Kurt Vonnegut

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American (U.S.) author and satirist (1922-). Born in Indianopolis, later the setting for many of his novels, and Vonnegut trained as a chemist and worked as a journalist before joining the U.S. Army and serving in World War II. His experiences as an advance scout in Germany, and in particular his witnessing of the firebombing of Dresden whilst a prisoner of war, would inform much of his work. This event would also form the core of his most famous work, Slaughterhouse Five. After the war he worked in public relations for General Electric.

This background influenced his first novel, the dystopian science fiction novel Player Piano (1952), in which human workers have been largely replaced by machines. He continued to write SF short stories before his second, The Sirens of Titan was published in 1959. Through the 1960s the form of his work changed, from the orthodox SF of Cat's Cradle to the acclaimed, autobiographical Slaughterhouse Five, given a more experimental non-linear structure by using time travel as a plot device. These strutural experiments were continued in Breakfast of Champions (1973), which included the many rough illustrations, lengthy non-sequitors and an appearance by the author himself as a Deus ex Machina. Its many hostile reviewers accused the book of formlessness, but it became one of his best sellers, and was later filmed.

Although many of his later novels would embrace science fiction themes, they were widely read and reviewed outside the field, not least due to their antiauthoritarianism chiming with the prevailing mood of the United States in the 1960s. In much of his work Vonnegut's own voice is apparent, often filtered through his proxy, science fiction author Kilgore Trout, characterised by wild leaps of imagination and a deep cynicism tempered by humanism. In 1974 a book officially "authored" by Kilgore Trout entitled Venus on the Half-shell was published, leading many to believe it was a work by Vonnegut. The book was actually written by the science fiction author Phillip Jose Farmer.

"There is nothing intelligent you can say about a massacre." - Kurt Vonnegut in Slaughterhouse Five

Books: Player Piano -- The Sirens of Titan -- Cats Cradle -- Slaughterhouse Five or The Childrens Crusade -- Mother Night -- Wampeters Foma and Granfalloons -- Jailbird -- Deadeye Dick -- Galapagos -- Timequake -- Breakfast of Champions -- God Bless You, Mr Rosewater -- Slapstick -- Hocus Pocus -- Palm Sunday -- Bluebeard

Short Story Collections: Welcome to the Monkey House -- Bagombo Snuff Box