Kurt Vonnegut is probably best known for his novel Slaughterhouse-Five, but he also wrote many short stories, including the popular “Harrison Bergeron”. Here are a few selections to browse. If you’re looking for a book, great news! There’s a Complete Stories available.
Kurt Vonnegut Stories
All Americans are equal—no one is allowed to be better than anyone else in any way. An exceptional fourteen-year-old, Harrison, is taken away from his parents by the government.
This is the first story in the preview of Welcome to the Monkey House: Stories.
“Welcome to the Monkey House”
Sheriff Crocker is at the Federal Ethical Suicide Parlor in Hyannis. He warns the Hostesses, Nancy and Mary, that a Nothinghead, Billy the Poet, is believed to be in the area. Billy doesn’t take the state-mandated ethical birth-control pills that numb a person from the waist down. The birth-control is one method of keeping the population from expanding; the other is the Suicide Parlor, where people can volunteer to die. Billy has been targeting the beautiful Hostesses, who are also highly educated and trained in hand-to-hand combat.
“2 B R 0 2 B”
Life is almost perfect—no prisons, poverty, wars, disease or death. The US population is maintained at 40 million. Edward Wehling is at the hospital, and is in despair. His wife is going to give birth to triplets. Due to population control, this is a major problem.
This is the first story in the preview of Worlds of If Superpack #2.
Susanna rents a room over the firehouse during the summer. She’s an actress in the theatre near the village. The residents have never gotten used to her; she’s beautiful and her clothing draws attention. Everyday, she walks to the drugstore to get the New York papers. The men admire her along the way, but the only one who speaks to her is the seventy-two year old pharmacist. One day, Norman Fuller returns home after eighteen months on duty in Korea. He’s never seen Susanna before and there’s an incident.
“Deer in the Works”
David Potter goes to the Ilium Works, a large industrial plant. They’re hiring lots of new staff to help fulfill an armament contract. David is a writer, which isn’t exactly what they’re looking for right now. After talking to the hiring manager, Mr. Dilling, David lands a job in the publicity department. His wife isn’t sure about the new job, because David loves the small paper he owns. They have four children now, though, and David thinks it’s time he work his way up in the corporate world. Plus, the job is still in journalism.
“Who Am I This Time?”
A member of a theatrical society is named director for an upcoming play. He takes the job on the condition that he can cast Henry Nash, a shy but great actor, as Stanley in A Streetcar Named Desire.
The narrator tells the story of his friend, EPICAC, a seven ton computer that covered about an acre of the physics building at Wyandotte College. EPICAC was a government project designed to make the myriad fast and precise calculations needed for war. EPICAC ended up working slower than expected. The narrator and his future wife, fellow mathematician Pat Kilgallen, worked together on the project. She wasn’t interested in marrying him at the time because he lacked warmth. One night, the narrator asked EPICAC what to do. Surprisingly, the computer was interested in helping.
“Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow”
In future New York, the extended Schwartz family live together in an apartment suite. A tonic that stops aging, anti-gerasone, has stopped death from old age leading to overpopulation. The family patriarch, Gramps, is 172 years old. He’s the only one with his own room, and he gets the best food and chair. He maintains control by threatening to disinherit anyone who bothers him. He keeps saying he will stop taking anti-gerasone to make way for the younger ones, but he always puts it off. One day, his grandson, Lou, makes a smart remark, which Gramps can’t let go unpunished.
“Report on the Barnhouse Effect”
Professor Barnhouse is in hiding due to his mastery of dynamopsychism, a force of the mind, that allows him to destroy anything on earth. His government wants to use him as a weapon but he’s refused. Instead, he used his power to prevent war. This had led to a search for Barnhouse as well as others with his talent. He first discovered his talent as a private while in the military.
Alfred Moorhead has attended a two-day memory clinic and now he can easily remember vast amounts of information. The improvement in his work performance is obvious, and he gets a promotion quickly. Everything is better except the situation with his secretary, Ellen—he still doesn’t know how to break the ice with her.
“Any Reasonable Offer”
The narrator is a real estate agent. He talks about how those in his profession get treated badly by their clients, more so than those in any other line of work. One of his clients closed their sale privately and then refused to pay the commission. His current problem is selling Mrs. Hellbrunner’s house—a huge, expensive place complete with a drawbridge and moat. He’s visited by Colonel and Mrs. Bradley Peckham who are interested in the Hurty place, which is also expensive.
Dr. Groszinger is assisting with an experiment. A manned spacecraft, the first of its kind, is two thousand miles above earth. The lone occupant, Major Allen Rice, was selected from a hundred volunteers for his strength, stoicism, and work ethic. He’s as perfect for the mission as the ship he inhabits. Groszinger and the project head, Lieutenant General Franklin Dane, are waiting for Rice’s first progress report. They’re delighted to make contact with him, but their mood quickly changes. Rice sounds hesitant and soft and is distracted by voices that Groszinger and Dane can’t hear.
After a trip around the world, Earl and Maude Fenton return to the country and move into their new mansion. Earl gets a call from an old college fraternity brother, Charlie, one of the rich guys who had everything. Earl had to work his way through college as a waiter, sometimes serving his fellow students, and he remembers the feeling of inferiority. Charlie wants to come by for a visit. Earl welcomes him and is eager to show off his success.
“Der Arme Dolmetscher”
After reciting a verse of German poetry remembered from college, a soldier is astonished to find himself moved off regular duty into the role of interpreter. He protests that his German is insufficient for the job, but no one pays any attention. On the way to the burgomaster’s farm, he tries to pick up what words he can from his fellow passengers.
“Bagombo Snuff Box”
Eddie Laird is in a bar in the city. He used to know them all but, after being away, he doesn’t recognize this one. He finds out from the bartender that lots of things have changed in the eleven years he’s been gone. His ex-wife, Amy, lives here with a husband and two kids. He decides to call and see how she’s doing.
“All the King’s Horses” by Kurt Vonnegut
Colonel Bryan Kelly is led back to his cell. There are fifteen others waiting for him—his wife and twin sons, the pilot and co-pilot, and ten enlisted men. They had all been flying to a military posting when they were blown off course and crash-landed in territory controlled by a guerilla chief, Pi Ying. Kelly has just found out what is to be done with the sixteen of them, and he’s rattled.
Read “All the King’s Men”
“The Kid Nobody Could Handle”
Jim Donnini is a new kid in town. He is Mr. Quinn’s nephew by marriage, and no one knows what to do with him. Jim is moody and a trouble maker at school. The head of the music department, George Helmholtz, tries to help the boy.