Sunday, August 05, 2012

The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut


Ed here: I still remember the day I bought The Sirens of Titan off a pharmacy pb display. I knew Vonnegut from a few short stories. But between the handsome cover (Richard Powers no less) and the opening page I sensed this was an important book. As it proved to be. This is from ConceptualFiction by Ted Gioia:

Kurt Vonnegut only managed to sell two short stories in 1957, and the next year he placed just one. His work- in-progress Cat's Cradle remained unfinished, and Vonnegut's editor at Scribner's, who had been waiting for four years for this novel to reach fruition, complained that the "production has been very slow."

Unless Vonnegut provided his publisher with a finished manuscript or at least0 a complete outline—both of which he seemed incapable of doing—Scribner's would neither offer him a contract nor release him from their option on Cat's Cradle. Yet the author had other concerns that kept him from completing the book. In a desperate bid to improve his financial prospects, Vonnegut embarked on a disastrous career running a car dealership. Personal tragedy added to his woes. His sister Alice died of cancer in 1958, just two days after husband was killed in a train wreck— leaving Kurt and his wife Jane with the care of four orphaned youngsters.

In addition to their own three children, Vonnegut now had seven kids to support. At this low point, pressed by need and uncertainty, Vonnegut encountered his old Cornell classmate Knox Burger, now an editor at Dell, at a New York cocktail party. Burger asked whether Vonnegut had any ideas for a marketable novel. Seizing the opportunity, Kurt spun out a fanciful synopsis of a science fiction space opera that would turn into The Sirens of Titan. Offered a contract for the book, Vonnegut completed the manuscript in just a few months. Vonnegut mself similarly mistreated by an apathetic universe. for the rest go here


Ron Scheer said...

Top of my list of SF favorites. Never knew this story about what was going on in his life then. The novel is so fanciful and hopeful in that ironic way of his. I always remember how Stonehenge was a message to that stranded robot waiting for a spare spaceship part.

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Fascinating anecdote about how Vonnegut came to write "The Sirens of Titan." Vonnegut was very close to his sister and once told "The Paris Review" in an interview, "I don’t have my sister to write for anymore. Suddenly, there are all these unfilled jobs in my life." He also says he had to be funny (in his books) to get attention. His sister was funny too which he describes as, "An odd cruel streak to her sense of humor, which didn’t fit in with the rest of her character somehow. She thought it was terribly funny whenever anybody fell down."