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The Sirens of Titan
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Group Reads 2014 > May 2014 Group Reads - The Sirens of Titan

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message 1: by Jo (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jo | 1089 comments The second book chosen by the group to be read in May was The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut. If you plan to read or have already read feel free to discuss here.


David Merrill | 240 comments I'm about 1/3 of the way finished. At this point I'm still getting a feel for the book and I'm not sure If I'm liking it yet. There are some interesting concepts like the chrono-synclastic Infundibula, Winston Niles Rumfoord returning at regular intervals from it, with the dog, of course.


David Merrill | 240 comments I'm a little over half way through now and this book is reminding me a lot of a Philip K. Dick novel. I imagine they could have influenced each other at this point since there were plenty of PKD stories and some early novels published by this time. I don't know who would have been influencing who, though. I'm pretty well versed on PKD and don't remember if Vonnegut was a factor in his writing.


message 4: by Jo (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jo | 1089 comments I really like PKD and what I've read of Vonnegut I generally enjoy so think this one maybe for me. I will start reading it as soon as I have finished Have Spacesuit Will Travel.


David Merrill | 240 comments It's interesting to see what minor things sound horribly dated in old SF books like this. Rumfoord supplies the Martian troops with music libraries enough to run continuously for 300 hours (about 12 days). That must have sounded huge when this was written, but in a world with iTunes libraries it sounds minuscule. My library can run continuously for about 5 months.


Buck (spectru) | 895 comments I requested The Sirens of Titan and my library acquired it for me. They notified me this morning that my hold will expire in three days. I will start it when I finish The Einstein Intersection by Samuel R. Delany


David Merrill | 240 comments At least Einstein is short. Won't be long before you're back here. I'm nearly finished with Sirens. I'm guessing no one else is reading this yet, so I'm staying away from getting too detailed in plot description. It still feels a lot like a PKD novel to me, which is fine because he's one of my favorite writers. One of my favorite parts so far is the development of The Church Of God the a Utterly Indifferent. Rumfoord is an interesting character, a real manipulator. I think manipulation of others is one of the main themes in this novel and Rumfoord seems like a piker once we meet the tralfamadorians. On the PKD similarity, I think themes are where Vonnegut takes things in different directions than PKD would. We have a robotic being, but he's not central to looking at what makes us human in the way PKD would use him. Vonnegut's satirical voice takes a different tone.

One of the things I'm not liking about this book is there is a lot of telling rather than showing. It slows the book down considerably. What Vonnegut has to tell us is interesting, at least. And I don't think Vonnegut was after writing plot driven adventure anyway. He din't really consider himself a Science Fiction writer to begin with, so I don't think his intention was to deliver on what the audience wanted from a Science Fiction novel when this was written. I think there was probably as much coming from a literary tradition feeding the writing of Sirens. If I come at it from that perspective, the telling not showing thing doesn't bother me as much.


message 8: by Jo (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jo | 1089 comments David wrote: "At least Einstein is short. Won't be long before you're back here. I'm nearly finished with Sirens. I'm guessing no one else is reading this yet, so I'm staying away from getting too detailed in pl..."

I started reading this yesterday but I haven't got very far. Rumfoord and dog have just appeared but so far that is the only thing that is really clear. I think I need to read a few more chapters until I understand where this is going.


David Merrill | 240 comments I only have about 45 pages left and I'm still not sure where it's going.


message 10: by Jim (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 3976 comments Mod
I'm about 45 pages in, I think. It isn't wowing me the way I recall, but it's been over 30 years since I last read it. Vonnegut's humor doesn't strike me quite as well any more.


message 11: by Buck (new) - rated it 3 stars

Buck (spectru) | 895 comments David wrote: "At least Einstein is short. Won't be long before you're back here. I'm nearly finished with Sirens. I'm guessing no one else is reading this yet, so I'm staying away from getting too detailed in pl..."

I've started it. It's my fourth or fifth Vonnegut novel.

I've always put PKD and Vonnegut on the same mental shelf. As you say, Vonnegut is perhaps more satirical and even though his novels include space aliens and time travel, I've never really considered him to be fully in the science fiction genre.


David Merrill | 240 comments I think I finally came to the point of this book. I'm restraining myself from typing it in here, so I won't wreck it for the rest of you. It's at the bottom of page 313 in the Dell edition I'm reading. When people get finished reading I'll type it in if it isn't dreadfully obvious which line I'm talking about.


David Merrill | 240 comments I just did my Goodreads review. You'll probably want to wait until after you've read the novel because there are spoilers.


message 14: by Jim (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 3976 comments Mod
David wrote: "I just did my Goodreads review. You'll probably want to wait until after you've read the novel because there are spoilers."

Hopefully you put spoiler tags around those parts or checked the box to say the review was a spoiler. I quite often read reviews before reading a book. I really hate it when people don't mark spoilers.


David Merrill | 240 comments Thanks for the suggestion. I usually don't put spoilers in my reviews, so I didn't think of it. I put a warning on the front end not to read it, if you don't want spoilers.


message 16: by Buck (new) - rated it 3 stars

Buck (spectru) | 895 comments About halfway through, to the first mention of The Church of God the Utterly Indifferent. I don't know how to describe it. It's indescribable. What a strange novel, but then, it's Vonnegut.

Slaughterhouse Five for me is definitive Vonnegut. It also is strange, but it has, in its surreal, absurd way, a point to make. The Sirens of Titan is surrealer and absurder, but so far I haven't a clue if it will make its point.


David Merrill | 240 comments It makes its point near the end of the book.


message 18: by Jo (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jo | 1089 comments I've just finished today and really quite enjoyed it. Vonnegut's imagination is beautifully surreal and he somehow contrived to make sense out of a book which as I was reading it I had no idea what was happening and why.

I'm trying to think who is the modern day equivalent of Kurt Vonnegut.


message 19: by Buck (new) - rated it 3 stars

Buck (spectru) | 895 comments I've never really thought of Vonnegut as a science fiction writer, even though the Tralfamadorians show if in several of his novels. The Sirens of Titan is about his most science fictionest.

I put him on the same shelf as Philip K Dick and William Gibson and gonzo journalist Hunter Thompson. Maybe also Douglas Adams. I know, these are old guys, not modern day, but unfortunately, I haven't read a lot of modern day science fiction, yet.


message 20: by Jim (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 3976 comments Mod
Surreal is a good description, Jo. I'm about halfway through now. It's not bad reading, but not really grabbing me, either.


message 21: by Buck (new) - rated it 3 stars

Buck (spectru) | 895 comments Finished.

The Sirens of Titan takes place on other planets but it's not really science fiction. There's no science. Somehow I got the feeling that even Kurt Vonnegut didn't know where this story was going when he wrote it. It's satirical, but not of anything in particular - well, maybe religion, but that's a given.

Near the end, we learn what the whole point of everything that has happened is, as David said above, which is to get a replacement part for the space ship of a Tralfamadorian who's been stranded on Titan for 200,000 years, but it never really becomes clear what the point of the book is. Most satires are making fun of something, but this one maybe is too subtle for me. I never thought of Vonnegut as being particularly subtle, absurd yes, but not subtle. This is certainly an absurd novel - not Vonnegut's best, but it's not bad.


David Merrill | 240 comments The replacement part wasn't the point of the book and it isn't what I was referring to above. There is one line that gives us that, but it doesn't have that much to do with the part. I don't want to give it away before others have finished. I mentioned in my review of the book if you don't feel like waiting. And, yes, it was subtle. It's one line that put everything together for me. It would be very easy to skim over it and miss it.


message 23: by Buck (new) - rated it 3 stars

Buck (spectru) | 895 comments I read your review, David. I did notice the line to which you refer, in the epilogue I think. Vonnegut's character made this statement, as the culmination of what he had learned at the end of his life, but I don't think Vonnegut's novel made the point for us.


David Merrill | 240 comments Personally, when I read that line, it made the whole book make sense. No one in the book was using that as a priority and they all struggled with what was going on as a result. It's important to remember in a satire, the important messages in the book are more about what's going on in our own world than what's going on in the book. I think what Vonnegut was doing in this book isn't so far removed from what Philip K. Dick did in a lot of his books. The human main characters are pretty inhuman and the non-human characters exhibit what we might consider our best qualities as humans as a counter point.

I guess it would also be a good idea to be thinking about what was going on in the world at the time this book was written-- the late 50's. The space race was on and so was the Cold War. We were on the brink of getting involved in the War in Vietnam. We were involved in the Korean War in the Mid-50s. Eisenhower was president. Television was a major part of people's lives. The dog, Leika, was sent into space in 1957 in Sputnik II. It was just 5 years after the McCarthy hearings. Fredric Wertham's book, The Seduction of the Innocent was published in 1954, leading to the formation of The Comics Code and the gutting of the comics industry. Alaska and Hawaii became the 49th and 50th states in 1959. So, there was an awful lot of manipulation going on in the world on the part of U. S. And other Politicians. Maybe Rumfoord and His dog represent some of this.


Andrea Leoni | 20 comments is there someone who's still reading it? I'd like to join!


message 26: by Jim (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 3976 comments Mod
I'm still reading it. I only seem to get to read it for 30 minutes at work.


Andrea Leoni | 20 comments I started today, and thanks to a seemingly infinite train ride I got to 44 % of the book. So far I'm enjoying it...it has all the typical Vonnegut features, satire, grotesque, and a really sharp vision on human condition. Plotwise I don't find it really compelling, but it's a good read anyway


message 28: by Jim (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 3976 comments Mod
I finished it. It's an absurd morality tale, mildly humorous & immensely sad. I gave it 3 stars & a full review here:
https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...


Andrea Leoni | 20 comments I finished it today. I liked but I stand with my first impression. The book was beautifully written, sad, grotesque, and funny at the same time. A tale on free will and its irony. But I found the plot and the fate of its character not really compelling...


message 30: by Jim (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 3976 comments Mod
I'm listening to Armageddon in Retrospect, short writings published a year after Vonnegut's death. There's a great introduction by Vonnegut's son & the book is read by Rip Torn, a favorite actor of mine.

It's pretty interesting. The point of 'Sirens', as put forth by David in #18, seems to have been echoed by Vonnegut's son in a completely unrelated chat between the two shortly before Kurt's death. It's worth reading, if only for the intro.

The first story was a speech he gave in 2007 & that seems to have set the tone. The stories so far are OK, but Vonnegut's Dresden horror stories are getting a bit old. He's anti-war but offers no realistic alternatives, just that it's stupid. Yeah, I get that & agree. Unfortunately, people are, especially in large groups. What else is new?


message 31: by Jim (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jim (jimmaclachlan) | 3976 comments Mod
I gave Armageddon in Retrospect 4 stars, although it was uneven. If you're a fan, it's worth reading.
https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...


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