipes are used as a framing device (although Vonnegut explains in the preface that he has tinkered around with the recipes, which are based on recipes from various real life cookbooks, and that they will not work if tried at home). They are also a reference to Rudy's abilities as a cook, and how he feeds and cares for his family as a means of atoning for the damage he has done.
- Strange Syntax Speaker: Haitian Creole is said to only have a present tense, leading to some very odd grammar. Of course, it's implied that the Haitians simply don't bother trying to teach the American proper grammar.
"He is dead?" he said in Creole. "He is dead," I agreed. "What does he do?" he said. "He paints," I said. "I like him," he said.
- Those Wacky Nazis: certainly, Otto Waltz seems to think so, and sees Nazi imagery as colourful and fun. He becomes friends with Adolf Hitler while 'studying' in Austria, and has a massive Nazi flag flying above his house. He even greets Felix's friends with 'heil Hitler', and they are expected to say 'heil Hitler' back. By World War II, Otto realises that being openly pro-Nazi perhaps isn't such a good idea.
- The Alcoholic: Eliot Rosewater.
- Amoral Attorney: Norman Mushari.
- Conspicuous Consumption: What rich people are supposed to do, averted by Eliot and embraced by his father.
- Conveniently Interrupted Document: Fred Rosewater, a distant cousin of Mr. Rosewater reads his family history, only to discover that the most of it was eaten by maggots.
- Crapsack World: One which Eliot is trying to make less crapsacky.
- Heroic BSOD: Happens to Eliot. Twice.
- Interrupted Suicide: Fred Rosewater is about to hang himself, but he's stopped by a visit from Mushari.
- It's Not Porn, It's Art: To settle once and for all the question of which is which, Senator Rosewater has created a law of which he is quite proud. The law says that if it has pubic hair, it's pornography. (Note that this was before the modern custom of porn stars shaving off their pubic hair).
- Money Fetish: Norman Mushari.
- Moral Guardians: Senator Rosewater. He's so proud that he managed to create a law that passed muster with the Supreme Court in defining obscenity. If it has pubic hair, it's not art, it's obscene.
- Nautical Knockout: Eliot accidentally killed his mother when he took her sailing on his small boat and tacked. The boom swung across, knocked her off the boat where she sank like a stone.
- Rich Idiot with No Day Job: What Eliot Rosewater is trying to avoid. At least the idiot and no day job part.
- Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: Senator Rosewater.
- Shut Up, Kirk!: One of Eliot's friends try to call Senator Rosewater out on his open contempt for the poor, saying that an elected politician should be polite to the people he hopes will vote for him. The Senator tells him that he has spoken his mind his entire career, and everyone votes for him anyway, including the poor - because even they secretly agree that contempt is all they deserve.
- Strawman Political: Senator Rosewater, although he is far more Truth in Television than most people will admit (even to themselves).
- Title Drop: The title is told both to Eliot and Fred Rosewater.
- Anachronic Order: In this case, due to the scraps of paper from the "original artist" getting a bit mixed up.
- Gosh Dang It to Heck!: The narrator never swears, because his grandfather told him that if he uses profanity, it's easy to dismiss what he's saying.
- Take That: At one point the narrator receives a pamphlet titled The Protocols of the Elders of Tralfamador (with Tralfamador being an alien planet), obviously a mockery of the anti-Semitic tract The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
- Viewers Are Geniuses: The riddle at the end.
Armageddon In Retrospect
- A Real Man Is a Killer: Vonnegut told this story many times, both in speeches and in at least one book other than Timequake. After he returned from World War II, his Uncle Dan came up to him and clapped him on the back, proclaiming "You're a man now!" The implication being that the only way for a boy to become a man was to kill people. Although Vonnegut had never had occasion to kill anybody during his military service, he had seen a lot of death and lived through the firebombing of Dresden, which wasn't a lot of fun. Imagine that you've just gone through the worst, most traumatic experience of your life, and before you've finished dealing with that trauma somebody comes up to you and congratulates you on it. Yeah, Kurt wanted to kill the guy.
So it goes.