Science fiction and fantasy                                            

The Sirens of Titan

by Kurt Vonnegut


When Winston Niles Rumfoord flew his spaceship into a chrono-synclastic infundibulum, he and his dog were transformed. Spread across the entire solar system as a wave form, they can only materialise on Earth once every 59 days. On the plus side, Rumfoord now knows everything that has happened or that will ever happen.

The Sirens of Titan is a satire about mankind's search for meaning in the universe, whether it is there or not. We are introduced to Malachi Constant, a rather arrogant and hedonistic man who just happens to also be the richest man alive. He's a billionaire, thanks entirely to his own good luck in investing, and not due to any skill or hard work on his own part. He is also one of the very few people who Rumfoord invites to meet him on one of the rare occasions that he materialises.

This meeting acts as a catalyst for change for both Constant and Beatrice, Rumfoord's estranged wife. Both of them make a series of poor investments, and end up financially ruined. Eventually Constant decides there is nothing for it but to flee his debts, and so his adventures around the solar system begin.

Constant goes to Mars, where he loses his identity amongst a mind-controlling army intent on invading Earth. He also has a spell on the dark side of Mercury and on Saturn's moon, Titan. The fact that we know much more about these places and their unsuitability for life than the author did when this book was written doesn't detract at all from the story. This novel hasn't much to do with realism or speculating what life would be like on other planets in any case. It's a book about man's insignificance in the overall scheme of things, and the way we routinely try to give random events a deeper moral meaning when no meaning is there.

This could have been a bleak book, given the terrible run of events that Constant experiences. But Vonnegut's dry humour is compelling, and the surprises that spring from his fertile and quirky imagination keep you wanting to read on. However it's not the weirdness of this novel that is its main strength, but its cleverness. The Sirens of Titan is satisfying, witty, and bursting with peculiar ideas.

Book Details

Decade: 1950s

Categories: Books

  Science fiction

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4 star rating

Review © Ros Jackson
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