Saturday, March 21, 2009

Armageddon in Retrospect

There's just something about Kurt Vonnegut's writing that I can't help but love. I was drawn to his writign after I read his best-selling novel Slaughterhouse Five, and I have gone on to pursue more of his fiction since then.

Recently, I came across a book that was published posthumous, after his death, called Armageddon in Retrospect. This collection of essays, short stories, and speeches focuses on war and peace. Most of these pieces were unpublished; thus, they were dug up and pieced together for this new book published in 2008.

I read the audio book, and I've been reading that the actual book has artwork and hand-written quotations by Vonnegut himself. That's really cool. In the audio book, Vonnegut's son reads an introduction he wrote himself on his father. It was pretty enlightening.

In Vonnegut's son's introduction, I felt like I really got to know other sides of him that I didn't know before. Even though Vonnegut has some crazy writing, it wasn't influenced by drugs or alcohol. He was a pretty clean-cut guy. He entered the army to fight in WWII and was eventually kept as a POW in Dresden (the basic premise for Slaughterhouse Five and other short stories within this book). His dreams of becoming a published author almost didn't come true.

The introduction actually encourages me to read his son's writing. He's pretty good. His analogies are dead on. If Vonnegut gets a lot of things right with writing, his son must too.

I would have to say that the first piece in the book was my favorite. The first piece is a speech Vonnegut's son, Mark, gave at Clowe's Hall in Indianapolis in April of 2007. Vonnegut's son said that he kept writing and rewriting last speeches before his death. This was the final version that he wrote. It was very interesting to read from that perspective. This speech was meant to be his final words to the public. It is incredible. If you want to hear about how reading the speech went on that day, Mark's reading of the speech, read a first-hand account here.

If anyone can find the text of the speech online, let me know.

Otherwise, here are the other short stories from the book:

Vonnegut's Speech at Clowes Hall, Indianapolis, April 2007: Vonnegut's farewell.

Wailing Shall Be in All Streets: A recollection of the bombing of Dresden, almost like Slaughterhouse Five. On his capture and mistreatment as a POW.

Great Day: Time travel. The main point is that achieving peace in the world is priceless, even with time travel.

Guns Before Butter: 3 army privates fantaize about the perfect meal they will receive when they come home from war.

Happy Birthday, 1951: A young boy is adopted by an old man who is left orphaned from war. The old man tries to shelter the boy from war but is too young and naive to understand why. Better said, "the impossibility of shielding our children from the temptations of violence."

Brighten Up: Self explanatory.

The Unicorn Trip: This story takes place in the Middle Ages. A family needs to make a very difficult decision. Involving a unicorn? Yes.

Unknown Soldier: A very short story on the first baby born in the millenium.

Spoils: An American solider is terribly upset because of a German child who was killed because of him. This is to represent unrecognized tragedies.

Just You and Me, Sammy: A soldier brings another soldier into an abandoned house to loot it. He tries to get him drunk and steal his identity. The other soldier ends up killing him, saying that it was suicide. The army asks him about the death, for the dead solider was actually a German spy. Good twist ending.

The Commandant's Desk: A Czech carpenter is suspected of collaborating with Nazis and Russians through his building. He then must build a desk to satisfy commands. "Hopelessness overrides pacifism."

Armageddon in Retrospect: Demons and the devil. Dr. Lucifer tries to teach about evil and how good will never win. This eventually involves other countries and the UN. It is noted as almost a Paradise Lost feel.

If you like Vonnegut, it is definitely worth reading, especially if you are interested in history, sci fi, war, and writing that's just a little bit out there.

So what do you think of Armageddon in Retrospect or Kurt Vonnegut?

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