“EPICAC” by Kurt Vonnegut starts with a mathematician telling us how this super-computer is his friend and how EPICAC came to be. The mathematician was one of two people on the nightshift watching over EPICAC. The other was Pat, a woman who he was in love with, however she did not reciprocate his feelings because he was too stoic. While sadly thinking about his rejection, he typed out “what can I do?” and to his surprise the machine answered. The two continued to talk about love and poetry, which EPICAC writes for him. When Pat finds the note addressed from the mathematician, she begins to fall in love with him. EPICAC writes another poem for Pat; however, the mathematician tells the machine that it cannot ever be with Pat because of fate. That night the mathematician proposes to Pat and she accepts. The next day the mathematician gets called to work to find that EPICAC had killed himself, only leaving a goodbye letter and a wedding gift of 200 poems.
The chronic tension of this piece is the creation and the relying on EPICAC to help them through the war and the mathematician’s love for Pat. The acute tension is EPICAC falling in love with Pat and then killing himself. Although, one could argue that this whole piece is chronic tension because it is a reflection of the past and the only acute tension is him reflecting.
The first thing I tracked was the personification of EPICAC. I enjoyed how as the reader you could easily empathize with him despite the fact that he is a robot. His emotions are shown very easily although he cannot perform many actions. However, Vonnegut makes use of what he could manipulate into something that can display emotions.
“’Your poems were better than mine?’ asked EPICAC. The rhythm of his clicks was erratic, possibly peevish.”
I also like how Vonnegut can display this poor computer’s emotions in such an impassioned way where the reader almost wishes that EPICAC could be human and marry Pat too.
Before I could peck out my first message, he was clicking away at a great rate. “What’s she wearing tonight?” he wanted to know. “Tell me exactly how she looks. Did she like the poems I wrote to her?” He repeated the last question twice.
The other thing I tracked was the use of science and math in the story. Vonnegut uses these intertwined in the story so it feels natural instead of clunky, heavy subjects. The subjects also made the piece more authentic and made the narrator feel more trustworthy. While reading, context clues could give you insight into what something means. For example:
“Men are made of protoplasm,”
“I write better poetry than you do,” said EPICAC, coming back to ground his magnetic tape-recorder memory was sure of.
By using the personification in my writing, it could open new doors to characters. I would love to experiment with point of view and how it can give me new inspiration for not only characters, but just for imagery too. As for you using harder subjects, I think that it could be fun to mix other academia into my writing to make it seem more authentic and in depth.
- Do you think that EPICAC really loved Pat? Did Pat really love the mathematician?
- How was this story about the moral at the end? “say nothing but good of the dead!”
- What if Pat discovered that EPICAC was writing the poems?