September 06, 1999 12:00 PM

by Kurt Vonnegut

To judge from the irony-drenched short stories in this collection, Kurt Vonnegut could have written some dandy scripts for those intellectual oases of ’50s-’60s television, Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Twilight Zone. In fact, these 23 stories were first published in the ’50s, many in magazines such as Collier’s and the Saturday Evening Post, when Vonnegut was working in public relations at General Electric. The best of the stories, like Vonnegut’s novels, profit from his aptitude for science-fiction fantasy. “Thanasphere,” for instance, posits a zone around the Earth that holds the souls of the dead. And Vonnegut’s ability to turn a felicitous sentence was already evident. In “The Cruise of the Jolly Roger,” he writes of the soldier-of-fortune protagonist: “Women had once treated him like a little boy with special permission to eat icing off cakes.” There are some clunkers in the collection—lines that sound painfully naive; a cranky and humorless epilogue—but all in all, a good showing. (Putnam, $24.95)

Bottom Line: The early Kurt gets the word

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