About the BookFrom out of the blue, here's a new collection of Vonnegut fiction--his first magazine stories from the 1950s in book form at last, with some charming reminiscences (and three new endings for old stories) by the author. Vonnegut says these tales were meant to be as evanescent as lightening bugs, and that image captures their frail magic. They're like time travelers from an epoch when stories swarmed in mass-market magazines, before TV dawned and doomed them.
Later greatness glimmers here: the offbeat sci-fi of "Thanasphere" (in which an astronaut encounters dead souls in space) and the hero's bogus adventures in alien lands in "Bagombo Snuff Box" look forward to Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five, as do the war stories "Souvenir," "Der Arme Dolmetscher," and "The Cruise of The Jolly Roger," which incorporate and amplify Vonnegut's actual war experiences. There's authentic midcentury news here, even in the gentle Saturday Evening Post social satire of "The No-Talent Kid," "Ambitious Sophomore," and "The Boy Who Hated Girls," which pretty much nail the high-school marching band experience. The pieces are peppered with odd, true observations and neat little turns of phrase: one incompetent kid in Lincoln High's band marches "flappingly, like a mother flamingo pretending to be injured, luring alligators from her nest."
You can't miss the ironic humor and the humane, death-haunted melancholy of the young war veteran and tyro writer. This collection beats his first novel, Player Piano, and anticipates the masterpiece Cat's Cradle, whose tiny chapters resemble short stories. Young Vonnegut is derivative, mostly of Saki and O. Henry, partly because he couldn't think of endings, and their switcheroos offered a handy model. But from the start, Vonnegut's idiosyncratic voice is unmistakable. --Tim Appelo