Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Of Clouds and Men




Lately, I've found myself in a Vonnegut frame of mind.  Maybe it is all these X-Files episodes I've been watching with my daughter, but mostly it is the desire to read something that spurs the imagination.  I've been feeling a bit uninspired as of recent.

The Brothers Vonnegut looks interesting.  Not exactly The Brothers Karamazov, but then there were only two of them and patricide wasn't the issue here as it was the ethical ramifications of cloud-seeding around 1947 when Kurt and his brother Bernard worked for GE.  Kurt's brother was a scientist engaged in a government-funded Project Cirrus, later dubbed Project Stormfury, in which the military hoped to redirect weather.  This was the same year, an alien ship supposedly crash-landed at Roswell.   So, one can definitely see Chris Carter trying to draw a parallel.

Ginger Strand takes a more conventional approach.  Kurt had been hired as a PR man to help promote GE projects, getting their products in major papers like the New York Times and the Boston Globe.  According to the reviewer, the author stretches her thesis a bit too far in trying to find a direct link between the brothers' time at GE and Kurt's fiction.  Still, it looks like a fun read.

Kurt's first book, Player Piano (1952) does make fiction out of his time at GE, which was met with a less than rousing review from the New York Times.  It wouldn't be until Cat's Cradle {1963) that Vonnegut established himself as a notable writer, exploring the ramifications of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki through the fictional Dr. Hoenikker.  Given that Project Stormfury hit its stride in the early 60s, Strand sees Cat's Cradle as being drawn upon his earlier experiences with GE, but it seems that Vonnegut had bigger fish to fry than some highly suspect cloud seeding experiment, which was never determined to have actually succeeded, whereas the nuclear bombings were all too real.

One can make their own parallels as the Library of America has graciously bounded Player Piano, The Sirens of Titan, Mother Night and other stories from 1950-1962 into one volume.  One would have to purchase the second volume to find Cat's Cradle along side Slaughterhouse Five and other novels, which made him famous.

Anyone up for Vonnegut?


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