Intelligent playfulness at its best

Kurt Vonnegut’s collection of writing Armageddon In Restrospect proved to be as thought-provoking as I thought it would be – and as funny.

Most of his writings here are fictional stories revolving around American prisoners of war in Dresden, Germany during World War II.  One of my favorites was “Guns Before Butter” in which three POW’s discuss their first meal when they get home much to the confusion of their lackadaisical German guard.  The POW’s write down the recipes in notebooks and draw pictures of their first meal.  I would have to go along with the private who wants a stack of twelve pancakes with fried eggs in between.  He wants chocolate syrup – I’d want maple.

Another story set in medieval England has Elmer and Ivy and their son, Ethelbert, deciding how to act when Elmer is forced to be tax collector for Robert the Horrible.  A trap Ethelbert sets for a unicorn brings all their problems to an end.  From a literary standpoint, I would put this one at the top of the collection.  It’s amazing how well-developed the characters are in spite of the brevity of the story.

Vonnegut has grown on me over the years.  I read Slapstick probably over twenty years ago and was mildly entertained by it.  I’ve been exceptionally impressed by the short stories I’ve read both in this collection and in Bagombo Snuff Box.   In the story from which the title of this book comes, a doctor states that “I think you’ll find that most of the really big ideas have come from intelligent playfulness.”  I think “intelligent playfulness” is the best way to describe much of Vonnegut’s writing.

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