« New Nick Hornby Arriving Soon... | Main | Another Sad Demise... »

Billy Pilgrim and Kilgore Trout

Another excerpt from Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five, as Billy Pilgrim first encounters the science fiction writer Kilgore Trout, whose writing career is so inconsequential that he has to work as circulation manager for a small-town newspaper, overseeing a brigade of paperboys:

Billy Pilgrim parked his Cadillac in the alley, and waited for the meeting to end. When the meeting broke up, there was still one boy Trout had to deal with. The boy wanted to quit because the work was so hard and the hours were so long and the pay was so small. Trout was concerned, because, if the boy really quit, Trout would have to deliver the boy's route himself, until he could find another sucker.

"What are you?" Trout asked the boy scornfully. "Some kind of gutless wonder?"

This, too, was the title of a book by Trout, The Gutless Wonder. It was about a robot who had bad breath, who became popular after his halitosis was cured. But what made the story remarkable, since it was written in 1932, was that it predicted the widespread use of burning jellied gasoline on human beings.

It was dropped on them from airplanes. Robots did the dropping. They had no conscience, and no circuits which would allow them to imagine what was happening to the people on the ground.

Trout's leading robot looked like a human being, and could talk and dance and so on, and go out with girls. And nobody held it against him that he dropped jellied gasoline of people. But they found his halitosis unforgivable. But then he cleared that up, and he was welcomed to the human race.

The idea that society considers halitosis to be abhorrent, while accepting the dropping of napalm on innocent civilians, is a particularly devastating aside from Vonnegut's blistering pen.

August 30, 2006 in Books | Permalink


speaking of bombs.... Coincidentally, just this morning on the train, I took note of this sentence from _Oh Pure and Radiant Heart_ (on the 'logic' of using A-bombs against Japnan)

"Reason, like bombs, can be deployed from far away. Closer up there is nothing but feeling."

Posted by: tito at Aug 30, 2006 10:45:24 AM