Book Review: The Sirens of Titan (spoilers)

My literary inclinations tend to err towards more non-fiction type stuff. However, I do like to change it up every now and again with a novel, and my latest novel came from a recommendation from a Kurt Vonnegut fan. The recommender also bought me the book as a Chanukah gift…so that was convienient.

The book was The Sirens of Titan, and it was a great read. I have read one other Kurt Vonnegut book before, Cat’s Cradle, which was okay, but not nearly as enjoyable as Sirens. In Sirens, Vonnegut blends very dry humor with elements of science-fiction and nihilism to create a fascinating story about space travel, war, religion, and the purpose of human life.

The story is centered around a Martian invasion of earth, but, to quote the book, “any detailed description of this phenomenon would baffle the layman, but any comprehensible explanation would insult an expert.” So while my explanation will likely do the story injustice, I’ll try anyway.

The protagonist is Malachi Constant, the richest man in 22nd-century America. He possesses extraordinary luck that he attributes to divine favor which he has used to build upon his father’s fortune. He becomes the centerpoint of a journey that takes him from Earth to Mars in preparation for an interplanetary war, to Mercury with another Martian survivor of that war, back to Earth to be pilloried as a sign of Man’s displeasure with his arrogance, and finally to Titan where he again meets the man ostensibly responsible for the turn of events that have befallen him, Winston Niles Rumfoord.

Confused yet? I suggest reading the book.

If you do you will be introduced to the wonderful imagination of Kurt Vonnegut, where you will learn about chrono-synclastic indifibulum (a space phenomena), the universal-will-to-become (a type of fuel), harmoniums (an animal that lives on the planet Mercury), Tralfamadore (a planet in the small magellanic cloud), the Church of God the utterly indifferent (a religion), and of course, the famous clash between martians and earthlings in the Battle of Boca Raton.

My favorite line from the book: “Unk and Boaz were very lonely and mystified out there in space. There wasn’t much to see or do. ‘God damn, Unk -‘ said Boaz. “I wonder where the gang got to.’ Most of the gang was hanging, at that moment, from lamp posts in the business district of Boca Raton.”

Vonnegut also gives us his interpretation of the point of human life by the end of the book, and it is a rather sweet sentiment. It is revealed to us by a character who tells us that the point of all human existence was to produce a tiny mechanism to be delivered to a martian stranded on a moon near Saturn (the moon is Titan) so he can fix his ship and continue on his intergallactic quest. (I told you, read the book)

However, he is overcome by friendship for another character in the book, leading him to realize that his manipulation of the human race was a horrible betrayal of trust to his dear friend. Which ultimately helps him realize that “The purpose of human life, no matter who is controlling it, is to love whoever is around to be loved.”

You can probably find a bumper sticker that says the same thing, but it is more impactful receive that message after 326 pages of a book.

It gave me a warm fuzzy feeling.

According to the Harvard Crimson, Vonnegut put together the whole of The nSirens of Titan in one night. He was at a party where someone told him he ought to write another novel. So they went into the next room where he just verbally pieced together this book from the things that were floating around in his mind.

If that dosen’t intimidate you as a writer, I don’t know what will.

Damn good book.

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