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Perhaps his best book
on November 4, 2001
I've read many of Kurt Vonnegut's novels, and this is perhaps his best one of all (quite a high complement indeed, when considering the man is, in my opinion at least, one of the foremost writers of the 20th century.) Vonnegut's wit is acerbic and as on-target as ever; this time he expells on us about the meaning of life... or the meaninglessness of it. While this is perhaps not his most profound and meaningful novel (which would probably be Cat's Cradle), and not his most purposeful one (undoubtedly Slaughterhouse-Five), it is perhaps his wittiest and one of his funniest, and works the best as satire. It is astonishingly well-written. Quite a bit leap over his already very good first book, Player Piano. This has more of a plot than later novels would, without using much of the non-linear storytelling format that Vonnegut would later make famous use of.
At this point, I also feel the need to comment on the review titled "whence..." The reviewer is taking the details of this book too seriously. The point of this book is not the plot or the details; it is the principle, the style. The reviewer goes to pains to point out scientific inaccuracies and plot holes in the book (yes, the escape maneuver from Mercury is implausible; yes, things happen in the book without any apparent logic or reason; but neither of these matter in the larger context of the book.) This book is not meant to be hard science fiction; nor should it be compared to scientifically stringent fiction by writers such as Arthur C. Clarke (whom the reviewer referenced.) In fact, I would say that this book is not science fiction at all. It is satire, pure and simple. The scientific ideas and elements in the plot are not meant to be taken seriously (as is often the case with actual hard science fiction; for example, the aformentioned Clarke's "The Fountains of Paradise", in which he propagates his vision for a space elevator.) Vonnegut uses these only as means to an end. This is seriously-intended satire (albeit highly enjoyable to read) put into a science fiction framework. This is actually, I would argue, what makes the book great.
The genius of Vonnegut is that he takes highly serious subjects and puts them into a context in his books that puts them in a universal light where they can be examined: through satire, he places deathly serious subjects in improbable situations where we can all laugh at them, be entertained by them, but also examine their reality in depth. All books by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. work on two levels. The first is the "skin deep" level, on which the books appear to be merely rough-and-tumble, hilarious, little entertaining adventures. However, there is also the deeper element that is always there, the hard themes that resonate beneath the surface. Many writers treat such things entirely seriously, which is fine, but Vonnegut's style puts it in a format that everyone can relate to. This is why he is such a great and important writer, and why so many of us relate to him and have learned so much from him. Perhaps our most acute AND entertaining social critic, Kurt Vonnegut is an author that we are lucky to have, and this is one of the brightest shining gems in his canon.