When Billy finally got home to Ilium after the airplane crash, he was quiet for a while. He had a terrible scar across the top of his skull. He didn't resume practice. He had a housekeeper. His daughter came over almost every day. (Slaughter-House Five, p. 25)
None of his characters were heroes. Some of them weren't even interesting. Billy Pilgrim, the time-travelling character of Slaughter-House Five, is an optometrist. Howard W. Campbell, Jr., a Service Engineer with General Electric, turned Nazi. Many of his characters are writers, usually unsuccessful ones. One of these is Kilgore Trout, a science fiction writer that no one has ever heard of.
His books are about death, war, religion, more death. And somehow the man managed to be adolescent throughout his life, at least as far as his writing is concerned.
"Maturity," Bokonon tells us, "is a bitter disappointment for which no remedy exists, unless laughter can be said to remedy anything." (Cat's Cradle, p. 198)I had my own run-in with Vonnegut, or with a distant digital surrogate of him. The story is rather Vonnegutian in nature. In 1999 I wrote a short piece called "Information Granfalloons" that I put on my web site. The term Granfalloons comes from Cat's Cradle, and it represents a group that is based on meaningless characteristics. In the book, Hoosiers are an example of a Granfalloon. There is nothing important in anyone's life about belonging to such a group. A meaningful group is a Karass. If you lived in a commune, you would probably see the members of the commune as a Karass, but a Karass can also be people you encounter throughout your life who make some kind of difference in your life. (When Vonnegut explains it, it comes out as a joke, of course.) Trying to explain why the Internet is not a library, I used Vonnegut's terms from Cat's Cradle: the Internet is a Granfalloon, and the library is a Karass.
I was very surprised, a year or so later, to see in my web logs hits coming to my site from rosetta.com. I went onto the site and tracked it down to the page where they were (and still are) selling an ebook version of Cat's Cradle. Rosetta was at the time embroiled in a copyright battle with some hard copy publishers of its books who claimed that only they had the rights to produce the books. (See second part of this article by Lolly Gassaway.) Rosetta was claiming that the original contracts were for the publishing of books, and that the dictionary defined a book as "printing on paper." Since the ebooks were not printed on paper, the contract for the hardcopy did not not apply. The judge agreed, and Rosetta is still selling these books, victorious in its copyright battle.
There's a link from the Cat's Cradle page called "Commentary" that links directly to my piece on Information Granfalloons. I was both pleased and a little miffed. They hadn't asked permission, and I didn't like my piece being used on a commercial web site. But it seemed only right to take a Vonnegutian attitude about it. I could conclude that my piece, should anyone actually read it once they reached my web site, was as likely to put off a potential purchaser as it was to encourage him or her to buy the book. The only plausible approach for me to take was to just say "So it goes."
I hope they bury him with a tombstone like the one from Slaughterhouse Five. It reads:
"Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt."It's funny, because we know it isn't true.