Kurt Jr Vonnegut Biography
(1922–2007), Player Piano, The Sirens of Titan, Cat's Cradle, Mother Night
American novelist, born in Indianapolis; he studied biochemistry at Cornell University, and after serving in the Second World War studied anthropology at the University of Chicago. His first novel, Player Piano (1952), attacks the post-war conformity and standardization he had witnessed while working for a giant corporation. His two dystopic works, The Sirens of Titan (1959), a novel which envisages the entire history of the human race as an alien accident, and Cat's Cradle (1963), in which a complex narrative of human selfishness causes the end of the world, helped to establish science fiction as a genre in which serious social problems might be addressed. Mother Night (1962, reissued 1967), explored the questions of war-crime guilt and anti-Semitism in a narrative about espionage in the Second World War, whilst God Bless You, Mr Rosewater (1965) depicted an alcoholic millionaire's realization that the only practical utopia lies in aiding and understanding the world's wretched, lonely, and ignorant. There followed his most celebrated work, Slaughterhouse-Five (1969), a post-modern anti-war novel. Subsequent works include Happy Birthday, Wanda Jane (1971) and Between Time and Timbuktu, or Prometheus Five: A Space Fantasy (1972), two plays, both of which have fast and funny dialogue; Breakfast of Champions, or Goodbye Blue Monday (1973), which touched on various subjects including ecology, racism, and politics; Slapstick (1978); Jailbird (1979); and Deadeye Dick (1982), a series of horrific episodes interspersed with recipes by the eponymous protagonist. Vonnegut's progressively pessimistic tone, barely alleviated by black comedy, is exemplified in Galapagos (1985), which narrates an inversion of evolution as the only means to peace, as a group of humans stranded on the Galapagos Islands turn into turtles. Then came Bluebeard (1987), which uses the myth of Bluebeard in Rabo Karabekian's autobiography about life amongst the Abstract Expressionists. Hocus Pocus (1990), a work set in the near future, treats of Armageddon with Vonnegut's usual black comic outlook. He has produced a wide variety of other writings including collections of short stories in Canary in a Cat House (1961) and Welcome to the Monkey House (1968); and the essays in Wampeters, Foma, and Granfalloons: Opinions (1974), Palm Sunday: An Autobiographical Collage (1981), and Fates Worse than Death (1991). In charting the struggle of the individual against a hostile universe, Vonnegut's fiction frequently travesties ‘high culture’ in a satiric and wryly humorous voice, and he shared with such writers as John Barth, Donald Barthelme, William Burroughs, and Joseph Heller a perspective of the modern world as an absurd, fantastic, apocalyptic farce. His latest works include Timequake (1994) and Three Complete Novels (1995).