“Don’t let anybody tell you this isn’t a woman’s world.”
“How’s that, sir?,” I said.
“Only a female bee can sting,” he said.
“Oh,” I said. “I didn’t know that about bees.”
“You knew that about females, didn’t you?” he said. He closed one eye, and, with his face already lopsided from the bee sting, he looked crazy as a bedbug. “Law of life!” he said sharply. “If you get yellow fever, you’ll have the female mosquito to thank. If a black widow spider does you in, my boy, again—cherchez la femme.”
There are many superior Vonnegut works on my tbr, but surfacing of a newly discovered short story was too exciting to ignore. This short, though engaging, is a bit bleak in comparison with his other stories, more absurd and less humourous too. But it offers a peak into his early mind, and even with all weirdly specific instructions on bees, that’s a cause worth reading for.
In a Gaal – Hari Seldon styled meeting, we are introduced to an Investment Counselor and his employer Sheldon Quick. Having exhausted his business fortunes, Quick is currently working on a ‘drone based’ revival project which, according to him, will revolutionize communication network. Unlike the UAVs that we are familiar with, here the drones are just male bees.
The story is also an old school crowd funding campaign, where our leads are trying to pitch ‘Bee-gram’ to their angel investors.
As I was having a real dull day, I did some weird analysis on the story myself.
It is hard to ignore the fact that Kurt is rather curt about females in his writing here. The title ‘Drone King‘ is literally the exact opposite of ‘Queen Bee‘, for starters. There are no female characters anywhere in this story, and a strong reason for rejection of anything feminine is asserted at the very start itself.
“Oh,” I said. “Huh. I guess that’s why the female workers knock off the males, eh? The males are nothing but a drain on the community.”
The color left Quick’s fine face. “What’s so wonderful about making honey?” he said.
“Can you make honey?”
“Nope,” I said.
He was excited, upset. “Is that any reason to condemn you to death?” he said.
“Nope—heck no,” I said.
I see a critique on marginalisation of men’s rights, in this bee business; but that would be embarrassingly far fetching from my side. What my puny mind garnered is this, and there is no other way to say it than come out as a fool. Repeated experience of unrequited affection, or rejection over for someone high up the food chain, and this story being Vonnegut’s salty way of dealing with it.
The story lacks humour and satire, atleast in first look, but it is really fun to dive into his early mind. In a way the narrator radiates young Vonnegut himself, who is skeptical, extra careful and reluctant to experiment in his new (writing) career. Quick on the other hand is this crazy version of Vonnegut who isn’t afraid of weird ideas and risks. At one point Quick compares himself with Scarlet Pimpernel(a rather curious analogy considering the name being synonymous with a flower, given the bee business) of French Revolution- the chivalrous medieval vigilante. Pimpernel is actually the literary precursor for masked vigilantism and double life heroism from Zorro to Batman. I couldn’t help but extrapolate this towards Vonnegut‘s famous alter ego and my favorite science fiction writer who doesn’t exist- Kilgore Trout. Throughout his career Vonnegut had always stayed in his safe space, while he had let Trout do the fourth wall breaking and crazy experimentation.
So it goes.
A free copy and an animated excerpt can be found here. I have heard that four more stories are on their way.