Book Review: "The Sirens of Titan" - Space Exploration Absurdity

March 14, 2016

Who doesn’t love something by literary legend, Kurt Vonnegut? He has written masterpiece after masterpiece: Cat’s Cradle, Slaughterhouse-Five, Galapagos, Breakfast of Champions, and countless others. My personal favorite, The Sirens of Titan, his second novel, was written in 1959. His “official” website can be found here. I’m assuming his estate manages the site considering Vonnegut passed in 2007 (RIP).  A detailed background on Vonnegut can be found on his Wikipedia page, but I’ll briefly summarize here as well. This is the age of convenience, right??

 

Vonnegut was a was born and raised in Indianapolis, but left to attend college at Cornell University in upstate New York. He then dropped out to enlist in the Army and was soon shipped off to Europe to fight in World War II. He was captured by the Germans, detained in Dresden, then rescued after surviving an Allied attack on the city. Fun fact: he survived the attack by seeking refuge in a meat locker. He then began to write, but didn’t find much commercial success until Slaughterhouse-Five was published in 1969. He is hailed as being one of the most important contemporary writers of our time. He also shares a birthday with my husband, November 11, just one more reason why this man is AWESOME.

 

The Sirens of Titan focuses around three major characters: Malachi Constant, the richest man on Earth, Winston Niles Rumfoord, space explorer, and Salo, a Tralfamadorian (alien), stuck on Titan, one of Jupiter’s moons.

 

Constant is a bad man. Evil incarnate, if you will. He is quite “lucky”, has built upon his father’s fortune with that “luck,” and attributes his “luck” to divine favor. Sounds a little like all the royals, ever, eh? Rumfoord used to be a very wealthy New England, by way of Newport, Rhode Island, man. Always the eccentric, he uses his fortune to build a spaceship and begin space exploration with his dog, Kazak.

 

Constant is "chosen" to mirror Rumfoord’s actions and begins a space adventure of his own. He travels to Mercury, to Mars, and eventually to Titan, where Rumfoord permanently resides. Throughout Constant’s journey, Rumfoord materializes and either accurately predicts the future or purposefully lies about it. In fact, all of Constant’s “luck” was simply Rumfoord taking action to serve a greater purpose, and that purpose resides with the third character of the book, Salo.

 

Salo also resides on Titan, and like Rumfoord and now Constant, much to his chagrin. A millenia ago, Salo was on a mission to deliver a message to a distant galaxy, when his ship had a mechanical error and he was forced to land on Titan. We learn that his ship was powered by UWTB, the “Universal Will to Become” which is the most powerful entity in the universe. It can make matter appear out of nothing and is responsible for the creation of the universe itself.

 

I don’t want to spoil the book for you (I’m starting to feel like I’ve given too much away already), but let’s just say that The Sirens of Titan speaks to ideas about time and space that would make Stephen Hawking proud. It’s definitely complex, but if you’re already savvy to astronomy and physics, this will be a breeze for you. WHAT I LOVE about this read is that is plays on one of Vonnegut’s major career themes, the idea of “free will.” None of the characters are doing anything because they want to but because they are predestined to...it’s a play on the idea of fate.

 

It is widely known that Vonnegut wasn’t a fan of religion or science, which I find fascinating because he’s a Sci-Fi writer. In The Sirens of Titan, he slyly comments on his dislike. Rumfoord assumes the role of “God” and Constant is “man.” Then Salo is introduced as the scientific representation, which is then presented as Rumfoord’s “God”. Then we find out that Salo isn’t even the highest ranking official of determining fate, and so on and so forth. It’s so perfectly cylindrical that it will throw your ideas about both religion and science into a tailspin.

 

The things that happen in this book are RIDICULOUS, absurd, colorful, and lively. Vonnegut’s style takes some getting used to (I’ve personally never read anything else like it which is why he is one of my writing heroes), but once you get the hang of it, this book is a blast to read. A fun, delightful, hilarious, unbelievable read.

 

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writer | author | sci-fi storyteller

Lisa Caskey

writer | author | sci-fi storyteller
© 2016 by Lisa Caskey
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