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.
on June 7, 2013
I think this book is a work of genius. I'm not going to say much about it because mostly everything has already been said (better!) in other reviews.
HOWEVER - the kindle edition is full of horrendous spelling, punctuation and formatting mistakes. It is close to unbearable and made me quite angry. I don't see why an e-book is any less worthy of an editor/proofreader than a physical book, especially if you're paying good money for it.
on January 5, 2000
When people hear the name Kurt Vonnegut, they think of Slaughterhouse 5, or Cat's Cradle, or perhaps even that his books are often burned in high schools around the country for their dim look at human existence. Not to, in any way, down play the importance or greatness of his more famous works, as I love them all, but I must say that Sirens of Titan is superior to his other works. For some reason, perhaps the science fiction aspects of the novel, this book has not received its deserved recognition. I read approximately the first fifty pages thinking that this book would be about the same as his other novels. I almost put it away to start a different one. Thankfully, I pressed on. Literally, a few pages later, I was entranced by the language, the structure, the revealed surprises, and the humanity of The Sirens of Titan. Every time you think he has revealed the best secret of the book, another one reveals itself. This story is wonderfully intertwined between a set of characters, and the meaning of life. I have since read this book three more times, enjoying it more each time through. If you only read another book in your entire life, please let it be this one. Open your heart and your mind, and let Vonnegut pour into them his wisdom and hope for a better tomorrow.
Today when Kurt Vonnegut is regarded as one of the great American novelists of the second half of the 20th century, it is hard to remember that once upon a time he was regarded as a Sci-fi writer. This was the novel that most solidified that reputation, though it had begun earlier with PLAYER PIANO and cemented by both CAT'S CRADLE and SLAUGHTER-HOUSE FIVE. Only gradually in the early 1970s did it become obvious to all that he was not really a practitioner of Sci-fi as it had become to be defined in the United States.
Even in THE SIRENS OF TITAN it should have been obvious that he was more an experimental writer exploiting the Sci-fi genre than doing the same sort of thing that Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, and their ilk were attempting. For one thing, Vonnegut didn't care much for predicting the future, the scientific plausibility of anything he was saying, or any of the other traditional aspects of Sci-fi. Rather, exploiting the genre on a superficial level gave him a freedom that was lacking in most other mainstream fiction at the time. It gave him license to think and imagine and write about almost anything.
This novel ostensibly tells the story of Malachi Constant, hardly the captain of his own fate, but an unwilling tool of fate. More precisely, as we learn, the novel is the story of an alien stranded on Titan, a moon of Saturn, who needs a spare part for his broken space ship. All of human history turns out to have been generated by a distant civilization for the sole purpose of getting Salo, as our alien is known, his missing part. Vonnegut uses farce in telling Malachi's story in order to undercut traditional understandings of God, religion, and the notion that humanity is at the center of the divine narrative. I must confess that I am baffled why so many religious people find this disturbing. I'm a devout Christian myself and secure in my faith, and find Vonnegut's account of the meaninglessness of life and his depiction of the Church of God the Utterly Indifferent to be comical rather than threatening. Some Christians seem to feel that unless you can hermetically seal all believers off from all views that differ from their own. But for those whose faith is a little less fragile, this will stand as a highly entertaining book with whose basic themes one will disagree. As a farce, it has much in common with other farces, such as Voltaire's CANDIDE, the book which in many ways it most resembles.
Those this is a book with many virtues, perhaps the aspect I most enjoy is Vonnegut's absolutely delightful style. Many others would later attempt to mimic his way with a sentence, but few would do so as successfully. He helped introduce a new level of anarchy into the modern novel and in many ways paved the way for such writers as Thomas Pynchon, who perhaps exceeded him in ambition but certainly didn't match him in eloquence and grace. What is most amazing about this book is how much he grew as a writer during the period between the publication of PLAYER PIANO and THE SIRENS OF TITAN. Though entertaining and often compelling, PLAYER PIANO is obviously the work of an apprentice writer; THE SIRENS OF TITAN is a fully mature work. It definitely belongs on the list of his very finest novels, immediately behind such novels as SLAUGHTER HOUSE-FIVE and BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS.
I strongly recommend this to anyone who either wants to read Vonnegut for the first time or who wishes to explore his art further after having read other novels first. It shows as well as any Vonnegut's gift for language, his outrageous sense of humor, and his bleak view of existence. It definitely belongs on any list of first-rate American novels with which one should be familiar.
on October 3, 2011
Having just finished this book I find myself scratching my head in wonderment. Firstly, I'm convinced the 100+ 5 star reviews here are from people who are fooling themselves into believing the Vonnegut hype that was fed to them in Liberal Arts class instead of formulating an honest review. I am not an academic nor do I think myself a simpleton and I did want desperately to like my first trip into the mind of Vonnegut but frustratingly, found myself grasping for more depth.There is no doubt that Vonnegut has many flashes of brilliant writing in Sirens of Titan and I enjoyed the first quarter of the book very much. I had the overwhelming feeling the entire time that Vonnegut intended some profound statement on faith and/or humanity but I felt he failed on both levels. There were moments in this his writing when I was in awe of his skill followed by moments of longing for it to just be over. I will read more Vonnegut only to become more well read and because I'm now genuinely intrigued by his great success. I would encourage anyone to do the same as his cemented place in literary history does deserve our attention. I would however challenge readers to forget who wrote this until you've finished it and write an honest review of the story alone...
on May 11, 2004
This is Kurt Vonnegut's second novel, and a sign of things yet to come. Upon first reading, The Sirens of Titan appears as pure science fiction, a tale of Martian invasion and inter-planetary missions. But upon closer review and inspection, this piece reveals a deeper and very unique vision of human purpose, life, and thought. This story is told in the form of a flashback to the "Nightmare Ages...between the Second World War and the Third Great Depression", a time when people had yet to explore their own souls. We find the world's richest and most immoral person, Malachi Constant, visiting a man caught in a Chrono-Synclastic Infundibulum. This man sends Malachi on a journey that will make of him an example of what human life should not be. Many points are made defining human significance; in fact, the first two pages summate the history of Earth, in terms of exploration for knowledge of a greater purpose, and our subsequent failure to find meaning outside ourselves.
Winston Niles Rumfoord, stuck in Chrono-Synclastic Infidibula, has a great scheme, a plan to aide and enlighten humanity. As he says: "Any man who would change the World in a significant way must have showmanship, a genial willingness to shed other people's blood, and a plausible new religion to introduce during the brief period of repentance and horror that usually follows bloodshed". He trains an army of earthlings on Mars, shaving their heads and implanting radios in their skulls to make them a mindless mass of killers who simply follow orders. Sounds familiar, no? Their attack on Earth is futile, and is made meaningful to Earth's people because "Earth's glorious victory over Mars had been a tawdry butchery of virtually unarmed saints, saints who had waged feeble war on Earth in order to weld the peoples of that planet into a monolithic Brotherhood of Man". During this time of understanding, repentance, and horror, Winston Niles Rumfoord introduces The Church of God the Utterly Indifferent. A religion that can be accepted by anyone, it teaches that puny man can do nothing at all to help or please God Almighty, and Luck is not the hand of God. Finally, war, fear, hate, and envy in the name of religion shall die. Because there is truth in your soul, a meaning within yourself, rather than some phenomenal plan uncontrolled by people. There is no Great purpose for human life, and the only thing close to it is the delivery of a missing piece from a Tralfamadorian's ship. So, in light of our virtually meaningless existence, there is but one purpose a human can act upon singularly and individually: to love and to be loved.
If Vonnegut's goal was to answer this question that many are afraid to ask, I feel sure that he achieved it. A philosophy few may agree with, it is plausible nonetheless. This is a powerful novel, pointing out the futility of war, the evil we do to create an army of "one", mankind's dependence upon finding meaning any way he can, be it in religion or space, and that "everything that ever has been always will be, and everything that ever will be always has been". Reading this will make you think, about purpose (or lack thereof), about love, about all the things that define our existence.
on August 16, 2004
The Sirens of Titan is an unusually sprawling work by Vonnegut that manages to fit a man and his dog's inadvertent travels through time and space, Earth invaded by Mars and the possible answer to that age old question, "Why are we here?" Of course, if you are hoping for an uplifting answer to that question, then you shouldn't read this or any book by Kurt Vonnegut.
In Sirens, Winston Niles Rumfoord, a wealthy playboy, takes his privately funded spaceship, along with his beloved pooch and drives it straight into a chrono-synclastic infundibulum, for no better reason than to see what it will do. As Vonnegut would say, this is what happened - Rumford and his dog become space/time travelers who reappear whenever their waveforms intercept Earth or some other similar obstacle in the vast vacuum of space. Since this time-space chrono-synclastic infundibulum allows Rumfoord to see everything that ever has happened or will happen, it allows him to create a new religion complete with 100% guaranteed predictions and miracles.
This religion, The Church of God the Utterly Indifferent, is merely a launching point for Vonnegut to troll his usual themes of human suffering, the search for meaning in an indifferent world and to make pointed political and social observations.
Unlike many writers, Vonnegut doesn't feel the need to create pseudo-science to explain why the things that happen do so. Rather, he just says it happened and here's what occurs because of it. A very clean way to get right to the point and keep the narrative moving along.
The book is extremely funny, oddly moving and sticks with you long after you get to the end where our lives are summed up in a manner that very few would anticipate. This is one of my favorite books by Vonnegut, along with Breakfast of Champions, and is well worth reading and then passing on to friends.
on April 12, 2007
Kurt Vonnegut has died; He had slipped from my radar and the next thing I knew he was gone. Recent pictures and footage of him show a man less old, than in disrepair, who nonetheless didn't actually look old. In the end he still seemed so young.
This title came to my attention after the same manner many do; a trusted friend assured me that a book I didn't think I was interested in was a book I'd be interested in. And I was. Sirens of Titan captures the same absurdist tone of all the Vonnegut books and features a similar hapless protagonist, acted on and uncomprehending. As you read the last line of this beautifully structured book, you can conclude that life is a meaningless heartless equation, or that the universe knows exactly what it is doing.
So, thank you for Mother Night. Thank you for Rented a tent, a tent, a tent. Thank you for Sirens of Titan. Thank you for not successfully killing yourself. Thank you for the horrible understanding of evil in your books, and the ravishing beauty too. Thank you. Thank you...
Rest in Peace, Kurt Vonnegut. Sorry to see you go.
on September 29, 2012
First, let me say that I'm a huge Vonnegut fan and read this book in my college days. Now, probably a thousand novels later, I downloaded it on an Amazon Kindle sale weekend and decided to give it another read. I appreciate it even more now than on my first reading in 1979.
Kurt Vonnegut's writing is genius, and I love that he doesn't take himself too seriously. His style is incredibly readable, his wit is wonderful and his view of the world is consistently incredible.
One negative, not about the story but about the version, is that I've never noticed this many typos in a "professionally" produced manuscript. The book has been available for 50 years, I'm sure they've got the spelling and grammar fixed in a document file somewhere. How the publisher could sell a poorly proofread manuscript is quite baffling to me.
Two years after the Soviets launched Sputnik, nearly twenty years before Elton John recorded "Rocket Man," and three decades before President Reagan unveiled SDI (his version of "Star Wars,") Kurt Vonnegut's 'Sirens of Titan' was published. Not simply a satire of the "Space Race," Vonnegut's first novel brings it all back home to earth all the vanity of vanities that spring from mankind in every civilization.
The book focuses on the lives of two people: Malachi Constant, a frivolous millionaire who puts much of his time and energy into space travel, and Winston Niles Rumfoord, an intellectual developer who entices Constant to go on a far-away journey at his own expense. Rumfoord is the founder of a sect called The Church of God the Utterly Indifferent and the author of several staple near-future books, including 'The Pocket History of Mars'. He is plotting a scheme to program all Martians (earthly human transplants) to make a futile attack on our home planet. His intention is to make war so disastrous that man will abandon it on earth (not unlike Alfred Noble's inventing dynamite with the idea of making war so horrific, it would become obsolete). Once Malachi is programmed as his alter ego, Unk, he awakens and tries to reunite his family and escape to earth...
To go on with the development would be a spoiler, for the reader should curl up and read this piece of lit candy and revel in the story's unfolding. The atmosphere is nearly perfect: The novel is undoubtedly the most cartoonish of all of his books, yet the detailed development is realistic enough to transport us through space and time. He makes the ridiculous plausible and the plausible ridiculous. He has some of his most concise renderings of the folly of the human being and our history--as well as a good, solid-ground antidote to all of our foolishness. Eventually, Malachi Constant does find out what's important in this life,...and, then, so do we. How much is life determined by effort or by luck? How much do God and man have a hand in human events? Vonnegut may not give us all of the answers, but his observations are satisfying enough.
(It's interesting to note, that having read 'Slaughterhouse Five,' arguably his best work, "Trafalmadore," a distant planet in a distant galaxy is introduced here before his later classic.)
(Reading Vonnegut brings to mind comparisons. I think of Vonnegut as being influenced by the same pessimism as William Golding or Sartre. Vonnegut seems as terse as Sartre, except fiercely funny. Reading 'Sirens' also brings Ray Bradbury to mind. Bradbury is grander, but Vonnegut makes tragedy into a farce.)
(*"Vanity of vanities...All life is vanity..." Ecclesiastes.)