Date read: 19-07-2022

Author: Kurt Vonnegut

How strongly I recommend it: 9/10

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The narrator is an aspiring author. He visits Dr. Felix Hoenikker, who was one of the founding fathers of the atom bomb. But he also leaves a deadly legacy: ice-nine—a lethal chemical capable of freezing the entire planet.

My notes

He shuddered, “Sometimes I wonder if he wasn’t born dead. I never met a man who was less interested in the living. Sometimes I think that’s the trouble with the world: too many people in high places who are stone-cold dead.”

It was there that I met another fellow American, H. Lowe Crosby of Evanston, Illinois, and his wife, Hazel. They were heavy people, in their fifties. They spoke twangingly. Crosby told me that he owned a bicycle factory in Chicago, that he had had nothing but ingratitude from his employees. He was going to move his business to grateful San Lorenzo. “You know San Lorenzo well?” I asked. “This’ll be the first time I’ve ever seen it, but everything I’ve heard about it I like,” said H. Lowe Crosby. “They’ve got discipline. They’ve got something you can count on from one year to the next. They don’t have the government encouraging everybody to be some kind of original pissant nobody ever heard of before.” “Sir?” “Christ, back in Chicago, we don’t make bicycles any more. It’s all human relations now. The eggheads sit around trying to figure out new ways for everybody to be happy. Nobody can get fired, no matter what; and if somebody does accidentally make a bicycle, the union accuses us of cruel and inhuman practices and the government confiscates the bicycle for back taxes and gives it to a blind man in Afghanistan.” “And you think things will be better in San Lorenzo?” “I know damn well they will be. The people down there are poor enough and scared enough and ignorant enough to have some common sense!”

“You know how they deal with crime down there?” Crosby asked me. “Nope.” “They just don’t have any crime down there. ‘Papa’ Monzano’s made crime so damn unattractive, nobody even thinks about it without getting sick. I heard you can lay a billfold in the middle of a sidewalk and you can come back a week later and it’ll be right there, with everything still in it.” “Um.” “You know what the punishment is for stealing something?” “Nope.” “The hook,” he said. “No fines, no probation, no thirty days in jail. It’s the hook. The hook for stealing, for murder, for arson, for treason, for rape, for being a peeping Tom. Break a law—any damn law at all—and it’s the hook. Everybody can understand that, and San Lorenzo is the best-behaved country in the world.” “What is the hook?” “They put up a gallows, see? Two posts and a cross beam. And then they take a great big kind of iron fishhook and they hang it down from the cross beam. Then they take somebody who’s dumb enough to break the law, and they put the point of the hook in through one side of his belly and out the other and they let him go—and there he hangs, by God, one damn sorry law-breaker.” “Good God!”

“A pissant is somebody who thinks he’s so damn smart, he never can keep his mouth shut. No matter what anybody says, he’s got to argue with it. You say you like something, and, by God, he’ll tell you why you’re wrong to like it. A pissant does his best to make you feel like a boob all the time. No matter what you say, he knows better.”

Newt remained curled in the chair. He held out his painty hands as though a cat’s cradle were strung between them. “No wonder kids grow up crazy. A cat’s cradle is nothing but a bunch of X’s between somebody’s hands, and little kids look and look and look at all those X’s…”

“And?”

“No damn cat and no damn cradle.”

“When Bokonon and McCabe took over this miserable country years ago,” said Julian Castle, “they threw out the priests. And then Bokonon, cynically and playfully, invented a new religion.” “I know,” I said. “Well, when it became evident that no governmental or economic reform was going to make the people much less miserable, the religion became the one real instrument of hope. Truth was the enemy of the people, because the truth was so terrible, so Bokonon made it his business to provide the people with better and better lies.” “How did he come to be an outlaw?” “It was his own idea. He asked McCabe to outlaw him and his religion, too, in order to give the religious life of the people more zest, more tang. He wrote a little poem about it, incidentally.”

“We are gathered here, friends,” he said, “to honor lo Hoon-yera Mora-toorz tut Zamoo-cratz-ya, children dead, all dead, all murdered in war. It is customary on days like this to call such lost children men. I am unable to call them men for this simple reason: that in the same war in which lo Hoon-yera Mora-toorz tut Zamoo-cratz-ya died, my own son died. “My soul insists that I mourn not a man but a child. “I do not say that children at war do not die like men, if they have to die. To their everlasting honor and our everlasting shame, they do die like men, thus making possible the manly jubilation of patriotic holidays. “But they are murdered children all the same. “And I propose to you that if we are to pay our sincere respects to the hundred lost children of San Lorenzo, that we might best spend the day despising what killed them; which is to say, the stupidity and viciousness of all mankind. “Perhaps, when we remember wars, we should take off our clothes and paint ourselves blue and go on all fours all day long and grunt like pigs. That would surely be more appropriate than noble oratory and shows of flags and well-oiled guns.

“Beware of the man who works hard to learn something, learns it, and finds himself no wiser than before,” Bokonon tells us. “He is full of murderous resentment of people who are ignorant without having come by their ignorance the hard way.”