Hey Audible, don't raise prices and I promise to buy lots more books.
To say that I worship at the alter of Kurt Vonnegut would be more mawkish than overstated. He is and will probably always remain one of my all-time, favorite authors. When picking up a book, one can only hope that the author can write; the surprise comes when an author’s contributions transcend what is on the printed page. Such is usually the case with KV. Not only can he write his butt off, he has the absolutely, incredible talent to hold up this mirror for all of us to see the travesty of so much we hold sacred in this American Experience and then laugh at the same time that we cry at our reflection.
About writing itself, KV once said in an interview, “Well, I've worried some about, you know, why write books ... why are we teaching people to write books when presidents and senators do not read them, and generals do not read them. And it's been the university experience that taught me that there is a very good reason, that you catch people before they become generals and presidents and so forth and you poison their minds with ... humanity, and however you want to poison their minds, it's presumably to encourage them to make a better world.” Bottom line for me, that’s what KV’s writings are always about: Humanity.
In 1971 the University of Chicago awarded KV his Master's degree in anthropology for Cat's Cradle. While at first blush that might seem a bit over the top, after reading this treatise on such subjects as science and technology, religion and morality, ethics and law, it becomes quite clear about his critique, KV did his homework. And, the originality of his work is unmistakeable. There are folks out there today such as Al Franken and Jon Stewart for whom KV had to have been an influence. KV was one of the originators of the movement for modern, self-reflection at least in contemporary America. That being said, this is not an unapproachable work reserved for the academic elite. This book is for the entertainment and edification of anyone and everyone: the unread generals, unwashed presidents and your any, off-the-street, Joe Blow, the Plummer. I cannot imagine anyone with a scintilla of humanity not loving this book. You're not into social critique you say. Great, read it just for the fun of it. It is funnier than _ _ _ _, well, it's just plain fun.
The narration could have possibly been done differently and still worked. It's hard to believe that it could have been done better.
If one could rate Lem's descriptions of the planet Solaris and its ocean as stylistic invention, I would have to give the author 5 stars. In Snuff, one of Terry Pratchett’s characters asks another who we presume is Jane Austen (personification) how she could be “a successful author if all the words in the language have already been invented and only their order could be different.” Well, that is kind of the magic of good writing isn’t it? Lem concocts words from those that are familiar but that is not his magic. It is how he strings these inventions into the strings of narrative and description that add a vision to and beauty of a story that I found hard to compare to anything that I have recently read or listened to.
I love science fiction. It is certainly in my top three favorite genres. I probably read more SF/fantasy than any other. However, I always feel the need to fall back to the classics of literature for a fix of human depth, love and relationships, three ingredients that seem to be less than fully satisfying in SF. They were not lacking in Solaris. For some readers, these might have been for them a central focus. If the book was at all character-driven, for me, it would have to have been for as much the character of the human protagonist as it was for that of the alien. And what is so incredible, we know almost nothing about this indescribable alien except for how it manifests itself in the form of the protagonist's deceased wife.
The relationship between the protagonist and his deceased wife/alien-embodiment is beautifully and tenderly rendered. The relationship is a fluid one. In the beginning it is one so adversarial our hero tries to kill her embodiment and later he is willing to die for her [sic]. Both the descriptions and narrative could be tumultuous and serene at the same time. It is this fluidity, including if not especially of that of the changes in the ocean of the planet, that continually adds interest, suspense and mystery to the story. It has been a long time since I have really cared about a character in a book. In fact, it was years ago when I almost stopped reading beyond the first book of the Game of Thrones because all the good characters kept getting killed off and it was downright depressing. How astonishing that I cared at least as much for the alien of Solaris as I did for its hero.
The story is as much a thrilling ghost story and gripping psychological drama as it is science fiction. One need not be a nerdy lover of SF to appreciate Solaris. The book is hauntingly elegant and intelligently written by any standard. It is the story of love, love lost and remorse. It is an exploration of our humanity and the failure at times to find it.
The dialogue was totally credible and, with its sense of time and place, made the story that much more believable. Lem’s descriptions totally transported me to the quiet and loneliness of the orbit above Solaris and its sentient ocean below. While its emotive range never really conjured up much in the way of wit or humor, the story plumed the depths of my soul for almost every other emotion. This is not a story fraught with gratuitous violence and excitement for the sake of what sells many books. And yet, the story is exciting from the very beginning. I did not want it to end. While one was left with more questions than answers, the ending was most satisfying. In fact, it was perfect.
This story is half a century old and still, it not only holds up well in contemporary SF, it stands up head and shoulders above much of what is written today in any fictional genre. This is a masterpiece. I could not recommend a book more highly.
For me, Sirens of Titan was about as good as it gets. Okay, so it's only been out there what, 50 years? How'd I miss this thing. I thought I read it as a kid and kept blowing past it on lists to read. Did I say it's as good as it gets? Who cares if a few things here and there didn't make any sense. It was funnier'n shit. What praise could I possibly add that hasn't already been heaped on and said in the last half century. How 'bout a few memorable quotes:
Let's get the Fundamentalists out of the way:
‘The flag of that church will be blue and gold,’ said Rumfoord. ‘These words will be written on that flag in gold letters on a blue field: Take Care of the People, and God Almighty Will Take Care of Himself.”
“To us of the Church of God the Utterly Indifferent, there is nothing more cruel, more dangerous, more blasphemous that a man can do than to believe that - that luck, good or bad, is the hand of God!”
"There is no reason why good cannot triumph as often as evil. The triumph of anything is a matter of organization. If there are such things as angels, I hope that they are organized along the lines of the Mafia."
How 'bout one for the minimalists:
"Every passing hour brings the Solar System forty-three thousand miles closer to Globular Cluster M13 in Hercules— and still there are some misfits who insist that there is no such thing as progress."
A couple of classic Kurt that I hope will live forever:
"I want to stay as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can't see from the center."
"Say what you will about the sweet miracle of unquestioning faith, I consider a capacity for it terrifying and absolutely vile!"
I thoroughly enjoy Kurt Vonnegut's humor but I love him for his humanism; humanism that comes through on almost every page.
The narration by Dennis Boutsikaris did justice to the book and given what I just said about the book, that kind of says it all. Did I say this book is as good as it gets?
Learn, understand, then decide whether you accept or reject.
Written in the 1970s, this sci-fi novel is one of the greatest visualizations of space warfare you could find, period. It provides plenty of thought provoking themes, some of which are controversial to most people. Just avoid the sequels, they're rubbish.