Kurt Vonnegut’s The Sirens of Titan is just outside the fringes of what I normally like to read, and I found myself walking away from the book with a slightly muddled sense of satisfaction. The book left me with plenty of things to think about: human nature and certain philosophies being chief among them. Vonnegut does an excellent job building and shaping his characters. Malachi Constant, Beatrice Rumfoord and Winston Niles Rumfoord all felt very real to me and evoked a wide range of emotions over the course of the book.
The story is interesting and compelling as well; however, I did find the beginning of the book to be very bland and a bit off putting (I did later come to see the necessity of the beginning, but that did not make it anymore interesting to read while I was reading it.) Ultimately, I enjoyed the book and I would encourage people to read it, but I would only actively recommend this book to specific readers. If you want to explore human nature, follow one man on his quest for the meaning of life, or experience a small taste of just how indifferent and large the galaxy really is, I would highly recommend this book. If you’re looking for space battles, high action, or physical conflicts, I’d suggest you look elsewhere.
I’m going to reference the cover of the Kindle version that I purchased. Based upon the cover alone I would be interested in the book but not completely sold. The bright red and yellow used on the cover are very eye catching and used in such a way that the cover doesn’t feel too busy or bright. The actual artwork on the cover of the book (the bright yellow line sketch of Vonnegut) is done in a style that I enjoy, however it gives me little to no expectations in regards to the book’s contents. Overall, I like the cover, but if I hadn’t been interested in reading some of Vonnegut’s work, I probably would have passed the book over.
- I felt the beginning of the book was weak. Vonnegut’s writing struck me as somewhat circular and sometimes a bit wordy (this problem cleared up later. I’m not sure if I just got used to the style, or it slowly evaporated). I also had very little interest in the characters and found the story itself slow. The reasoning for this is revealed later in the book, but that doesn’t excuse having a blunt hook at the start of the story.
- Once you get past the slow hump in the beginning, the characters become quite interesting and develop real personalities of their own. There are times at which you’ll loathe Constant, pity him, empathize with him, and be happy for him. Vonnegut’s depiction of the sad isolation and creeping depression that Constant deals with really reverberated with me. The same goes for many of the other characters, despite their initial two dimensional presentations they all prove themselves to be multi-faceted gems by the end of the book.
- The story. Again, once you crest the hill that is the beginning of the book, the story really picks up. After the main characters leave Earth and make for Mars (as prophesied by William Niles Rumfoord) things become really interesting, and Vonnegut’s story telling really begins to shine. Vonneguts thematic elements shine brightly throughout the entire story as well, which gave me a deeper appreciation for the situations that Vonnegut penned.
- You’re going to need a little background information to understand this gripe. My editor girlfriend loves, loves, loves semicolons. She loves semicolons an almost inordinate amount. She gets excited when she gets to edit one into something. So I used to love to tease her with this Vonnegut quote.
“Here is a lesson in creative writing. First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college.”
Upon reading some of his work, that quote makes Vonnegut seem like a hypocrite to me. I do not recall coming across any semicolons; however, I came across quite a few words that I had to stop and look up.
Winston Niles Rumfoord and his dog, Kazak, are chronosynclastically infundibulated, and every fifty nine days he materializes for a period of hours at his home on the planet Earth. The materializations have always been a private event, until one day Malachi Constant is invited to witness and partake in one of Rumfoord’s materializations. Since he is infundibulated, Rumfoord knows many things, specifically he knows that Constant will travel to Mars, then Mercury, back to Earth again, and then finally on to one of Saturn’s Moons, Titan. Of course Constant doesn’t believe him and leaves the materialization shortly after it ends. It doesn’t take long to discover the first of Rumfoord’s predictions to be true. With each new planet, we explore a new side of Malachi Constant and discover just how little the universe really cares.