Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“EPICAC” is written in the playful style common to Vonnegut’s works. The very name of the machine is comic; it is clearly related to ipecac, a medicine used to promote vomiting. The story begins with the narrator discussing his friend EPICAC, and referring to him with human pronouns. At the same time, there is no question that he is dealing with a machine, an object to be owned by human beings: “After all, he cost the taxpayers $776,434,927.54.”

This technique of switching back and forth between humanizing the computer and presenting it as a machine might easily become confusing in a larger work. It would also be confusing if there were any serious plot development, or if the characters other than EPICAC were developed in a believable way.

Less than six pages long, “EPICAC” consists almost entirely of narration and dialogue between two characters, a human and a computer. After a brief discussion of the simple encoding techniques used, these dialogues are almost always presented as two people talking.

One result of this technique is to make the reader feel sympathy for the machine. It is easy to imagine the machine having facial expressions and changing tones of voice, even though the reader has been told that all the conversations are conducted by the operator punching a keyboard and the computer printing out answers in numerical code. One has far more sympathy for the computer than for any of the human characters,...

(The entire section is 481 words.)