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Kurt Vonnegut – the Shapes of Stories

An evening pause: There is an old saying that all story plots can be summed into one of the following three categories: Man vs Man, Man vs Nature, and Man vs Himself.

Vonnegut gives us a far better summary.

Hat tip Mike Nelson.

Pioneer cover

From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.

Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him.

The vision that Zimmerman paints of vibrant human colonies on the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, indomitably fighting the harsh lifeless environment of space to build new societies, captures perfectly the emerging space race we see today.

He also captures in Pioneer the heart of the human spirit, willing to push forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost. It is that spirit that will make the exploration of the heavens possible, forever, into the never-ending future.

Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit. And if you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.


  • Jeff Wright

    The 36 Dramatic Situations is a must-read along with TV Tropes for increasingly granular division. John Carpenter went the other way…saying that there are only external or internal threats… what he called right-wing horror vs. left-wing horror…..although “The Thing” was both.

    To me, everything is horror-pratfalls can cripple…the old can haunt; the new dispossess.

  • wayne

    “How the Best Stories are Written”
    Prof. Jordan Peterson
    [excerpted from “2017 Personality Lecture 06: Jean Piaget & Constructivism”]

  • Don’t forget Man v God. Argument can be made that the conflict fits into the previous categories, but, not really.

    There is more to reality than meets the eye; or something like that.

  • Jeff Wright

    It has been a downhill slide since the Fall.

    Fallen or un-evolved…it is all the same.

    Ellery Queen might say that..whether it was the muck that formed Adam’s bones, or the primordial ooze of 4-point-something billion years ago…one way or another…we all descend from slime.

    Cue the sax…fade to black…

  • ” . . .…we all descend from slime.”

    Perhaps not ‘descend from’, but ‘evolve from’. I think a common fallacy in the early days of the anti-evolution argument was the idea that humans descended from apes. Well, to a point, complexity evolves, and I don’t think biology is done yet. Our pre-frontal lobes are a relatively recent addition, and still room for improvement.

    I’ve mentioned that life is the antithesis of the Second Law of Thermodynamics (Fred Saberhagan wrote novels about this), and that means that, ultimately, the Progressives agree with the physicists: cold and dark. Science is real, yo.

    However, I see no need to hasten the process. Indeed, a lot of enjoyment to be had in the process of defying the Universe.

  • Edward

    bkivey wrote: “I’ve mentioned that life is the antithesis of the Second Law of Thermodynamics

    The second law applies to systems, and life works because it moves the entropy to other parts of the system. This is why Vonnegut’s story lines can move upward, in the Good Fortune direction. Otherwise everything would just be slow decay into Ill Fortune.

  • Edward noted: “The second law applies to systems, and life works because it moves the entropy to other parts of the system.”

    Thanks for the insight, and shows me where I need to refine my thesis.

  • wayne

    Blair / Edward:
    The second law of thermodynamics may be more conceptually thought of as “entropy almost always increases.” For the exact reason Edward mentions. (complexity outsources entropy to other parts of the system)
    In the long-term, we’re all dead, (heat death) but in the short term things are pretty interesting.
    This is all heavily bound up in Boltzmann’s “Arrow of Time,” all of physics is time-reversible, but that’s not how things actually work unless you wait a long, long time.
    —Leonard Susskind did 3 Messenger Lectures on this whole topic, and more recently Sean Carroll has gone deep into this in a very understandable manner.
    Ref: evolution and descended/evolved–that is sorta where things went off the rails with the ‘missing link,’ thing’, that doesn’t really exist. Better to look at it (in my social-sciences opinion) as “we have common ancestors.”

    Have “Slaughterhouse 5” cued up in the DVD for tonight’s movie.

  • wayne

    Vonnegut / Akira the Don
    “Harrison Bergeron” (2018)

  • wayne

    Highly recommend–

    “Eden Express” by Vonnegut’s son, Mark Vonnegut.
    ->Graduated from Swarthmore College in 1969, went to British Columbia to start a commune, and promptly fell apart; diagnosed with Schizophrenia in 1971.
    Fast forward– graduated from Harvard Medical in 1979 and became a Pediatrician.

    “Realizing you are crazy, doesn’t make the crazy stuff stop happening.”

  • Edward

    I didn’t really mean to kill your thesis, but the second law of thermodynamics is terribly misunderstood, usually because many people don’t understand that it applies to systems but sometimes because people don’t understand that the boundary of the system is larger than they realize. I’ve seen people forget that the Sun is an energy source for the biosphere, and you seem to have forgotten that generating CO2 is one way that life moves entropy outside its body. Our cells are like car engines, using energy for work (e.g. movement, building DNA molecules, setting up Jenga) and exhausting CO2, etc.

  • @Edward:

    You did not ‘kill’ my thesis, sir, but, as noted, pointed out opportunities. A bit dismayed that one might think me so easily dissuaded. {I say, that’s a joke, son.} Commentary on this forum is a resource.

    I may not have ‘forgotten’ something, so much as, ‘not have known’, but kindness toward ignorance is appreciated.

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