Sunday, November 15, 2009

Look at the Birdie -- Kurt Vonnegut

This is a collection of previously unpublished short stories by Kurt Vonnegut. For me, the major flaw in the book is that the graceful introduction by Sidney Offit gives us no idea why the stories were never published. Internal evidence suggest that they were written more than 50 years ago. Did Vonnegut regard them as apprentice work, just practice? Did intend to publish them but decide they weren't worth the effort? Did he submit them only to have them widely rejected? Inquiring minds want to know.

That aside, the collection has some entertaining work. Certainly the stories aren't up to most of those collected in Welcome to the Monkey House. To me, the seem a little like stories written by someone who wasn't quite sure what he wanted them to be. "Ed Luby's Key Club," for example, has a plot right out of the pulps (man arrested for a murder he didn't commit, corrupt town full of witness against him, crooked cops, etc.), but while it has the words, it doesn't have the tune, and the way things work out is less than pulpy. And moralizing. Not that Vonnegut wasn't a moralizer, but it doesn't work in this kind of story, for me.

On the other hand, the title story is a good pulp story, and that's all I'm going to say about it. You should read it and see what you think.

The first story in the book, "Confido," is an SF story. Confido is a device about the size of a modern hearing aid. You put it in your ear and talk to it. It talks back, telling you things you think you want to hear. But do you? This one works pretty well, I thought.

And then there's "The Nice Little People," sort of an SF noir story that might have found a home in Amazing or Fantastic in the '50s if Vonnegut had tried it there. Lightweight, but not bad.

And so it goes. If you're a Vonnegut fan, you're going to read this. If you're not, it's not the place to begin.


Paul D Brazill said...

Sounds great.

Anonymous said...

The reason they weren't published is that they weren't exceptional for the era. Pretty derivative, actually. When coffee table magazines carried four or five short stories apiece, editors could take a pass on these submitted by a young writer like Vonnegut.

Charles J. Shields