Style and Technique

“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.)


(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Bloom, Harold, ed. Kurt Vonnegut. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2000.

Boon, Kevin Alexander, ed. At Millennium’s End: New Essays on the Work of Kurt Vonnegut. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2001.

Broer, Lawrence. Sanity Plea: Schizophrenia in the Novels of Kurt Vonnegut. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1989.

Giannone, Richard. Vonnegut: A Preface to His Novels. Port Washington, N.Y.: Kennikat Press, 1977.

Klinkowitz, Jerome. Kurt Vonnegut. London: Methuen, 1982.

Klinkowitz, Jerome. “Slaughterhouse-Five”: Reforming the Novel and the World. Boston: Twayne, 1990.

Klinkowitz, Jerome. The Vonnegut Effect. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2004.

Klinkowitz, Jerome. Vonnegut in Fact: The Public Spokesmanship of Personal Fiction. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1998.

Klinkowitz, Jerome, and Donald L. Lawler, eds. Vonnegut in America. New York: Delacorte/Seymour Lawrence, 1977.

Klinkowitz, Jerome, and John Sorner, eds. The Vonnegut Statement. New York: Delacorte/Seymour Lawrence, 1973.

Lundquist, James. Kurt Vonnegut. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1976.

Merrill, Robert, ed. Critical Essays on Kurt Vonnegut. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1990.

Morse, Donald E. The Novels of Kurt Vonnegut: Imagining Being an American. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2003.

Pieratt, Asa B., Julie Huffman-Klinkowitz, and Jerome Klinkowitz. Kurt Vonnegut: A Comprehensive Bibliography. 2d ed. Hamden, Conn.: Shoe String Press, 1987.

Reed, Peter J. Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1976.

Schatt, Stanley. Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. Boston: Twayne, 1976.

Tomedi, John. Kurt Vonnegut. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2004.