Review: Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut’s  The Sirens of Titan: A Novel is another brilliant morality tale of science meets religion meets the future meets politics and “so it goes.”  This novel seems to take on, full scale, the battle between omniscient destiny and free will. In this tale, a wealthy New Englander, Winston Niles Rumfoord (and his dog Kazak) gets the raw end of space-travel-gone-wrong deal.  He ends up trapped permanently on Titan, the largest of Saturn’s moons; however, he is also caught in a temporal flux, traveling back and forth through space on a never-ending, cyclical loop.  As he can see the past, the future, and everything in between, he decides to play a little game which, ultimately, was actually predestined by an alien race, the Trafalmadorians.

The Good
The cynicism and dark humor are superbly written – just over the top enough to remain non-offensive, but certainly damning.  The description of the army of neurologically controlled Martians (who are actually displaced humans) and their equally radio controlled commanders is brilliant; that Rumfoord takes the time to kidnap these Earthlings in order to build up a Martian army, which is then sent on a suicide mission to invade and destroy Earth, all to bring Earth together as one “planet” as opposed to separate, self-interested nations is just genius.  It also must be partially what inspired the Hegemony of Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game (Ender, Book 1) series.  What eventually comes from this plan is the creation of all Earth’s crowning achievements – Stonehenge, the Great Wall of China, etc.  The Trafalmadorians were the designers and creators of Earthling history, the purpose of which was simply to send benign messages to a stranded, wandering Traflmadorian on Titan.  Also created from this joining-together of the planet is a new religion which is, essentially, an anti-God religion.  The new religion is the religion of man, which decides to desert God because God has created and deserted man.  Words luck Luck and Will are all banned and, instead, everything that happened is the result of “accident.”  The story was fast-paced, creative (Vonnegut creating and referencing multiple scientific and historical works, including an Encyclopedia of the Universe, all to enhance and progress his plot is simply incredible) and thought provoking.  Who are we, really? What are we here for, really?  And what’s the point?

The Bad
One plot device which was used excessively, I feel, was the “memory wipe.”  There were moments where it seemed that part of the journey for the main characters: Unk (Malachi Constant) and Bee (Rumfoord’s wife & Malachi’s mate).  There are moments where it seems that these two characters will begin to remember things from their past lives, on Earth and on Mars, but these movements fall flat and, ultimately, it does not seem to matter whether or not they do remember anything at all.  This is probably the point (What good is memory?) but I did find it a negative in terms of plot device, as it became distracting and did very little for the storyline.  The back-history between Malachi Constant and his father, also, seemed unnecessary, since Malachi never knew his father, was dropped his father’s fortune in his lap, only to lose it, and then never remembered his father or the fortune thereafter, which left him with nothing to learn.  Again, this could be the point – since Malachi ends on a new world, with new purpose (sort of) but, aside from allowing the reader to see that there really is no point in anything, what does it do for the story?  These were very small objections, however, and in the end there is little to put in the “nay” column.

The Final Verdict: 4.0 out of 5.0
It may be telling that Vonnegut sold his rights to the film adaptation to none other than The Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia. Unfortunately, Garcia passed away prior to finishing the screen play, but one can only imagine what this book in Garcia’s hands could have been in film form.  Also a hint as to the purpose of the novel is to look at the character, Chrono, a young, restless, almost wild boy throughout – who answers only to his mother, and even then with some resistance.  In the end, Chrono becomes one of the native majestics of Titan, an honorary blue Titan bird.  He completely abandons his humanity and, instead, takes on the traits and characteristics of an animal which, while noble and beautiful, is also without conscience, without morality, and without any conception of “self” – all of which would seem to be what makes humans so proud to be human.  Vonnegut would assert, then, that it is much greater, much freer, to be a Titanian bird than a human being?  The novel left me, overall, feeling that the purpose of life is no real purpose at all, it just to exist and “to love whoever is around to be loved.”

Published by Dial Press, 1998
ISBN-10: 0-385-33349-8
Challenges: “TBR 2010”
Source: Owned Copy

Rating: 4.0/5.0

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