Friday, April 13, 2007

Goodbye, Mr. Kurt Vonnegut (1922 - 2007)

Goodbye, Mr. Vonnegut.

Thank you for Slaughterhouse-Five.
"Kurt Vonnegut was born in Indianapolis in 1922 and served in the US Army during the Second World War. He was captured by the Germans and incarcerated as a prisoner of war in Dresden. Vonnegut survived the saturation bombing of the city and the appalling firestorm that followed, and returned to the USA on his release from captivity. During the 1950s he began his writing career."
coverThe Mammoth Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.
NLB Call No.: 809.3876203 MAN (all are reference titles at time of this post).
"As an author, Vonnegut has, perfectly reasonably, distanced himself from categorization as an SF author. His work is undoubtedly literary and often surreal, and it was a succession of more mainstream-oriented novels that he made his name. Nonetheless, his SF remains important to the genre...

... Slaughterhouse-Five (1969) tackles Vonnegut's personal response to the Dresden firestorm. The novel is simultaneously bitter, hilarious, and harrowing. Its anti-war message is all the more effective for being subtly delivered."

Read the synopsis and reviews of Slaughterhouse-Five at

Speaking of Science Fiction (i.e. Sci-Fi, or SF), many people think that Sci-Fi "just talks about science and technology". From my experience, this [sort of thinking] is especially prevalent among those who don't read Science Fiction.

I think works like Slaughterhouse-Five might make them see Sci-Fi in a different light.

To me, good Science Fiction uses Science merely as a stage, whereby social dramas and the human condition are played out. Where the "science" (this includes aliens, fantastic worlds and technologies) adds depth to the story but doesn't overwhelm the reader.

One time I asked a colleague, who doesn't read Sci-Fi, to name some Sci-Fi works. The response was "Star Wars".

In my younger days, I was a few action-figures short of being a raving Star Wars fan. But as much as I like "Star Wars", I don't consider it as exceptionally good Sci-Fi. It's a good story. But hardly seminal science fiction, in my opinion. Certainly not in the leagues of Heinlein or Vonnegut.

Readers who dismiss Sci-Fi merely on perceptions (or even just impressions after one or two books) are really doing themselves a disservice. Of course I'm biased in making these remarks, 'cos I love Sci-Fi works -- the good ones anyway.

Still, you don't have to like Sci-Fi to like Vonnegut. To check for more works by the late Mr. Vonnegut, at the NLB libraries, search for "kurt vonnegut" from the NLB Online Catalogue.


  1. I read somewhere before during my old geeky (and pre-Ethan) days that Sci-Fi (or SF as some prefer it to be called) usually has some element of scientific speculation. On the other hand, tales like the Star Wars series are more like Space Drama as they are more concerned with the action, relationships and adventures of characters as opposed to developing the scientific theme further. Well, I would love to read more sci-fi novels but you probably already know why not. ;)

  2. Kurt Vonnegut was/is a hero of mine. He wrote a lot more than science fiction and his sci-fi works were far beyond a mere genre fodder. Humane is a word that comes to mind; funny, too. He will be missed.

    Glenn Harper,

  3. I'm almost ashamed to say I have never read any of Kurt Vonnegut's works. Better late than never, I spose...

  4. I've starting re-reading and re-discovering his works. It's never too late, CW :) In many ways, I envy authors -- a part of them remain (as ideas in books) long after their gone.


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