Everything was perfectly swell.
There were no prisons, no slums, no insane asylums, no cripples, no poverty, no wars.
All diseases were conquered. So was old age.
Death, barring accidents, was an adventure for volunteers…
So begins this old little short story by the master satiricalist Kurt Vonnegut, a salty little piece that examines a utopia from a single scene, inside a delivery room of Chicago’s lying-in hospital where an expectant father slumps in his chair and a wry artist paints a wall mural.
See, this world has moved beyond the horrors of ours. Now, population is tightly held in check, there is elbow room for all, and people who chose to die do so at the Federal Bureau of Termination (known in a wide lexicon of slang as “Automat”, “Easy-go”, “Why worry?” and my favorite, “Catbox”). Now everything is as happy as the lead in suggests, other than the despair of the father-to-be and the bitterness of the painter.
Why could anyone object? Well, that’s the shallowness of utopias serving human societies, I suppose. And the fact that rules don’t necessarily fit all cases. In this, Vonnegut points to some of the problems with population control, then turns around and points out the problems of a lack thereof (i.e. screaming, shoving overpopulation). And so back and forth we go, our outlook being challenged as Vonnegut turns his tidy little story this way and that.
What’s the primary conflict here? Ain’t tellin…
What’s the resolution? Ain’t tellin, either.
What’s the title mean? Even that is a teaser. If you’re clever, you can work it out yourself. But think of the English way of pronouncing ‘zero’.
It’s a clever little story, one you can read in a short session and walk away flustered. The point is, there aren’t any easy answers. If you think that’s not so, you aren’t looking deeply enough.
You can get it free, right now, from Project Gutenberg, link HERE. Download it in any format and enjoy a story as twisted and salty as a pretzel. Great fun from the master.