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The Sirens of Titan
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Monthly Read: Themed > November 2014 Themed Read - The Sirens of Titan

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Megan Baxter | 277 comments Mod
This month, we picked a book from amongst the Works of Kurt Vonnegut and chose The Sirens of Titan. I'm looking forward to discussing it with everyone!

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Kevin. McKernan | 4 comments I read it many years ago I will find my copy and begin to re-read it

message 3: by Maggie, space cruisin' for a bruisin' (new) - rated it 3 stars

Maggie K | 1280 comments Mod
I have had this on my tbr for a while, so I will be reading this shortly!

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Wastrel | 53 comments I can't seem to find my copy off-hand, but I really liked it when I read it and will try to join in the discussion anyway.

Rion  (orion1) | 87 comments Just finished this classic and have to say that it was a little more fantasy now than it was science fiction. That being said the complexity of the arguments Vonnegut makes throughout the story concerning technology, theology and psychology are compelling and probably the strongest elements of the book. Even though I'm not sure if I agree with his assumptions of the grand accident of life, and the indifferent creator, it was still a well crafted book and fun to read. He touches on some serious issues that our society face today, like computers being incorporated into our brains in the near future. How might these computers be used to control people? The disregard for the reality of what happens to a person in a hard vacuum, Titan and Mercury having life, Mars no wind, well yeah Vonnegut took many liberties with the science and that's why I said it's more a fantasy. Still very enjoyable and contains some compelling ideas and insights I will remember but not spoil for others sill reading.

Micah Sisk (micahrsisk) | 265 comments Vonnegut never accepted the sci-fi label. He didn't care a rat's behind for scientific accuracy; it wasn't what his stories were about.

He used those tropes merely as a way to satirize our society, particularly our militarism, our anthro-centric religions, our glorification of capitalism and the stock market (and to, in his own words, "fart around and have a good time").

Same thing applies to Douglas Adams when it comes to that.

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Mickey | 589 comments Micah wrote: "Vonnegut never accepted the sci-fi label. He didn't care a rat's behind for scientific accuracy; it wasn't what his stories were about.

He used those tropes merely as a way to satirize our society..."

Agreed, However, Like the Douglas Adams, Kurt Vonnegut does a wonderful job at satirizing our society and that makes his books a treat to read.

Micah Sisk (micahrsisk) | 265 comments Oh, agreed. I cut my teeth on Vonnegut. I just have a pet peeve against the recent trend to describe any non-scientific fantastical element in any book that's been called Science Fiction as "fantasy." I don't see the point in doing so. Probably just something that bugs me, though.

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Wastrel | 53 comments Indeed - for many, it seems the first thing that must be said about any science fiction novel is "it's really fantasy", with any compliment being preceded by 'but': "it's not really science fiction... but it is quite good". As though 'being real science fiction' (a category that excludes 99% of science fiction, including almost all its most famous works) is the prime tool in assessing quality, and for a book to be good anyway is somehow a surprise.

message 10: by Dan (last edited Nov 07, 2014 07:00AM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Dan | 344 comments Actually, I find the opposite trend even more annoying: the labeling of any and every work "science fiction". Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, for example. Okay, maybe a case can be made for that. But Orwell's Animal Farm? Please! This discussion is making me want to go by my library and pick me up a copy of this work.

Rion  (orion1) | 87 comments I explained some of the elements that were hard to swallow while reading. So if you can have your peeves then allow me and the rest of us that differentiate between sci/fiction and fantasy have ours.

LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 260 comments I thought I had this book on the shelf but could not find it - have about a dozen others though! Just bought the e-book and will start it Tuesday, which is a travel day.

LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 260 comments Well, I started it. Haven't gotten too far, but it has not yet grabbed me, as other Vonnegut books have.

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Scott | 1 comments Science fiction or fantasy, here's what's REAL about S.O.T., and why, at least for me, I keep coming back time after time to read it again and again. It is about the aching, at times desperate, need for honest human contact, and what happens to individuals who fail to achieve it. Nearly every character's motivation centers on this need. UNK, who never knew his father, must rebuild his image of family at all costs. Chrono, who can, to quote Fred Rogers "spot a phony a mile away", is so angry because he sees no adult as being worthy of his trust. Boaz, who was as confused about the social life of humans on Earth, as he felt at home alone with the Harmoniums on Mercury. And Winston Rumfoord, who escaped humanity and flew above it, orchestrating, for good or ill, a new age for the species he disdains.

LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 260 comments Finished. I think it's sci fi - space ships and an alien who is a machine - do not see the fantasy.

But my question is about the satire - I get it with respect to religion, but I'm not sure about what other subjects fall into that category. I'm pretty sure he's taking some pokes at rich WASPS and suspect there are other institutions in the line of fire -- government?

spikeINflorida | 54 comments Linda, I agree...most parts I just not understand. Between the insane dialogue, weird pacing, goofy characters, and an insane storyline, I personally could only award 2 stars. Meh

Robin J | 5 comments I just did not groove on it. While time-travelling and social engineering are definitely my cup of tea, Vonnegut lost my interest pretty early on. Of course, now I will try some of his other works, to see if they are more to my liking. I ask myself if It is the author or the novel I did not care for? A friend recommended Slaughterhouse Five, I guess I'll give it a try.

message 18: by Dan (last edited Nov 27, 2014 06:54PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Dan | 344 comments I did not care for the novel at all and stopped reading about 75 pages in. The novel just seems pure whimsy to me, like Vonnegut can make the rules up as he goes along, have his characters do or say anything, and it really doesn't have to be consistent with what went before or make sense in terms of human nature. Nothing of significance is ever really at stake. Therefore, there is no suspense.

If you read chiefly to find out what happens next, to root for a character or a situation, for the sake of the suspense inherent in a novel, as I do, this novel will surely disappoint. I think there is no suspense whatsoever to be found, and only the most whimsical of plots.

If you read a book chiefly for its humor, again I think Sirens will disappoint. It has some mildly comical moments, even a few amusing situations, but certainly nothing funny. If the novel is supposed to be satire, again, be prepared for disappointment. At best, Vonnegut is nibbling, never biting.

That only leaves one small area the novel works well in, why I give it two stars rather than one, and that is that some of the word choices and concepts are really quite clever. It is a deeply thought out, carefully sometimes even beautifully worded work, it just doesn't have anything of any real importance to say. At least it doesn't seem to begin to have anything to say in the first seventy-five pages, and I doubted it ever would. So I put the novel down disappointed.

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Wastrel | 53 comments With respect, you've no idea if it had anything of importance to say, or even if the plot made sense overall, because you haven't read it.
I get that someone can legitimately dislike the prose of a book after reading 75 pages, or that they can hate the characters or not like the genre. But sorry, you've no idea what the 'message' of the book is, or whether it addresses issues of 'importance' or not!
'Sirens of Titan' is pretty explicitly about the Human Condition and the Meaning of Life... you can disagree about what he says about that, sure, but 'nothing of significance is ever really at stake' and 'doesn't have anythign of real importance to say' is just nonsense...

Megan Baxter | 277 comments Mod
I liked it more than most people seem to have, but I think it's far from being one of Vonnegut's best. There are delightful moments, but it doesn't hang together the same way some of his other books do.

That being said, Vonnegut is certainly not about the suspense, by far and large. And he has a unique voice, which, if you don't like it, I don't think you'll like it here either.

message 21: by Dan (last edited Nov 28, 2014 08:40AM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Dan | 344 comments Wastrel wrote: "With respect, you've no idea if it had anything of importance to say, or even if the plot made sense overall, because you haven't read it.
I get that someone can legitimately dislike the prose of ..."

If you read for comprehension, you can see that the prose was the one thing I did like about the work. Good craft alone is insufficient reason for me to read a work, though I understand it is reason enough for some.

I am a careful and thoughtful word-for-word reader. Seventy-five pages is a serious time investment for me that was completely unrewarded. A third of the way through the book, I decided not to let the author waste more of my time. I have had enough reading experience that I can be certain where this author was going and that when he arrived there it would not be with a meaningful result. His intention was clearly just to be whimsical. Many people like whimsical reading. It was a hugely popular subgenre in the 1970s. I am thinking of Joseph Heller and Catch-22 here, John Irving and The World According to Garp, and a lot of other 1970s whimsy. But in my opinion time has passed this subgenre by and there is a reason it is so much less read today, and seldom written in.

I notice that you like this work, but have not posted anything substantial saying why you do, what about it makes it special, and why it should (or even could) be appreciated. If you did that, you would be making a valuable contribution because I seriously can't see much of worth here and don't really understand how anyone could. Instead, you have criticized my shared opinion of the work. It's much easier to be destructive than constructive, isn't it?

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Wastrel | 53 comments I don't criticise you not liking it, or giving up - you're quite right that we all have only a limited supply of free time, and there are plenty of books we like to read instead.

What I criticise is you thinking you know the plot or the message of the book without having read it. Because no, you seriously DON'T know where the author was going, certainly not in a book like this which is so ridiculously unpredictable. I mean, 75 pages? You haven't even had Earth being invaded yet!

Mind you, if you think Catch-22 is just meaningless 'whimsy', I don't know how to argue with you...

I haven't contributed any substantive myself because I haven't had time to re-read it, and I don't remember the details closely enough to discuss them meaningfully.

Broadly speaking, however, what I appreciated about the book were:
- the great writing
- being consistently funny throughout
- how fun it was
- the complete unpredictability of it
- the willingness to take on serious philosophical themes in a provocative and inspirational way
- its ability and willingness to bend the reader's minds, to consistently find new and unexpected perspectives on its world

message 23: by Micah (last edited Nov 28, 2014 06:33PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Micah Sisk (micahrsisk) | 265 comments I agree w/Wastrel. Vonnegut's work was never about suspense. His stories often had a real sense of stasis in them. His characters often were victims of circumstance, society and fortune: reactionary rather than proactive, carried here and there by the nonsensical whims of fate.

His humor is not of the one-liner or the comic setup followed by punch line kind. His humor is, if anything, wry and absurdist. I think his main message is the utter absurdity of life, or rather the absurdity of humans believing there is any logical sense to the world, or that they are themselves an important part of the universe.

His satire of religion in this work is not so much aimed at religion itself, but rather in humanity's irrational self-importance: believing Mankind so important that a supreme being would pay the slightest attention to us.

He wasn't writing SF; he always denied that. He used the tropes of SF, sure, but that wasn't his goal. So the internal consistency of the stories--where that's important in most SF--isn't so important more so than it is in Douglas Adams's HHGTTG.

Whimsical? Yes. Making up the rules as he goes along? Certainly (that's actually the charm of this work). Nothing's wrong with that. May not be your cup of tea, but I find all of Vonnegut's work delightfully whimsical, and revel in its "anything could happen" nonsense. Its called imagination.

I also don't find it dated at all, except in that I don't believe an author of his ilk could get published today; the commercialized expectations and demands of "entertain us in the safe and cozy way we expect to be entertained, dammit!" mentality is too prevalent (that comment is NOT directed at anyone here.)

If anything, I think his satirical, absurdist, whimsical works are even more apropos today than when they were written, what with our hypersensitive, politically correct, anti-spoiler, Disneyfied, viral instant gratification, ideologically polarized, internet trolling, "you're either with us or against us" society and with fundamentalism of all flavors on the rise...Vonnegut, to me, is kind of a refreshing slap in the face, its very illogical nature kind of a "Confuse a Cat" remedy for our blunted intellect.

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Wastrel | 53 comments interesting you mention Adams there - one thing that really struck me when I first read this was a bunch of similarities between this and Hitch-Hikers, to the extent that I thought Adams had plagiarised it (well, that's too strong a word - 'been heavily directly inspired at several points'). Can't remember the details now, unfortunately.

message 25: by Dan (last edited Nov 29, 2014 08:48AM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Dan | 344 comments Thank you for the thoughtful replies, guys. I can see more clearly now how you can appreciate the work. I agree that Adams must have borrowed heavily from Vonnegut. They have a lot in common, though Adams is nerdier.

message 26: by Maggie, space cruisin' for a bruisin' (new) - rated it 3 stars

Maggie K | 1280 comments Mod
Although I enjoyed this, I felt it wasn't as 'tight' as some of vonneguts later work. I didn't connect to any of the characters, and didn't find it very humorous, but the writing and storyline were good.

message 27: by Rion (last edited Dec 06, 2014 05:25AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Rion  (orion1) | 87 comments I think instead of a space ships, Vonnegut should have had the characters fly through the solar system on dragons clearly.

LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 260 comments Rion wrote: "I think instead of a space ships, Vonnegut should have had the characters fly through the solar system on dragons clearly."

Dragons would have been a nice touch but costly to maintain.

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