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2BR02B2BR02B by Kurt Vonnegut

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Your city thanks you; your country thanks you; your planet thanks you. But the deepest thanks of all is from future generations.”

In the not so distant future, immortality has become a reality. The proverbial fount of youth has been discovered (or rather ‘engineered’) by scientists. In a world where the average lifespan of a human is approx. 140 years, natural death is rare and far between (no terrible diseases, no aging). In fact, the only way people ever actually ‘die’, is through choice. In a world where youth is on tap, you’d think it would be a paradise, but not so. In a little over 16 pages, Vonnegut shows us the stark realities of over-population and what happens when mere mortals send the grim reaper on a semi-permanent sabbatical. Told from Vonneguts’ trademark humourous perspective, we are taken straight to a New York maternity clinic and shown the absurd consequences of playing god.

The dilemma we are presented with is that of an expectant father. As his wife is set to give birth to not one, but three babies, he begins to have very dark thoughts. In a society where life has become almost unlimited, the law regulates childbirth with an iron fist. Since ‘deaths’ are on a volunteer basis, birth-control has taken on a whole new dimension. The tragi-comedy here is whether our poor protagonist can find three people ‘willing’ to commit state-endorsed suicide so that his children can be born.

This extremely short story is well-written and best enjoyed either as an audio file or in e-book form. I found this gem through the librivox archives, and since listening to it have realised that it is available in many different formats. I really enjoyed this story, as it displays Vonnegut’s narrative strengths beautifully. The ending was particularly good, very punchy and to the point (as all v. short stories should be in my opinion).

This is short fiction at it’s best and no one should pass up the opportunity to experience it. The story only takes a few minutes to get through, but contains a powerful message that marries the present culture of youth-obsessed ‘body-beautiful’ with China’s own strict ‘birth-control’ regime. It seems the seeds of such a scenario already exist in world society, and that my friend, is scary stuff indeed.
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