Brain Snacks: Tasty Tidbits of Knowledge
Everyone's a critic, and that goes double for writers. But Kurt Vonnegut turns that critical eye toward himself as often as he does the rest of the world. Case in point, Vonnegut once graded all of his own works (against each other, not against the Best Works in English Literature). The best? Slaughterhouse-Five and Cat's Cradle, both with a well-deserved A+. The worst? Either Happy Birthday, Wanda June or Slapstick: both Ds. (Source)
Ice-nine is easily one of the most fearful bits of science fiction ever conceived. It makes the Death Star look like the Mildly-Annoying Star. But where did such a horror come from? According to some, this is the story: H.G. Wells visited General Electric during the thirties, and chemist Irving Langmuir was told to keep Mr. Wells company. To entertain the famous writer, Langmuir conceived of ice-nine as a possible story idea. Wells never used it.
How did Vonnegut get a hold of the idea? He worked at GE for years, and the story of the Wells and Langmuir exchange had since developed into a type of company myth. Unlike Wells, Vonnegut thought the idea was well worth a story. (source)
Do you think Kurt Vonnegut lays into science and scientists a little too hard in Cat's Cradle? Well, before you assume he's just another ignorant man raised in the boondocks where science is considered "the dark arts," consider this. Vonnegut studied biochemistry at Cornell University and received a Master's in anthropology at the University of Chicago. His brother was also a chemist and discovered that silver iodide could be seeded into clouds to make it either snow or rain. Unlike Felix Hoenikker, Vonnegut's brother was concerned with the moral use of his discovery and was very saddened to learn it was being used in war applications. (Source)