The Sirens of Titan
So I am reviewing a second Vonnegut book in a row. I like Vonnegut and needed a break from the heavy books I have recently forced myself to digest. Picking up a Vonnegut book after back to back readings on war is like a ray of sunlight breaking through on a day of chilly rain. “The Sirens of Titan” is the origination point of the Vonnegut universe. Such absurdities to appear in later works are the chrono-synclastic infundibulum and the planet Tralfamadore. It’s Vonnegut at his purest. Although the plot is completely silly, the underlying theme is forever relevant: what is the point of anything?
Any good book takes the reader on an adventure to arrive at an unexpected conclusion. “The Sirens of Titan” certainly achieves this. It’s hard to understand why the things that happen are happening, but the way the sentences are painted across the pages, you are coaxed into absorbing every last word. Questions which will nag the back of the readers mind are, in no particular order: Why is there an army on mars? Why is Rumford so secretive? Why is Unk on Mercury now? The whole endeavor fails to make any sense until the last several pages when everything slams together.
It will usually take a few minutes to start a book. To start a book, you need to relax your mind and let yourself fall into the authors universe. In “Sirens of Titan,” Vonnegut drops the reader in Newport, Rhode Island, USA, Earth, Solar System, Milky Way. From this point forward, the floor of reality disappears and the inner mind of Vonnegut takes over.
Winston Niles Rumford is man whose character resembles that of Teddy Roosevelt. He ventures into space with his dog Razak only to disappear into the Chrono-Synlcastic Infudibulum which turns him into a wave phenomenon, stretching from the sun to Beetlejuice. Existing as a wave phenomenon, Mr. Rumford possesses a clairvoyance on all proceedings of the universe. Mr. Rumford’s wave phenomenon spirals through the void of space materializing every 59 days when earth’s orbit and the spiral intercept. We will discover later on that the spiral intercepts other locations at various intervals. Using his powers of premonition Winston Niles Rumford calls for the world’s richest man, Malachi Constant, to visit for a materialization. During the hour-long materialization Mr. Rumford sets the world’s richest man on a course of self-destruction and humiliation which will take him to Mars, Mercury, Earth, and finally Titan. The rest of the novel contains misadventures in mind-scrambling, planetary invasions, artificial inelegance, flying saucers, and the gross manipulation of the human race.
“The Sirens of Titan” eventually pursues the depressing story of a man named Unk who is moved amongst the stars for no apparent reason. As we follow this tale of woe, the universe is shown to be rather unkind. Back on earth a new religion comes to fruition in observance of The God The Utterly Indifferent. The tragedy of this man named Unk slowly descends into a pit of hopelessness as nihilism takes over. There is no purpose to life or the universe. Everything that exists is a series of accidents. The fruitless search for meaning culminates in the violent self-destruction of a space traveler who winds up stranded on Titan.
Purpose, however, is eventually uncovered as the characters find love. It’s clear the Vonnegut is rather sappy because his central thesis always seems to be that finding true love is the peak of existence. Nothing matters except for love. Through their love of one another, the characters are able to finally find peace.
“The Sirens of Titan” is Vonnegut at his best. It’s the origination point of themes that will reoccur in future works. In many ways all of us are Unk, pointlessly travelling through the universe with no idea why. We contemplate our purpose and can get lost in the meaninglessness of our existence. What kind of universe let’s atrocities of war take place? The answer, according to Vonnegut, is to find and appreciate your soulmate. When you find your true partner, nothing else matters.
The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut
Published by Dial Press Trade Paperback; Reissue edition (September 8, 1998)