Vonnegut breezes through turn-of-the-century American life in aphoristic, often curmudgeonly free-association. While the inkwell of cantankerous wit h...moreVonnegut breezes through turn-of-the-century American life in aphoristic, often curmudgeonly free-association. While the inkwell of cantankerous wit hasn't run dry, this book is a bit of an exercise in redundancy; the contained thoughts and criticisms are better developed in his later works, particularly Timequake.
It is admittedly a treat that Vonnegut gave us one last opportunity to enjoy his pithy prose in such a loose, intimate collection of essays. Unfortunately, he also ran through these observations and bon mots rather too faithfully in his last lecture tour, which was a disappointment (particularly given how off-the-cuff his prose feels here). While the warmth of his sarcasm is always enduring, it's likewise depressing that Kurt couldn't finish his career with a work less firmly entrenched in the inflexible Vonnegut idiom of smirking punchlines. (less)
A series losing steam, and it's a real shame given the potential of the first two books--both fun, quick reads. This title is less focused on the sci-...moreA series losing steam, and it's a real shame given the potential of the first two books--both fun, quick reads. This title is less focused on the sci-fi and philosophical underpinnings of the first two books. Instead, Adams here maintains sequences that hinge on bizarre chains of events and silly, ponderous exchanges between characters who have less and less of an idea as to what exactly is happening around them. These felt a long 200+ pages indeed.
The bon mots and clever passages are fewer and further between than the previous two installments. In fact, much of this book is rather uninspired and infuriating; the Krikkit robots, the Bistromathematics, the reincarnations of the hapless multiple-murder victim Agrajag... none of the set pieces gave me more than a brief chuckle. Much of what aims to pass for characteristic Adams whimsy feels perfunctory, and the string of coincidences that form the crux of the plot are truly slapdash.
The highlights for me here are Wowbagger the Infinitely Prolonged's perpetual misanthropy and what amounts to the only real meat of the book--the story of the reason why the ultimate question and answer of the universe are (putatively) mutually exclusive. Thus leading to "So Long and Thanks for All the Fish". But nothing here matches the humor of, for instance, the truly inspired chapter containing the Hitchhiker's Guide's entry on The Universe in "Restaurant at the End of the Universe".
When Adams is working with less inspired ideas, his inability to write characters as anything but vehicles for punchlines and guttural confusions is trying. Vonnegut, while a weak painter of convincing personalities, instills a sense of humanity and pathos in the proceedings that eludes Adams. Some sense of feeling and sympathy, perhaps, plays foil to the general absurdity of exposition and content in Vonnegut. This is why he's a better read if you're comparing the two as I feel prone to do, and one of several reasons I'm not too concerned with making it through last installments in this series.
All of that being said, I have to say that the ending is pretty simpatico with me. Maybe Adams should have left it all at that.(less)