Kurt Vonnegut - Breakfast of Champions

Review

Disjointed, absurd book. Hard to listen to; read it instead if you really want to.

Interesting ideas below.

Chapter 2 - on memetic viruses

[...] human beings could be as easily felled by a single idea as by cholera or the bubonic plague. There was no immunity to cuckoo ideas on Earth.

And here, according to Trout, was the reason human beings could not reject ideas because they were bad: "Ideas on Earth were badges of friendship or enmity. Their content did not matter. Friends agreed with friends, in order to express friendliness. Enemies disagreed with enemies, in order to express enmity. The ideas Earthlings held didn't matter for hundreds of thousands of years, since they couldn't do much about them anyway. Ideas might as well be badges as anything. [...] agreements went on, not for the sake of common sense or decency or self-preservation, but for friendliness. Earthlings went on being friendly, when they should have been thinking instead. And even when they built computers to do some thinking for them, they designed them not so much for wisdom as for friendliness. So they were doomed.

Chapter 3

"Bill [the parakeet]," he said, "I like you so much, and I am such a big shot in the Universe, that I will make your three biggest wishes come true." He opened the door of the cage, something Bill couldn't have done in a thousand years. Bill flew over to a windowsill. He put his little shoulder against the glass. There was just one layer of glass between Bill and the great out-of-doors. Although Trout was in the storm window business, he had no storm windows on his own abode.

"Your second wish is about to come true," said Trout, and he again did something which Bill could never have done. He opened the window. But the opening of the window was such an alarming business to the parakeet that he flew back to his cage and hopped inside. Trout closed the door of the cage and latched it. "That's the most intelligent use of three wishes I ever heard of," he told the bird. "You made sure you'd still have something worth wishing for-to get out of the cage."

Chapter 8

The main reason for substance abuse:

People took such awful chances with chemicals and their bodies because they wanted the quality of their lives to improve. They lived inugly places where there were only ugly things to do. They didn't own doodley-squat, so they couldn't improve their surroundings. So they did their best to make their insides beautiful instead.

On slavery in the US:

They had grown up in the rural south of the nation, where their ancestors had been used as agricultural machinery. The white farmers down there weren't using machines made out of meat anymore, though, because machines made out of metal were cheaper and more reliable, and required simpler homes. So the black machines had to get out of there, or starve to death.

Tragedy of the anticommons:

Kilgore Trout once wrote a story [...] set in the Hawaiian Islands [...]. Every bit of land on the islands was owned by only about forty people, and, in the story, Trout had those people decide to exercise their property rights to the full. They put up no trespassing signs on everything. This created terrible problems for the million other people on the islands. The law of gravity required that they stick somewhere on the surface. Either that, or they could go out into the water and bob offshore. But then the Federal Government came through with an emergency program. It gave a big balloon full of helium to every man, woman and child who didn't own property. There was a cable with a harness on it dangling from each balloon. With the help of the balloons, Hawaiians could go on inhabiting the islands without always sticking to things other people owned.

Chapter 14 - on science fiction authors

Like most science-fiction writers, Trout knew almost nothing about science, was bored stiff by technical details.

Chapters 15-16 - on averages

Trout wrote a novel [...] about national averages for this and that. An advertising agency on another planet had a successful campaign for the local equivalent of Earthling peanut butter [(Shazzbutter)]. The eye-catching part of each ad was the statement of some sort of average-the average number of children, the average size of the male sex organ on that particular planet [...] and so on. The ads invited the readers to discover whether they were superior or inferior to the majority, in this respect or that one-whatever the respect was for that particular ad.

The ad went on to say that superior and inferior people alike ate such and such brand of peanut butter. Except that it wasn't really peanut butter on that planet. It was . And so on.

And the peanut butter-eaters on earth were preparing to conquer the shazzbutter-eaters on the planet in the book by Kilgore Trout. They studied the shazzbutter-eaters by means of electronic snooping, and determined that they were too numerous and proud and resourceful ever to allow themselves to be pioneered.

So the Earthlings infiltrated the ad agency which had the shazzbutter account, and they buggered the statistics in the ads. They made the average for everything so high that everybody on the planet felt inferior to the majority in every respect.

And then the Earthling armored space ships came in and discovered the planet. Only token resistance was offered here and there, because the natives felt so below average. And then the pioneering began.

Chapter 19 - perspective

Eldon revealed to Wayne a peephole, which kitchen workers had drilled through the wall and into the cocktail lounge. "When you get tarred of watchin' television," he said, "you can watch the animals in the zoo."

Chapter 20 - "And so on"

The proper ending for any story about people it seems to me, since life is now a polymer in which the Earth is wrapped so tightly, should be that same abbreviation, which I now write large because I feel like it, which is this one:

E.T.C.

And it is in order to acknowledge the continuity of this polymer that I begin so many sentences with "And" and "So," and end so many paragraphs with ". . . and so on."

And so on.

Epilogue

I landed on my hands and knees in the middle of Fairchild Boulevard. [...] Kilgore Trout turned away. He hastened anxiously back toward the hospital. I called out to him, but that only made him walk faster. So I jumped into my car and chased him. [...] My windows were rolled down, and I called this to him: "Whoa! Whoa! Mr. Trout! Whoa! Mr. Trout!"

It slowed him down to be called by name. "Whoa! I'm a friend!" I said. He shuffled to a stop, leaned in panting exhaustion [...]

"Mr. Trout," I said from the unlighted interior of the car, "you have nothing to fear. I bring you tidings of great joy." He was slow to get his breath back, so he wasn't much of a conversationalist at first. "Are-are you-from the-the Arts Festival?" he said. His eyes rolled and rolled.

"I am from the Everything Festival," I replied.
"The what?" he said.
"Mr. Trout," I said, "I am a novelist, and I created you for use in my books."
"Pardon me?" he said.
"I'm your Creator," I said. "You're in the middle of a book right now - close to the end of it, actually."
"Um," he said.
"Are there any questions you'd like to ask?"
"Pardon me?" he said.
"Feel free to ask anything you want-about the past, about the future," I said. "There's a Nobel Prize in your future:"
"A what?" he said.
"A Nobel Prize in medicine."
"Huh," he said. It was a noncommittal sound.
"I've also arranged for you to have a reputable publisher from now on. No more beaver books for you."
"Um," he said.
"If I were in your spot, I would certainly have lots of questions," I said.
"Do you have a gun?" he said.

I laughed there in the dark, tried to turn on the light again, activated the windshield washer again. "I don't need a gun to control you, Mr. Trout. All I have to do is write down something about you, and that's it."

"Are you crazy?" he said.
"No," I said. And I shattered his power to doubt me. I transported him to the Taj Mahal and then to Venice and then to Dar es Salaam and then to the surface of the Sun, where the flames could not consume him-and then back to Midland City again.

The poor old man crashed to his knees. He reminded me of the way my mother and Bunny Hoover's mother used to act whenever somebody tried to take their photographs. As he cowered there, I transported him to the Bermuda of his childhood, had him contemplate the infertile egg of a Bermuda Ern. I took him from there to the Indianapolis of my childhood. I put him in a circus crowd there. I had him see a man with locomotor ataxia and a woman with a goiter as big as a zucchini.

I got out of my rented car. I did it noisily, so his ears would tell him a lot about his Creator, even if he was unwilling to use his eyes. I slammed the car door firmly. As I approached him from the driver's side of the car, I swiveled my feet some, so that my footsteps were not only deliberate but gritty, too.

I stopped with the tips of my shoes on the rim of the narrow field of his downcast eyes. "Mr. Trout, I love you," I said gently. "I have broken your mind to pieces. I want to make it whole. I want you to feel a wholeness and inner harmony such as I have never allowed you to feel before. [...]

"I am approaching my fiftieth birthday, Mr. Trout," I said. "I am cleansing and renewing myself for the very different sorts of years to come. Under similar spiritual conditions, Count Tolstoi freed his serfs. Thomas Jefferson freed his slaves. I am going to set at liberty all the literary characters who have served me so loyally during my writing career.

"You are the only one I am telling. For the others, tonight will be a night like any other night. Arise, Mr. Trout, you are free, you are free." He arose shamblingly. I might have shaken his hand, but his right hand was injured, so our hands remained dangling at our sides.

"Bon voyage," I said. I disappeared.

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