Kurt Vonnegut’s Anti-Science Fiction Novel

Breakfast of Champions isn’t one of Kurt Vonnegut’s best novels. He famously gave it a C on his report card of his own works:

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I tend to agree with Vonnegut. Breakfast of Champions a weird free-wheeling kind of novel, but for all it’s faults it does have something interesting going for it.

For one thing, Vonnegut is a master world-builder. This is maybe the largest hurdle between a would-be science fiction writer and a quality piece of writing. It’s hard work to convey an entire world to a reader so that they enjoy the process rather than feel burdened by details which may have nothing to do with the story.

Breakfast of Champions isn’t a science fiction novel, not really, but it feels like one precisely because Vonnegut isn’t building a far away planet or a technologically advanced spaceship. Instead he builds the world around us, i.e. planet Earth, like a science fiction writer might who happens to be from another planet.

One of my favorite examples is a minor one, a description of a chicken:

A chicken was a flightless bird which looked like this:

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The idea was to kill it and pull out all it feathers, and cut off its head and feet and scoop out its internal organs—and then chop it into pieces, and put the pieces in a waxed paper bucket with a lid on it, so it looked like this:

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This description has almost nothing to do with the story but Vonnegut places it perfectly so that we are delighted by his observation. And the whole point anyway is to make fun of bad science fiction writing which uses too much spurious detail.

The other thing Vonnegut does well is to use a story within a story. I usually hate when novels do this but I don’t mind when Vonnegut does it because they are mini-masterpieces in and of themselves.

Here is my favorite:

A flying saucer creature named Zog arrived on Earth to explain how wars could be prevented and how cancer could be cured. He brought the information from Margo, a planet where the natives conversed by means of farts and tap dancing.

Zog landed at night in Connecticut. He had no sooner touched down than he saw a house on fire. He rushed into the house, farting and tap dancing, warning the people about the terrible danger they were in. The head of the house brained Zog with a golfclub.

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4 thoughts on “Kurt Vonnegut’s Anti-Science Fiction Novel

  1. I’m so happy you “liked” one of my artwork blog posts. My professional career is in the library sphere, so this analysis of a Vonnegut novel is just wonderful. I’m a big Vonnegut fan. I haven’t read Breakfast of Champions, though I’ve walked past it in the stacks a million times! Now I have to throw it on my monstrously large pile of to-read’s.

    Liked by 1 person

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