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Monday, May 14, 2012

The Sirens of Titan

A good analogy for this book is it's like one of those paintings that looks great at a distance but when you look at it up-close you can see all the brush strokes. In this case the more distant Vonnegut is from his characters the better because up close the characters come off more as cartoonish props than real people.

The story details the lives of three people who are moved by forces beyond their control. William Niles Rumsfoord set out into space with his dog and now through a strange phenomenon I won't try to spell he has become unstuck in time and space (take that Billy Pilgrim!) so that he appears on Earth at his house every 59 days. His wife Beatrice Rumsfoord wants little to do with him. Then one day Rumsfoord calls his cousin Malachi Constant for a visit. Constant is a billionaire playboy who inherited his money from his father and has done nothing with his life. Rumsfoord tells Constant that he will roam the Solar System, first to Mars, then Mercury, then back to Earth, and finally to Titan, where he will meet three beautiful women, the sirens of the title.

Well this does happen but none of it goes as Constant thought it might. Beatrice gets swept up in it as well. Meanwhile Rumsfoord seems to be pulling the strings of everyone in the Solar System but who's pulling his strings?

As I said at the start, Vonnegut is at his best in this novel when he deals with broader issues, like the history of Mars or the lives of tiny insects on Mercury. Those moments called to mind Douglas Adams and the "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" books where too the broader issues were often better than the up-close ones. The characters of Rumsfoord, Beatrice, and Constant aren't all that interesting and as I said none of them seems all that REAL. Vonnegut I don't think was interested in making real, sympathetic characters so much as in making his points about religion, Fate, and so forth.

The last 15% or so almost makes up for the book's deficiencies. Whereas Douglas Adams seemed to back away from providing the answer of life, the universe, and everything, Vonnegut tackles it head-on. Though in both cases, Earth is little more than a pawn in someone else's game; or perhaps not even a pawn; Earth might be more like a bit of dust that gets blown around when someone else moves the pieces.

I don't think this is one of Vonnegut's best, but it wasn't a waste of time either.

As a special note, I noticed quite a few typographical errors in this edition. In part I think it might be from digitizing this to the Kindle. Or perhaps not. It was a little distracting at times.

That is all.