From Project Gutenberg, a lost story by Kurt Vonnegut

May 4, 2007 | 2 books mentioned 7

Way back in 1971, before I was even born, and the use of the words “personal computer” would have branded the speaker a science fiction junkie, Michael Hart started Project Gutenberg, an effort to digitize the world’s books. Although the project has since been superseded by more ambitious efforts (i.e. Google Books), Project Gutenberg, with the efforts of tens of thousands of volunteers, keeps chugging along.

Although lacking in the great search features offered by a service like Google Books or Amazon Search Inside, Project Gutenberg has several excellent features (an extensive collection of free books for PDAs, for example) that guarantee it a place in my heart. One of the greatest parts of the project is their RSS feed, which provides subscribers with nightly updates of additions to their catalog. I’ve been a subscriber for over a year and am always delighted by the book titles that arrive in my inbox each morning. A recent sampling included Arthur Waite’s Devil-Worship In France (1896), an omnibus of Atlantic Monthlies from 1916, a sixteenth century grammar of the Japanese language compiled by Portuguese missionaries, and… what’s this… a Kurt Vonnegut story?

The story, “2 B R 0 2 B“, first appeared in the sci-fi journal Worlds of If in January 1962, placing it shortly after the release of his novel Mother Night. Apparently, Vonnegut never renewed the copyright, and it wasn’t included in any of his short story collections. The story itself is short and, although it’s easy to see why Vonnegut never bothered to anthologize it, as a big fan of Vonnegut, it’s a pleasant surprise.


See also: Kurt Vonnegut RIP

As Noted in the Comments: It turns out that “2 B R 0 2 B” was in fact published in Bagombo Snuff Box.

is a Washington correspondent for the Japanese news service Kyodo News. He writes on US-Japan relations, reporting from the White House and the Pentagon. In his spare time, he works as a translator. He is currently writing a police noir set in Japan. Follow him on Twitter @benjamindooley.


  1. And so it is. Please pardon my poor research. I made the mistake of taking the poster of the story at his word and only doing a cursory examination of Vonnegut's anthologies. Never a good idea when dealing with the Internet.

  2. I just used this story with my students (freshmen) as a lead-in to satire and Fahrenheit 451; it was printed in a Scholastic magazine years ago with a short bio of Vonnegut and I've had a copy ever since. Great story and the kids really "get" it.

  3. I use it with my private writing students as well. It pairs well with Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery".

  4. There's actually a dramatization of this story in a video play called "Between Time and Timbuktu" (c. 1971, I think), starring Bill Hickey (the old feller from Prizzi's Honor) and the comedy duo Bob and Ray. It's a great little film…a melange of Vonnegut material, including bits of Harrisson Bergeron, The Big Space Fuck and Happy Birthday Wanda June…and I haven't seen it for decades. I'm pretty sure it was originally commissioned for Public Television: those were the days, eh?

  5. Dear lord! I remember teaching a history course long ago and talking about the Gutenberg Project. We were so excited…then the light years came upon us and here we are back in time with Kurt. Now I'm spearheading a project to rebuild the public libraries of New Orleans. The actual tangible stuff. Back at ya….Kurt, baby. Lyn leJeune

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