Kurt Vonnegut was an American science fiction and social satire writer. He is best known for his ability to subtly address political and religious issues of his time in a way that incorporates fantasy elements, like in his most well-known work Slaughterhouse-Five.
Kurt Vonnegut was born in Indiana in 1922. From a very young age, he was intrigued by science fiction ideas, and as the world entered the nuclear era, he and other writers became concerned with the impact of a nuclear bomb. Vonnegut fought and was captured by the Germans in World War II, and brought to Dresden to a meat slaughterhouse where he survived the Allied bombing by hiding in the meatlocker below the building. This experience became the basis for Billy Pilgrim’s capture and survival of the Dresden bombing in Vonnegut’s best-known novel, Slaughterhouse-Five. However, Billy’s experience takes a sharp turn from Vonnegut’s as he begins to time jump and is abducted by a race of aliens called the Tralfamadorians. They put him and an abducted actress in a glass enclosure, like a zoo, and watch as they fall in love and have a baby. Then, Billy is yanked back to earth. This non-linear storyline and elements of science fiction and fantasy allowed Vonnegut to explore themes of religion and the questionable divinity of Christ, and the age-old debate of fate vs. free will in a new and exclusively modern satirical way that had never been tried before.
Vonnegut continued to analyze these same themes, along with the Cold War and the constant threat of nuclear war in other novels, including Cat’s Cradle and Breakfast of Champions. His future worlds were always dystopian in nature, perhaps as a warning of what could happen if these very serious social concerns were allowed to continue their destructive course. However, these visions were always presented in an almost light-hearted, amusing way. In his short story “Harrison Bergeron”, Vonnegut imagines a world where people are forced to be equal by wearing “handicaps”, and no one is allowed to maintain a thought for more than ten seconds. Harrison Bergeron, who has finally had enough, escapes from jail, bursts through the television station’s door, and sweeps a ballerina off of her feet and out of her handicap before he is taken down by authorities. His parents quickly forget what they just saw, interrupted by their handicaps.
Vonnegut passed away in 2007 after a head injury from a fall. However, Vonnegut’s style and approach to tough topics cemented him as a juggernaut in the modern literary world.
“Science is magic that works.”
”I try to keep deep love out of my stories because, once that particular subject comes up, it is almost impossible to talk about anything else. Readers don’t want to hear about anything else. They go gaga about love. If a lover in a story wins his true love, that’s the end of the tale, even if World War III is about to begin, and the sky is black with flying saucers.”
“I believe that reading and writing are the most nourishing forms of meditation anyone has so far found. By reading the writings of the most interesting minds in history, we meditate with our own minds and theirs as well. This to me is a miracle.”
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