Today is a day we are really excited about. There is more Kurt Vonnegut in the world.
Specifically, a brand new story that has never been published before: “Hello, Red.”
Even better, there will be another unreleased Kurt Vonnegut story coming on September 29th titled “The Petrified Ants.”
There is one catch: you’ll have to read them as e-books.
Before you start yelling, bear with me.
You can read these stories in printed form. You’ll just have to wait until October 20th when a brand new collection of never-before-released Vonnegut stories, Look at the Birdie, comes out in hardcover. But in an age where so much reading is done on computers and portable devices, usually for shorter periods of time or in bite-sized chunks, we thought it would be interesting to try something new.
The nature of e-reading (be it on computer or portable device) lends itself naturally to shorter content, especially short stories. That’s why we thought it would be an interesting idea to release all of the stories from Look at the Birdie as single-story e-books. But, we decided to take that even further…
If the full collection wasn’t on sale until October 20th, why couldn’t we release some of it sooner? This is never-before-published Kurt Vonnegut! We are talking about unreleased stories from one of the most important writers, both of literature and speculative fiction, in recent times. As devoted fans of Kurt’s writing, we could easily place ourselves in the readers’ shoes and think, wouldn’t it be cool if we could read some of the tales in advance? Thus, we decided to release two of the stories as e-books before the hardcover is even on sale. That’s what a band would do. When Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds release a new album, they’ll have a single available several months prior. Why couldn’t we do the same with a book (especially a short story collection)?
Mind you, when we first considered the idea of releasing fourteen never-before-published Kurt Vonnegut stories as stand-alone e-books, we asked ourselves the obvious question: is this what the author would have wanted? (Or his alter-ego Kilgore Trout for that matter?)
After all, Kurt Vonnegut is a monumental writer. His style is so unique, so distinctive, that he ranks in my mind with select group of wonderful madmen who were their own genres, such as Thelonious Monk, Woody Allen, or Francisco Goya. Like all these men, Kurt Vonnegut had a wonderful simplicity to his art. His stories never felt overwritten and yet they always hit you with a tremendous impact. And, as you’ll find in Monk, Allen, and Goya’s work, there was a great sense of humor — a reveling in the idea that laughter is the only true salve for everyday life.
In terms of speculative fiction, Kurt was that unique science fiction writer who wasn’t really a science fiction writer. Player Piano, Sirens of Titan, Cat’s Cradle, and Slaughterhouse Five all contained Science Fiction elements. But like all good Science Fiction (at least in my opinion) it was more about who we are as a human race, rather than time travel, spaceships, and aliens. Rod Serling knew this as well. Kurt’s entire focus in writing about science and technology was that it was only valuable so long as it didn’t destroy our humanity. Or perhaps he phrased it better, “Science never cheered up anyone. The truth about the human situation is just too awful.”
So you can imagine the idea of taking the bold step of releasing single-story e-books by a major author like Kurt Vonnegut, especially one who was wary of technology being a potential threat to the human condition, while exciting, also comes with some philosophical questions. But then we read the stories…
I could discuss every one of the new fourteen tales. But since I’m writing for Suvudu, I’ll stick to what’s relevant. In many of the unreleased stories, such as the “The Petrified Ants,” “Confido,” and “The Nice Little People,” Kurt adeptly wove science fiction elements into tales that still address basic human reality. So whether it is a group of tiny alien visitors who stumble upon one man’s unhappy marriage, a device that perhaps knows too much about our innermost thoughts, or a lost race of insects with strange parallels to our own history, these stories had all the elements that first won us over when we discovered Kurt’s fantastical novels.
As for the stories that are more literary in their bent, such as “Hello, Red” or “Little Drops of Water,” we found Kurt’s heart and sense of humor in them. So they made us laugh and, at the same time, feel really sad for the characters. Just like God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater did when I first read it in paperback.
The strength is always in the story. And we think people will enjoy these stories. That, we think, would’ve pleased Kurt the most. For die-hards, it would be a chance to read more of their favorite writer. For people who knew the man, but maybe only read a novel or two, the two stories we’re releasing in advance are a great way to discover his writing.
And while it would be nice to think that everyone would experience reading Kurt Vonnegut for the first time in print, as I first did many years ago, this is a digital age. And to be honest, the sound of someone laughing out loud while enjoying a witty sentence from Kurt doesn’t change if the text is on a screen.
– Ken Wohlrob