Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Kurt Vonnegut's "2 B R 0 2 B" (short story, free): Drastic population control in a society of long lived people

Quote from short story titled 2 B R 0 2 B by Kurt VonnegutSuch a dark plot. And such a light read!

No solutions here. But a problem highlight & dilemma in a very dark scenario.

Story summary.

Two centuries hence, life expectancy is several hundred years, but available space is still just the earth. Two key characteristics of this society:
  1. Sometimes people choose to die. This act is considered a public service. Government will help you out by cleanly killing you in a gas chamber & honor you before killing!

    That's where the title comes from: "2 B R 0 2 B" is a local telephone number in X. Number of Federal Bureau of Termination! You call them when you want to get yourself killed!

    For Indian readers (since phone numbers with letters are unknown here): Number above is the same as 227022 (but reads better in English - "to be or not to be"). You can read the number corresponding to letters on most cell phones in India (because letters are needed for text messages), but landline instruments typically will have only digits & no letters. For a text labeled instrument, common even for landline phones in some countries, it's just another number.
  2. To have a baby, you must make someone agree to die!!! In the story, Edward K Wehling, Jr, ends up having triplets. He had arranged his maternal grandfather to die expecting a single baby, & was feeling very guilty about it. He will now have to choose a single baby from among the 3; other two will be killed, according to law!

    He chooses a rather drastic solution that will let all three babies & grandpa live.

See also.

  1. Clifford D Simak's "Eternity Lost": Another strong story that deals with population issue aggravated by long lifespans. But this has happy future, even if protagonist won't get it.
  2. A very dark subject brought up near end has an idea similarity with Larry Niven's "The Jigsaw Man".

Fact sheet.

First published: Worlds of If, January 1962.
Rating: A.
Download full text from Project Gutenberg, Manybooks, Feedbooks, or Scribd. Or audio at LibriVox.
Related: Stories of Kurt Vonnegut; stories about immortality or very long life spans.