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The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut

The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut

The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut

I’m a huge Vonnegut fan. I’m an even bigger Douglas Adams fan. So when Mrs Scifiward read The Sirens of Titan and asked me why I hadn’t read it if I like Vonnegut, I just replied that I hadn’t quite got round to it as I’d heard it wasn’t one of his best. (Which is a crap reason, I’ll admit.) When she mentioned it was in a similar mood to Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, my interest was finally peaked enough to give it a go. And I’m glad I did.

Here’s the story:

An incredibly rich man called Winston Niles Rumfoord builds his own spaceship and, with his dog Kazak, flies into space. Unfortunately he flies into something called a “chrono-synclastic infundibulum” which converts him and his hound into pure energy. This energy is in the form of a spiral that stretches from the Sun to the star Betelguese. The Earth intersects this spiral every 59 days and consequently Rumfoord and Kazak materialise for 1 hour every couple of months. They also appear on Mars and Titan. While this sucks for Rumfoord, he does have the added bonus of knowing everything that has ever happened and will happen.

Cue the protagonist – one Malachi Constant. Constant is the world’s richest and luckiest man. He is also a massively shallow hedonist. Rumfoord manipulates Constant into an epic journey from the Earth to Mars to the caves of Mercury and finally to the moon Titan. It’s a pretty shitty journey but it changes Constant and helps make the world a better place.

As I had heard The Sirens of Titan isn’t one of Vonnegut’s best books but it is still a bloody good one. Much, much better than I thought would be. It is, as Mrs Scifiward said, reminiscent of Hitchhiker’s – albeit a precursor to it. There are a ton of brilliant ideas and funny asides. The invention of a religion that follows God the Utterly Indifferent is a good example of the sort of humour coupled with heavy doses of nihilism that pervade the novel. The bleak theme that everything is pointless and merely ‘a series of accidents’ is counterbalanced by wit, inventiveness and Vonnegut’s spare but brilliant prose.

If you are a fan of Vonnegut and Adams I would be very surprised if you didn’t enjoy this book as much as I did. I felt kind of bad constantly linking the two until I consulted Wikepedia and found the following quote. With which I shall leave you. To conclude: I thoroughly enjoyed The Sirens of Titan. Now over to Mr Adams.

Sirens of Titan is just one of those books – you read it through the first time and you think it’s very loosely, casually written. You think the fact that everything suddenly makes such good sense at the end is almost accidental. And then you read it a few more times, simultaneously finding out more about writing yourself, and you realize what an absolute tour de force it was, making something as beautifully honed as that appear so casual.”
The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut