The Drone King: A Window into Kurt Vonnegut’s Young Mind

Julia Lees

Five previously unpublished short stories written by Kurt Vonnegut were discovered in September, one of which is titled “The Drone King,” thought to have been written in the early 1950s. Vonnegut’s first novel was published in 1952 titled “Player Piano.” He also had some short stories published at this time, but did not gain his fame until the 1960s. Thus, “The Drone King” is likely a very early work for Kurt Vonnegut.


“The Drone King” follows Sheldon Quick, a 50 year old man who has been living off his father’s money. He must gain money on his own, so he tries to come up with a grand business venture. He hires the narrator, an investment-counselor, to advise him. Quick wants to start a communications company relying on a strange messenger: male bees. Quick rescues male bees from being killed by the females. He establishes a separate bee colony for the males and they quickly got accustomed. Mr. Quick plans to tie notes to the male bees and send them to and from locations. Mr. Quick’s business pitch goes awry and all that is left of this fancy venture is one message from a single bee. Written in tiny print, the note said “What hath God wrought?”

The Drone King, although very strange, contains many themes and ideas that are very prevalent in Vonnegut’s other texts, and offers a window to what the young artist was thinking in his early days. Firstly, much of this story talks of bees in terms of the powerful and the oppressed. In the situation, they are discussing this relationship among bugs. Even still, the queen bee strikes down the male bees killing them. This seems to be a symbol for higher governmental powers sending innocent young men to their death. Kurt Vonnegut fought in World War II and many, if not all of his books and stories, are fundamentally affected by his experiences. He came out of World War II vehemently against violence and war, and developed an opposition towards establishment and government. Another essential part to this story is the use of the bees. Mr. Quick wanted to connect people through his bees. He seemed to be under the impression that he could change the world with his amazing bee idea. This brought to mind what Kurt Vonnegut wanted to do with his books. He wanted to bring people together and communicate his ideas about the world to the average person. As a young writer just beginning to publish his works, this piece likely filled this idea of connection.

“The Drone King” by Kurt Vonnegut is a compelling narrative. It is always interesting to see the early works of famous writers. Kurt Vonnegut was still attempting to perfect many of this most iconic parts of his writing. It is not perfect, it lacks humor, something that an absurd story like this desperately needs. It didn’t have a real specific point that his novels typically have. That being said, this a well written, definitely idiosyncratic story that Kurt Vonnegut seems to be able to produce time and time again. The Drone King is not a literary masterpiece; it is, however, a unique story that offers an alluring window to Kurt Vonnegut as an early writer.

“The Drone King” was published in The Atlantic on September 8 free of charge to read. This short story, among five others, was found among Kurt Vonnegut’s papers. These five stories and others are included in a book that came out September of this year: “Kurt Vonnegut Complete Stories.”