Monday, 10 November 2014

The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut

Ah, Kurt Vonnegut. I wouldn't say this one is his best, but I do enjoy his work. It's hard not to feel wry and comfortable in his company. Human nature, he seems to say, is well and truly messed up. The universe doesn't give a rat's ass about us. But instead of that making us bitter, it means we need to love each other more, be kinder, be connected. It's hard not to be affected by that.

This doesn't, however, have the brilliance of Slaughterhouse Five, or Cat's Cradle. It's a little more uneven than that. But still, well worth a read. If you like wry senses of humour and things happening out of left field. I happen to like both quite a lot, and so I am happy.

This is a weird one. It concerns the luckiest millionaire playboy in the world, whose father checked into a hotel and spent the next twenty years picking the right stocks and never leaving the room. The maid who cleaned that room had a child, eventually, and the secret to stock-picking was passed on to that child, Malachi Constant. He continued his father's streak until he ran into a man and his dog who only appeared on Earth every 50-odd days, having been scattered in a wave across the solar system, and only occasionally having his wave intersect the planet.

That man told Malachi he was destined to travel the solar system, and marry the dispersed man's wife. The wife wasn't too impressed, having striven to keep herself apart from society for years.

Of course, resolutions don't mean much when you're kidnapped away to join the Army of Mars and have your memory wiped. Which both of them are.

This one veers wildly from the Army of Mars, to the army attacking Earth disastrously, to Malachi (now called something else) getting sidetracked to Mercury, and eventually returning to Earth to find himself the symbol of feckless indulgence in the new religion of God the Utterly Indifferent. From there to Titan, and finding out why everything on Earth has happened the way it has, and very briefly, the meaning of life.

The plot is not the point here, of course. It's the pleasures of the prose, and the inventiveness of Vonnegut's mind. And the meaning of life is a pretty good one. You could certainly do worse.  And that is always Vonnegut's pleasure - that a sense of being alone in the universe does not alienate him from people. It makes people dearer. God the Utterly Indifferent is no excuse for Humans the Utterly Indifferent. In fact, it makes being kind more imperative, more essential, more necessary.

The plot meanders, though, and the story isn't as pointed as some of his other books. This one is about the universe, and less about human nature. So I don't think it's as good or engaging as his other books. But it's still fun, if you like this author. And I do.


I read this book as part of an attempt to read all the Hugo Nominees

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