I recently finished reading the book The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut. I hadn’t read anything by Vonnegut for many years. I couldn’t even guess when I read Slaughterhouse Five and Cat’s Cradle. 1972? 1969? 1983? I just know that I became a fan of Vonnegut after reading them. He was a native Hoosier (from Indianapolis) and used science fiction to explain his version of reality. His world view was at least partially formed during his days in the military during World War II when he witnessed (from ground zero) the bombing of Dresden by Allied planes. Vonnegut hated war, and for good reason considering what he witnessed as a participant in the activity. Much of his writing included his belief that war was insanity and served no useful purpose.
Vonnegut smoked Pall Mall unfiltered cigarettes. He managed the first Saab dealership in the United States. His mother committed suicide on Mother’s Day, 1944. He received the Purple Heart for a minor case of frostbite. He worked briefly for Sports Illustrated magazine, where one assignment involved writing a piece about a race horse that escaped a race by jumping a fence and running away. Vonnegut quit the job after agonizing over what to write for hours and finally submitting “The horse jumped over the fucking fence.” So much for Vonnegut’s career at Sports Illustrated. He died in 2007.
Vonnegut was an interesting guy with a very interesting philosophy and writing angle. The Sirens of Titan was published in 1959, fully 50 years ago. His way of looking at life through the lens of science fiction way back then seems almost incomprehensible to me. I was 10 years old when he was writing stuff that seems advanced even today when we hear so much about quantum mechanics, string theory, black holes, and curved space. Vonnegut seemed to be able to intuit the future.
What was I doing 50 years ago? I’m not sure that I had even read a book by that age, unless it was one of the Don Sturdy books that I discovered as a kid in our attic at home. Kurt Vonnegut was writing stories that I would read years later and marvel at. If he hadn’t lived through the awful events that he observed firsthand, we might not have anything worthwhile to read from Kurt Vonnegut. But he did, and we do.
If you’re up to a challenge, read a book by Kurt Vonnegut.
You can find out more about him here.
What about The Sirens of Titan you ask? It’s about a war between Martians and Earthlings. The Martians are Earthlings living on Mars. They have small antennae in their heads, implanted by the guy who believes a war is necessary between Earth and Mars. A well-written and concise synopsis of the book can be found here. That synopsis will give you a pretty good idea about the plot as well as the book’s themes. It also sheds some light on the character of Vonnegut himself.