Yay book review! First in a while for me. Guess I must be feeling a little better :)
Too bad though that I didn't much care for The Sirens of Titan. I like Vonnegut a lot. I'd even put Slaughterhouse-Five and Cat's Cradle in my top 10 favorite novels. But unfortunately Sirens of Titan wouldn't even crack my top 100. It's an early novel for Vonnegut and it really shows.
There's a maddening amount of descriptive detail about trivial objects and people who have little or nothing to do with the story and don't add much to the atmosphere either. The characters aren't particularly compelling to begin with and even less so after they have their memories erased and for all intents and purposes become new characters mid-way through the novel (who does that?). The prose isn't terrible, but it's not great either, and while the ending is somewhat clever, it's not clever enough to be such a great punchline to save the story. And frankly, it's an emotionally frigid book, and it's this kind of writing that gives science fiction a bad name.
So it goes.
But that's ok. In fact, it's kind of interesting to read an author's catalog and see how their work changes over time. From that perspective, The Sirens of Titan was a fantastic read because you can see how clearly it functions as a prototype for Slaughterhouse-Five. Both novels feature characters who live in multiple times and places at once. The prismatic Tralfamadorians that appear in Slaughterhouse also show up in a slightly more pathetic form in Sirens. Even some of Vonnegut's interest in how religions are formed and why, which is so central to the plot of Cat's Cradle, appears in Sirens as well, if much more clumsily so.
But as a young novelist, Vonnegut clearly didn't yet have the technical or artistic experience to do these ideas justice - but he didn't dump them either. Basically, Sirens is a practice novel that clearly evolved into Slaughterhouse, which is easily one of the greatest American novels ever written (yes, even if it's science fiction).
And it isn't that a comforting thought? That just because you didn't manage to get your ideas quite right in your first novel, it doesn't mean you can't give them another go in your second?
It sure takes the pressure off anyway.
Sirens of Titan, did you read it? Did you like it? Or did you get the sense of an amateur on his way to greatness?
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