Twenty some years before a young engineer named Ray Tomlinson invented email, writer Kurt Vonnegut invented bee-mail in “The Drone King,” a story that didn’t see the light of day until his friend and fellow author Dan Wakefield unearthed it while going through old papers for a new Vonnegut collection.
The collection’s co-editor, Vonnegut scholar Jerome Klinkowitz, estimates that it was written in the early 50s, likely before the publication of his first novel, Player Piano, in 1952.
This early work, recently published in The Atlantic as well as Wakefield and Klinkowitz’s collection, shows an author whose gallows humor is already firmly in place.
Several of his favorite themes crop up, too: the enthusiasm of the misguided entrepreneur, the battle of the sexes, and technology taken to absurd extremes (i.e. bees delivering scraps of messages in soda straws tied to their thoraxes).
If we’re not mistaken Indianapolis, Vonnegut’s boyhood home, now host to his Memorial Library, puts in an unbilled appearance, as well. The story’s Millennium Club bears an uncanny resemblance to that city’s Athletic Club, now defunct.
The self-pitying male haplessness Vonnegut spoofs so ably feels just as skewer-able in the post-Weinstein era, though the doddering black waiter’s dialect is rather queasy-making, especially in the mouth of the white narrator reading the story, above.
You can buy “The Drone King” as part of Kurt Vonnegut Complete Stories collection or read it free online here. The Atlantic was also good enough to create an audio version. It’s excerpted up top. And it appears in its entirety right above.
“The Drone King” will be added to our Free Audio Books and Free eBooks collections.
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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday.
I am, of course, a Vonnegut fan and have been so since the 60’s, but all these “He said, I said” render the listening -(the reading?) – of this story impossible.