Thursday, April 12, 2007

An Empty Monkey House

Just got the word from Sci Fi Wire and SF Signal that author Kurt Vonnegut has died.
First impressions count for a lot, and that’s certainly been my experience with Vonnegut. The first tale of his that I ever read, and the one that sticks out the most in my mind for some reason, was his short story on an egalitarian nightmare “Harrison Bergeron”, from the collection “Welcome to the Monkey House” (originally published in “The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction” in October 1961). The story revolves around the life of the title character, a physical and intellectual superman in shackles to keep him at humanity’s common denominator (which in this story happens to be the lowest leveling of the playing field) and his eventual slipping of his bonds, obtaining his perfect mate and rising above the rabble. More than the caution of the perils of insuring that all people are equal, I think the theme in this story that stuck out most in my mind was that humanity’s own worst enemy can easily be itself, and in unexpected ways. In order to prevent individuals from dominating their peers or their country, the society depicted opts for stagnation. In trying to keep balance and prevent a fall in one direction, the pendulum has swung too far the other way.
Some of Vonnegut’s other well-known works include “Slaughterhouse-Five” and “Cat’s Cradle”.
Sci Fi Wire quotes the New York Times as reporting Vonnegut had suffered brain injuries as a result of a fall a few weeks ago. Kurt Vonnegut died in New York on April 10th at the age of 84.

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