The Brothers Vonnegut: Science and Fiction in the House of Magic
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Worlds collide in this true story of weather control in the Cold War era and the making of Kurt Vonnegut
In the mid-1950s, Kurt Vonnegut takes a job in the PR department at General Electric in Schenectady, where his older brother, Bernard, is a leading scientist in its research lab--or "House of Magic." Kurt has ambitions as a novelist, and Bernard is working on a series of cutting-edge weather-control experiments meant to make deserts bloom and farmers flourish.
While Kurt writes zippy press releases, Bernard builds silver-iodide generators and attacks clouds with dry ice. His experiments attract the attention of the government; weather proved a decisive factor in World War II, and if the military can control the clouds, fog, and snow, they can fly more bombing missions. Maybe weather will even be the "New Super Weapon." But when the army takes charge of his cloud-seeding project (dubbed Project Cirrus), Bernard begins to have misgivings about the harmful uses of his inventions, not to mention the evidence that they are causing alarming changes in the atmosphere.
In a fascinating cultural history, Ginger Strand chronicles the intersection of these brothers' lives at a time when the possibilities of science seemed infinite. As the Cold War looms, Bernard's struggle for integrity plays out in Kurt's evolving writing style. The Brothers Vonnegut reveals how science's ability to influence the natural world also influenced one of our most inventive novelists.
delaying his trip. And he was hoping that after his trip to Indy, Kurt would come back to Cambridge with him, to visit and meet his son. Kurt agreed, planning to spend a few days with Bernie and Bow before heading to Washington and Jane. He wanted to see his brother, but he was eager to start his new life. He consoled himself with the thought that maybe the know-it-all Bernie would pass on some explicit marital tips. If so, he promised to relay them to Jane pronto. While awaiting Bernie’s
was watching flew in an odd pattern, the trail of snow behind it tracing its path. The path was growing more elaborate. It almost looked like a P. Then it looked like an E. Suddenly his heart sank. P … E … P … S … I … It was not Vince and Curtis at all. Bernie couldn’t help but laugh at himself. Ruefully, he went inside and put his camera away. But when he got back to the lab, everything was in an uproar. Vincent had not done any skywriting that morning. He had done something even better: he
of the air,’ in the weather sense, over enemy territory will become a decisive weapon,” declared the piece, “and it is no secret that, because of this, some nations have given the highest priority to research into weather control.” That month, the Soviets exploded their first atomic bomb. 7 Rainmakers Marion Mersereau Langmuir had always been game. Her courtship with Irving, consisting of grueling mountain hikes, frigid ski trips, and scrabbles through dirty caves, had won the scientist’s
pathos of his position—a dilemma as old as mankind, as new as the struggle between East and West. When human beings are attacked, x, multiplied by hundreds or thousands, must die—sent to death by those who love them most. Kelly’s profession was the choosing of x. Four soldiers have already been killed when Kelly moves his son into a vulnerable position. He pretends to realize the sacrifice too late and begs to take the move back. Pi Ying refuses. As the boy is about to be hauled off and shot, Pi
commended Bernie’s endorsement of regulation, noting that his position differed from Langmuir’s. Irving too was frustrated with the amateurs who might be polluting his data, but he believed regulation was impracticable, suggesting only a voluntary agreement among rainmakers. That was in keeping with the times, where “planning” and “regulation” were increasingly unpopular words. Bernie was swimming against the tide of unbridled capitalism. It was not a role he had ever expected to assume. But