Friday, June 22, 2007

Vonnegut, Kurt. Breakfast of champions. New York: Dell, 1973. 295pp.

Vonnegut died a little while ago and I thought I'd dig up one of his novels I'd never read and give it a try, and Breakfast of champions was the one I found first in the vast recesses of my personal library. Now, I never discovered Vonnegut as a teen, the time that most people who are most passionate about him seem to clue in. Vonnegut, like Dick or Ellison or Lovecraft, seems to speak most directly to the emerging adult, the insecurities, the cynicism mixed with idealism, the smart-aleciness. I certainly remember one of my best friends back in the late high school, early college era really catching the Vonnegut bug and endlessly spouting quotes and aphorisms. For some reason, thought, it didn't happen to me with Vonnegut -- although in spades for Dick, Ellison and Lovecraft, of course.

I have read a bunch of Vonnegut novels since leaving my teen years, and mostly liked them quite a bit if not quite with that all-consuming passion of the real devotee. Breakfast of champions is mostly considered middle range Vonnegut, not his best but not his worst either. And I have to say that's my opinion too. Loosely plotted around his signiture character, sf author Kilgore Trout, traveling to a conference to accept an award and the various other characters directly and indirectly involved, it's an amusing romp, full of Vonnegut's trademark gentle humour and biting satire. A kind of world-weariness mixed with optimism, if you will. Good stuff, if not quite gripping or compelling.

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Farmer, Philip Jose. The fabulous riverboat. New York: Berkley Medallion, 1973. 256pp.

This is the second book in Farmer's Riverworld series, the first of which, To your scattered bodies go, I reviewed about 18 months ago. That one was quite a good book, really deserving the classic label. As a reminder, the Riverworld series takes place on a giant planet where everyone from all human history has been reincarnated along a hugely long river.

This one, however, was a bit of a disappointment. The story revolves around Samuel Clemens' (yes, Mark Twain) attempts to build a river boat to explore the river and discover the secrets of the mysterious aliens that have created this bizarre scenario. First of all, the book was mostly political wrangling until the very end, the boat project didn't really even get underway until the last 100 or so pages. The story never really grabbed me like the first one.

The third in the series is about exploring the Riverworld, so I will probably end up giving that one a try. On the other hand, the extended series rule of diminishing sequel returns may not favour that option. We'll see.

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