Kurt Vonnegut is remembered today for his groundbreaking novels and satirical style. But, he published several quite popular short stories that readers enjoyed before Slaughterhouse-Five shot Vonnegut into the public spotlight. Some of his best are discussed below.
One of Kurt Vonnegut’s best stories. It was originally published in Worlds of If Science Fiction and later included in Bagombo Snuff Box, published in 1999. The title references a telephone number that dials an assisted suicide number. It is referenced in God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater. It set in a time where aging is no longer an issue, and people can live as long as they want to. But, the population is controlled by the U.S. Government.
Using infanticide and assisted suicide, they cull the population. When the main character’s wife is about to give birth to triplets, he’s faced with a terrible choice about who will live or die. It was used as the basis for a short film directed by Marco Checa Garcia.
“EPICAC” was the first story to feature the computer, “EPICAC, that later appeared in Vonnegut’s first novel, Player Piano. The latter was famously inspired by his time working at G.E. An unnamed narrator discusses the computer’s origins and describes it as “best friend.” It no longer exists because it slowly became sentient and smarter than the human beings who created it. “EPICAC” is one of Kurt Vonnegut’s better-known short stories.
“Who Am I This Time?”
“Who Am I This Time?” Was published in 1961 and then included in Welcome to the Monkey House. When it was first published, it was titled “My Name is Everyone.” It follows Harry Nash, a shy, uninteresting man who gets sucked into a character he plays in a theatre production. An unhealthy love affair follows that sees Helene Shaw fall in love with Nash’s character.
“Thanasphere” was published in 1950. Its title came from the Greek “thanatos,” meaning “death.” It is set at the beginning of a new age of space exploration. Dr. Groszinger supervises the first launch into space, a single human being named Major Allen Rice. he orbits around Earth to observe weather conditions. With a traditional Kurt Vonnegut twist, he soon starts observing supernatural events. He receives messages from dead people whose spirits live in the atmosphere.
“Report on the Barnhouse Effect”
This short story was originally published in Collier’s Weekly. It later appeared in his famous collection Welcome to the Monkey House. It contains a teacher’s report of their former student. Before the report, the professor developed the ability to move objects with his mind. The U.S. Government tries to turn him into a weapon, and he becomes what Kurt Vonnegut calls the first “weapon of conscience.” The story was turned into a radio program that first aired in April 1950.
“Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow”
“Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow” was first written in 1953. It was published a year later in Galaxy Science Fiction. At the time, it was titled “The Big Trip Up Yonder.” The title comes from the famous Macbeth soliloquy. It is set in 2185 AD, around the time that a new medicine halts the aging process. People, who are willing to continue taking the drug, can live forever. The planet suffers from overpopulation, and there are few resources. The story was written as a cautionary tale meant to remind readers that everything has an end and for a good reason.
“Miss Temptation” was published in 1956 and then later in Welcome to the Monkey House. It follows Susanna, a beautiful dancer, who becomes the object of obsession for a lonely man, Norman Fuller. He takes out his frustration on her, using cruel language and expressing his anger over years of rejection from women. The story has been praised for its realism and clear depiction of what it’s like to come home after fighting in a war.
“The Package” was published in 1952 and followed a businessman and his wife. The two spent their entire lives working on getting enough money. But, after returning from a trip, they receive a visit from Earl’s childhood friend, Charlie. Kurt Vonnegut emphasizes their differences, and Earl spends a large option of the story bragging about his wealth and how well off he is. Charlie, on the other hand, as Earl’s wife realizes, is not as rich. The short story finally reveals that Charlie has spent his life being far more productive than Earl has.
“All the King’s Horses”
“All the King’s Horses” takes its title from the famous Humpty Dumpty nursery rhyme. The story itself takes place during the Cold War and follows Colonel Bryan Kelly. His plane crash lands in Asia, and he, along with several others, are held captive by guerrillas. Their main captor, Pi Ying, forces Kelley to play a game of chess. If the latter wins, he’ll be freed.
“Mnemonics” is a very short story that takes place over the span of a phone call. It uses humor and strange images in order to demonstrate one character’s attempts to remember things. Alfred uses mnemonic techniques in order to improve his memory. He can better remember facts and images this way. He frets over a woman he cares about, Ellen, and Kurt Vonnegut describes his meager attempts to talk to her and tell her how he feels.
“Any Reasonable Offer”
“Any Reasonable Offer” was published in 1952 in Collier’s Weekly and then later in Bagombo Snuff Box. It is a story of a real estate agent who’s trying to sell a mansion to a Colonel. The latter tricks their way into living in the house for free, something that is later revealed to be a running con. The real estate agent suffers from this scam and eventually moves out of the city, taking what he learned from the Colonel and applying it to his own life and his own mansions.