So it goes

We all have a request from Kurt Vonnegut.

I am, incidentally, Honorary President of the American Humanist Association, having succeeded the late, great science fiction writer Isaac Asimov in that totally functionless capacity. We had a memorial service for Isaac a few years back, and I spoke and said at one point, “Isaac is up in heaven now.” It was the funniest thing I could have said to an audience of humanists. I rolled them in the aisles. It was several minutes before order could be restored. And if I should ever die, God forbid, I hope you will say, “Kurt is up in heaven now.” That’s my favorite joke.

Kurt is up in heaven now.

I think it is also only fair to give him Kilgore Trout’s epitaph: “We are healthy only to the extent that our ideas are humane.”

Skatje beat me to it. Vonnegut is one of her favorite authors, after all.


  1. Heather S. says

    He surely will be missed. I truly enjoyed his books and it’s a shame he’s passed.

  2. Steve LaBonne says

    Ouch. In these insane times he’s the sort of person we can’t afford to lose.

  3. Mark W says

    DaveX: I disagree. Vonnegut lives on in his books and in the mind of everyone he ever touched with his writing and speaking; that is a kind (the only kind?) of immortality worth having IMO.

  4. says

    I’m so sad to hear that. He was the one thing that made being from Indy so great. To read his books and be able to evision Meridian Street, the downtown area and Crown Hill.

    I initially thought it was going to be a post about ol’ Kurt saying something snarky, but when I finally realized, I startled my roommie with my yelp.

  5. amph says

    “Everything was beautiful, and nothing hurt.”

    Will that be his epitaph? Ultimate irony…

  6. says

    Mark W–

    Ah, I’ve heard that before… but I doubt that anyone would choose living on through writing versus actually being alive. I always doubted those old short stories and movies where it was so awful to live forever– there’s far too many interesting things to see and do to become bored to the point of wishing for death. Immortality? Sign me up!

  7. Brian says

    I dunno about that finality stuff… the little bits and pieces that came together to make you existed well before you were born, and keep on truckin’ well after you’re dead. The finality of death only sucks if you mind turning into dirt and (god forbid) some grass or a piece of limestone someday.

  8. Steve LaBonne says

    DaveX- I wonder if you’ve really made a serious effort to imagine just how long eternity lasts. Somehow I don’t think I could stay interested even for, say, a million years (the mere blink of an eye to an eternal being). Seems like a horrible punishment to me, so if the elixir of immortal life is ever developed, I’ll cheerfully donate my dose to you. ;)

  9. APK says

    As one who was raised in a Catholic household, I credit two major sources of inspiration for freethought: Monty Python’s “Life of Brian” and Kurt Vonnegut. How many others of you found Mr. Vonnegut to be a voice of reason growing up?

  10. Dennis says

    Oh, I wouldn’t mind living for an arbitrarily long time, so long as I had the option to get off the train when I got bored.

    Here’s to hoping Kurt had gotten bored. *takes a swig of Diet Dr. Pepper – hard stuff for 9 AM*

  11. One Eyed Jack says

    A very appropriate quote. After all, what else would one expect from an atheistic bokonist?

    He is in in Heaven to be certain.


  12. says

    “Evolution is so creative that’s how come we got giraffes and the clap”

    -Kurt Vonnegut

    I think his book Galapagos is one of the few fiction books that properly treats evolution.

  13. says


    I’m going to hold you to that, haha. But seriously… yeah, it bothers me to turn into limestone or something. Given an eternity, it would surely be the tedium of existing that would do me in (eating, sleeping, housecleaning) rather than any real lack of interesting things to learn about or achieve.

  14. Aris says

    Yes, I was sad to hear of Vonnegut’s demise. I am an admirer. However, I couldn’t avoid remembering how disappointed I was to listen to him on NPR, about a year ago, essentially supporting creationism. The money quote, repeated ad nauseam on anti-Evolution sites:

    “They say, you know, about evolution, it surely happened because their fossil record shows that. But look, my body and your body are miracles of design. Scientists are pretending they have the answer as how we got this way when natural selection couldn’t possibly have produced such machines.”

  15. says

    When the universe is dying of heat death, you won’t even have housecleaning to do, though at this point there is a good chance you’ll have been sucked into a black hole. I don’t know what that would be like, but I can’t imagine its good for your sanity.

  16. Jim D says

    We have lost a great humanist, pragmatist and humorist–the quintessential freshwater American.

  17. SteadyEddy says

    I just heard a little audio tribute snippet on NPR in which Vonnegut says that if he should die, his epitaph should read something like- The only evidence I need that there is a god is music. ????

  18. Sonja says

    A few months ago at work we were talking about the current crisis in the amphibian population and how, across Central America, frogs will get hit by the fungus and die, frozen in their tracks.

    I remarked, “like ice-nine”. One other person in the group smiled and said, “yes, like ice-nine.” The others just gave us puzzled looks, wondering what we were talking about.

    Vonnegut was the greatest — I will miss his wit and wisdom.

  19. SteveF says

    Fitting words from the man himself:

    “The most important thing I learned on Tralfamadore was that when a person dies he only appears to die. He is still very much alive in the past, so it is very silly for people to cry at his funeral.”

  20. says

    “you won’t even have housecleaning to do, though at this point there is a good chance you’ll have been sucked into a black hole.”

    I thought that’s what had happened! I guess I’m just messy. Damn.

  21. David Harmon says

    Woody Allen commented “I don’t want immortality through my work, I want to live forever!” Of course, one must consider the source….

    Over the past few years a lot of the giants of SF/F have died off, but that’s the way of the world….

  22. Rheinhard says

    Rest assured, when I visited Dresden a few years ago on a family sightseeing trip, I was hearing the Brandenburg in my head and imagined being led about by a gaunt, stoic, elderly officer in a greatcoat as I walked the streets.

  23. Chris says

    #20 – Interesting, all the music I’ve ever heard has been written, performed and recorded by humans, on human-designed and human-built instruments and recording devices. It seems rather silly to shift credit for it to a god, and I doubt that Vonnegut would have said anything of the sort (and this wouldn’t be the first bogus quote circulated to discredit a dead atheist).

    #4 – Horace called it “a monument more lasting than bronze”. We still remember Horace, and while I don’t claim to be a prophet, I think there’s a good chance that in 2000 years we’ll still remember Vonnegut too. Ave atque vale.

  24. SteadyEddy says

    Here’s what the NPR story says exactly…

    Though he was a vocal religious skeptic, Vonnegut wrote in that final essay collection that “if I should ever die, God forbid, let this be my epitaph: ‘The only proof he needed for the existence of God was music.'”

  25. SteadyEddy says

    I should have included the lead-up paragraphs from that NPR story too… I wonder why he would have written such a lasting statement? I haven’t read “A Man Without a Country”. Here’s the buildup…

    Vonnegut’s last work was a collection of essays called A Man Without a Country. In it, he suggested the way that music helped him through tragic times.

    “Why this is so I don’t know,” he explained in a 2005 interview. “Or what music is I don’t know. But it helps me so. During the Great Depression in Indianapolis when I was in high school I would go to jazz joints and listen to black guys playing, and man they could really do it. And I was really teared up. Still the case now.”

    Though he was a vocal religious skeptic, Vonnegut wrote in that final essay collection that “if I should ever die, God forbid, let this be my epitaph: ‘The only proof he needed for the existence of God was music.'”

  26. K. Engels says

    Sadly, Vonnegut is my second one of my top 5 favorite contemporary authors to have passed away in the last year. The other was Naguib Mahfouz, whose death barely registered in America despite the fact that he was a Nobel Prize winning author. I’ll miss them both.

  27. says

    In re the existential angst about death, it’s not that I find the prospect of being gone troubling so much as it is that I am prospectively sad for those of my loved ones who will be burdened with the sense of loss.

    Actually, come to think of it, this is a good argument for being a total jerk: Your death will be an occasion for joy rather than sadness. (So much for the fashionable imperative of civility…)

  28. says

    Oddly enough, I was just reading A Man Without a Country a few days ago (it was at a friend’s place, and I felt the impulse to re-read). He does indeed say the bit about God and music; unless I’m much mistaken, it’s the epitaph on a drawing of a gravestone.

    Which, of course, puts him in the Einsteinian camp of people who say “God” for poetic value.

    By the way, I think there’s a mistake in the New York Times obituary. Speaking of Breakfast of Champions, it says,

    This time his alter ego is Philboyd Sludge, who is writing a book about Dwayne Hoover, a wealthy auto dealer.

    First, Sludge should be Studge, and (again, unless I’m much mistaken) Studge is not the book’s narrator; he’s just what Vonnegut feels like when he writes clumsily. Or, as he says, when he is programmed to write clumsily.

  29. Billy says

    From his “Reflections on my own death,” which you can find in Wampeters, foma and granfaloons:

    “When I think about my own death, I don’t console myself with the idea that my descendants and my books and all that will live on. Anybody with any sense knows that the whole solar system will go up like a celluloid collar by-and-by. I honestly believe, though, that we are wrong to think that moments go away, never to be seen again. This moment and every moment lasts forever.”

    Damn, could he write.

  30. Kseniya says

    Me loves Cat’s Cradle.

    The film version of Slaughterhouse-5 is pretty good. It is faithful to the book in terms of narrative accuracy and tone – more so than one could even hope to expect, I think.

    I can’t but imagine that Vonnegut, Zappa, and Sagan are yucking it up in some cosmic speakeasy somewhere right about now. (Does that make me a spiritualist? I guess so!)

  31. Ribozyme says

    Immortality sounds attractive if you can stay active and interested for eternity. But when deterioration sets in (remember the myth of Tithonus), death is a release, a blessing. Just think that Vonnegut wrote his last novel 10 years ago, and died from a fall. Going on living under those circumstances wouldn’t have been exactly fun.

  32. says

    Farewell Vonnegut, in non-heaven with Asimov. But more specifically:

    Sonja Rae Fritzsche
    has done first-rate research into the bizarro world of Science Fiction publishing in Cold War East Germany. For instance:

    (Book) Science Fiction Literature in East Germany. DDR Studien/East German Studies Series. Bern; Oxford: Peter Lang, September 2006.

    “Utopia, Dystopia, and Ostalgia: The Pre- and Post Unification Visions of East German Science Fiction Writer Alexander Kröger.” Journal of Utopian Studies 17.3 (Winter 2006): 441-464.

    “Reading Ursula Le Guin in East Germany.” Extrapolation 47.3 (2006): 471-487.

    Asimov and Le Guin were 2 of the 3 first American authors whose science fiction was translated into German, with special forword and afterword, for East German publication. The two were politically vetted.

    Asimov was allowed as he was determined to be “a bourgois secular humanist.”

    Le Guin was a trickier case. They liked her attack on Capitalism in “The Dispossessed” but denigrated her for failing to point out that Communism was objectively superior to the false dichotomy between Capitalism and Anarcchism.

    When Sonja Rae Fritzsche gave a talk at the SFRA (Science Fiction Research Association) annual meeting about 2 years ago in Las Vegas, Ursula Le Guin was in the audience. I questioned Dr. Fritzsche, by explaining the Asimov/Vonnegut role in the American Humanist Association.

    Le Guin now entered the discourse, although usually she listened without comment to papers on her writings. She said approximately:

    “Are you now or have you ever been a Secular Humanist? Well, I am not in the American Humanist Association, and didn’t know that Asimov was President.”

    Asimov was certainly a scientist, and Biochemistry Professor, who was also one of the greatest Science Fiction authors of all time, and proud of it. Vonnegut and Le Guin and Harlan Ellison and some other major authors have made a valid marketing decision in declining to have the phrase “science fiction” on their book covers, or used to denote them in TV interviews and the like, on the grounds that it could actually decrease sales.

    Vonnegut thus wrote some Science Fiction, and metafiction about Science Fiction (i.e. Kilgore Trout), without being deemed a Science Fiction Author as such. Le Guin writes quite a bit of first-rate Science Fiction, where the Science is mostly Anthropology (given who her parents were!), Linguistics, and Sociology.

    All of these writers were interested in Religion, interested in Science, yet had distinctive analyses of how the two magesteria interacted. I’m sorry to say that I’d discussed this with both Asiumov and Le Guin, but now can never ask Vonnegut directly. Nor do I expect to go to Heaven. And I can’t fathom why (according to survey) more Americans believe in Hell than in Heaven. The first does not exist in Jewish theology, but, in the USA context, don’t they come together in the same box?

  33. Ribozyme says

    Pink Floyd’s “Time”

    Ticking away the moments that make up a dull day
    You fritter and waste the hours in an off hand way
    Kicking around on a piece of ground in your home town
    Waiting for someone or something to show you the way

    Tired of lying in the sunshine staying home to watch the rain
    You are young and life is long and there is time to kill today
    And then one day you find ten years have got behind you
    No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun

    And you run and you run to catch up with the sun, but its sinking
    And racing around to come up behind you again
    The sun is the same in a relative way, but youre older
    Shorter of breath and one day closer to death

    Every year is getting shorter, never seem to find the time
    Plans that either come to naught or half a page of scribbled lines
    Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way
    The time is gone, the song is over, thought I’d something more to say

    Home, home again
    I like to be here when I can
    And when I come home cold and tired
    Its good to warm my bones beside the fire
    Far away across the field
    The tolling of the iron bell
    Calls the faithful to their knees
    To hear the softly spoken magic spells

  34. says

    Iron Bell.

    The Iron Dream: metafictional 1972 alternate history novel by Norman Spinrad.

    Iron Sunrise (Ace Science Fiction) novel by Charles Stross. Hardcover, July 2004, 355 pages, ISBN 0-441-01159-4, MSRP: $23.95

    God Is An Iron, Spider Robinson, 1977:

    “God is an iron,” I said. “Did you know that?”

    I turned to look at her and she was staring. She laughed experimentally, stopped when I failed to join in. “And I’m a pair of pants with a hole scorched through the ass?”

    “If a person who indulges in gluttony is a glutton, and a person who commits a felony is a felon, then God is an iron.”

  35. Christian Burnham says

    Another of my favorites (from memory):

    “I’m suing the Pall Mall cigarette company. They’ve had a promise to kill me on the front of every cigarette packet for years and they still haven’t achieved their job.”

    Also- one of the best opening lines to any novel

    “Billy Pilgrim was a spastic, unstuck in time”

    (Apologies for misquoting.)

  36. Bob S. says

    Sigh. According to the Chicago Tribune’s religion blogger, Vonnegut wasn’t an atheist; he was a “religious skeptic,” who was an OK (if “annoying”) writer even though he wasn’t sure he’d get to go to Heaven and see God.

    (And he’s going to stay that way, apparently; I’ve commented with gentle rebukes both times, but neither was approved by the moderator. I guess I can take slim consolation that these days even acknowledging the existence of religious skepticism is a big deal.)

  37. Neil says


    In the the inner reaches of the mind, in that comfortable ether where people go to get their heads together, I have always assumed that most people knew they were just talking to themselves. Some people, I guess many or even most, try to imagine it as talking with God. I usually imagine that I’m speaking to another person, preferably a person who does in fact exist, and use the imaginary responses as a tool of examination for my ideas; a sort of self-imposed devil’s advocate. Most often I use the image and personality of a close friend, one of my parents, or a favorite teacher from my past to help guide my thoughts. The only celebrity or person that I didn’t know personally to make this short list was Kurt Vonnegut. I had no way to know his real thoughts, but for some reason felt I could distill from multiple readings of his wonderful and all too honest foma, a fair idea of the kind of responses he might generate. It was almost like mixing memories of a favorite grandparent with Mark Twain and having a little chat.

    For the most part, I don’t really spend all that much time in wishful thinking mode, or even conversing with my imagination as I admitted above; but for over twenty years the only celebrity fantasies I have indulged in are a drinking spree with Charles Bukowski (dead since ’94) and a long, quiet talk with K.V. We would just sit and smoke too much and talk; about the various shitty wars of our country over the last several decades, about the amazing ability of people to be snobby and selfish even when it harms them and they are surrounded by more crap than they can consume, about the even more amazing ability of some people to not only cope with all that, but to flourish in it and even help others, and most of all the indescribable irrationality it takes to still see beauty in any of it which somehow we all seem to be capable of-at least from time to time.

    Well, I never got that drink with Chuck, and I guess Kurt’s taking a rain check as well. But I can still raise a glass to wild abandon, so I guess I can still light the lamp and go looking for another honest human. There must be one somewhere, right?

  38. Bob S. says

    In fairness, I should update my frustrated post from a little while ago; it took the Trib many hours, but they did finally include comments pointing out he was an atheist, mine included. (Yes, the email’s fake. Spammers love the Trib’s comment pages, as I found out.) There’s also a cute li’l troll or two there, but I’m sure Vonnegut would’ve chuckled.

  39. says

    “…the only celebrity fantasies I have indulged in are a drinking spree with Charles Bukowski…”

    Once I was in the Hague, talking to the East German publisher of Isaac Asimov. he asked me where I was from. “Well, I grew up in New York City,” I said, “and currently live in greater Los Angeles.”

    “Los Angeles?” he said. “Does that mean you’ve met Charles Bukowski?”

    Well, yes. If you showed up at his place with at least a sixpack or a gallon of wine, he’d probably hang out with you. Not as hard to get to as, say, Thomas Pynchon. I’m guessing that Vonnegut was somewhere in between. But I do regret, as do you, not having gotten to converse with him.

    Lots of poeple carry on imaginary conversations, and not just when they indulge in “prayer.” Most of us carry internalized mental models of our parents. There were things that we wished we’d discussed with them before they died. There are times we wished we could get their advice. When someone I love dies, I find that I have many dreams in which I converse with them. The frequency of such dreams declines over the years, but not to zero.

    So my advice is, dream of Vonnegut. It will probably be the kind of dream from which you wake up with tears in your eyes, but laughing.

  40. Brian says

    I’m not going to pretend to speak for Kurt (or any other atheist/humanist). But it does give me some satisfaction to think “he ended” rather than “he died.”

  41. Desert Donkey says

    …. I believe that Vonnegut described ‘heaven’ in one novel as something akin to a giant turkey farm, with people wandering aimlessly staring up ……..

  42. Jud says

    Best part of the NPR story was John Irving’s recollection of dinner at a restaurant while he was a writing student of Vonnegut’s. Vonnegut jumps up from his seat, unable to breathe. Vonnegut was about 6′ 3″, Irving about 5′ 6″ and a former scholastic wrestler. So Irving knocks Vonnegut down, grabs him around the waist and proceeds to, in Irving’s words, “Heimlich the hell out of him.” Eventually Vonnegut manages to get his breath back enough to yell “John, I’m not choking, I have emphysema!”

  43. says

    Christian: that’s the opening to Chapter Two of Slaughterhouse-Five: “Listen: Billy Pilgrim has become unstuck in time.” Dunno what cerebral palsy has to do with it. Your version is more in the style of Bret Easton Ellis that of KV.

    Forgive my snarkiness: this loss is gonna be very hard to adjust to. Vonnegut’s presence in the world seemed so permanent and inevitable, as did his prose style.

  44. says

    Another important voice we will have to remember.

    One thing that struck me is how much he looked like another great American contrarian – Mark Twain / Samuel Clemens. Something about the sort of old-man-with-mustache look.