Pure Danger Tech


Kurt Vonnegut, 1922-2007

12 Apr 2007

I was deeply saddened to learn of Kurt’s death tonight. I was first introduced to Vonnegut’s work in high school where I read both Slaughterhouse 5 and his short story collection Welcome to the Monkey House. I remember Slaughterhouse had some impact but reading Monkey House is what made me a forever fan. Even now, I can recall a number of stories from that collection without having read them in many years.

Soon after, I started slowly making my way through his books, becoming more hooked at every page. I love his characters, whom you feel like you know immediately. I love his use of metafiction, putting himself (or you) in the book and interaction between levels, or the way he plays with time. I love the ideas and creative thoughts that infuse his books, whether they are science (like [Ice-

Nine](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ice-nine)) or science fiction (the Tramfladorians). I love his humor and the sense that life is precious and worth living to the fullest.

There are many Vonnegut works that I love, but Cat’s Cradle is by far my favorite. I’ve read it a bunch of times and still enjoy it, particularly the parts about Bokonon. Somehow, this book helped me understand myself and my place in this world better.

I’ve always loved Vonnegut’s essays, appearances, and non-fiction works as well. Wampeters, Foma, and Granfalloons (all terms from Bokononism in Cat’s Cradle) was something I found on a dusty library shelf years ago and found interesting and inspiring. Some of my favorite advice on writing comes from Vonnegut as well (not that I’m any good at following it).

On April 9th, 1998, I snuck out of work early and went to see Vonnegut speak at Washington University. The talk was held at the Wash U Field House (aka the gym) and I remember it as being a surprisingly hot day, made all the hotter by stuffing a thousand students into a confined and poorly-ventilated area. The talk was originally supposed to be held at Graham Chapel, which would have been great, but way too small for the overflow crowd that showed up. Nonetheless, Vonnegut held the (mostly student) audience’s rapt attention in almost total silence for the better part of two hours.

I don’t remember much of what he talked about except for the end. He asked everyone in the audience to turn to their neighbor and tell them about their favorite teacher. Everyone did so and all of a sudden there was loud conversation everywhere as people exchanged stories about their favorite teachers. In the hubbub, Vonnegut quietly walked off stage without most people noticing. As people noticed, a wave of applause went up, but that was it. Very, very cool.

Vonnegut was a humanist, serving as honorary president of the American Humanist Association. He succeeded the late great Isaac Asimov. This page on the unauthorized Vonnegut website recounts his “favorite joke” said to a crowd of humanists after Asimov’s death: “Isaac is up in heaven now.” After that he heartily recommends that if he ever dies, we also say “Kurt is up in heaven now.”

Kurt, thank you for your writing, your ideas, and your life. Kurt is up in heaven now.