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The Sirens of Titan

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The Sirens of Titan is an outrageous romp through space, time, and morality. The richest, most depraved man on Earth, Malachi Constant, is offered a chance to take a space journey to distant worlds with a beautiful woman at his side. Of course there's a catch to the invitation—and a prophetic vision about the purpose of human life that only Vonnegut has the courage to tell.

224 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1959

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About the author

Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

516 books32.6k followers
Kurt Vonnegut, Junior was an American novelist, satirist, and most recently, graphic artist. He was recognized as New York State Author for 2001-2003.

He was born in Indianapolis, later the setting for many of his novels. He attended Cornell University from 1941 to 1943, where he wrote a column for the student newspaper, the Cornell Daily Sun. Vonnegut trained as a chemist and worked as a journalist before joining the U.S. Army and serving in World War II.

After the war, he attended University of Chicago as a graduate student in anthropology and also worked as a police reporter at the City News Bureau of Chicago. He left Chicago to work in Schenectady, New York in public relations for General Electric. He attributed his unadorned writing style to his reporting work.

His experiences as an advance scout in the Battle of the Bulge, and in particular his witnessing of the bombing of Dresden, Germany whilst a prisoner of war, would inform much of his work. This event would also form the core of his most famous work, Slaughterhouse-Five, the book which would make him a millionaire. This acerbic 200-page book is what most people mean when they describe a work as "Vonnegutian" in scope.

Vonnegut was a self-proclaimed humanist and socialist (influenced by the style of Indiana's own Eugene V. Debs) and a lifelong supporter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

The novelist is known for works blending satire, black comedy and science fiction, such as Slaughterhouse-Five (1969), Cat's Cradle (1963), and Breakfast of Champions (1973)

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 6,381 reviews
Profile Image for Lyn.
1,882 reviews16.6k followers
March 29, 2019
Somebody up there likes me.

One of my favorite film directors is Wes Anderson. I’m not sure if he is a fan of Kurt Vonnegut, but he should be and he should produce and direct the film adaption of Kurt Vonnegut’s novel, Sirens of Titan.

Sirens of Titan, Vonnegut’s second published novel, was released in 1959. Some aspects of his brilliant short story Harrison Bergeron, which was published in 1961, are revealed in the pages of Sirens. Other aspects of this novel are fairly representative of the later work that many people regard as his masterpiece, Slaughterhouse-Five. In fact, interestingly, aspects of several works in Vonnegut’s bibliography can be detected, including Galápagosand Slapstick or Lonesome No More!.

Player Piano may have been the first book published by Kurt Vonnegut, but Sirens of Titan was the first Vonnegut book.

Player Piano was an excellent story, a fine work of science fiction literature written by a man with much world experience and wisdom. But … for the body of work that would come, that great canon of literature that would inspire and entertain and provoke thought from generations of readers, the vanguard was Sirens of Titan.

Kurt Vonnegut, when he wrote Sirens of Titan, was 37 Earth years old, he was 6 feet 2 inches tall and had curly brown hair that his mother, Edith Lieber, called chestnut.

I have read a lot of Kurt Vonnegut’s books and I think Sirens of Titan was the book that formed the template, the engineering blueprint, for what would become.

And so it goes.

Profile Image for Stephen.
1,516 reviews11.2k followers
August 2, 2011
5 THINGS I KNOW I learned from reading Sirens of Titan

1. Kurt Vonnegut was a brilliantly insightful GENIUS whose brain waves were ever so slightly out of phase with our universe making complete comprehension of his work by the rest of us impossible;
2. In the hands of a master, literature can be both incredibly entertaining and soul-piercingly deep;
3. Vonnegut had a rock hard MAD on the size of a Dyson Sphere against Organized Religion;
4. Winston Niles Rumfoord is a Gigantanormous, Hobbit-blowing, Douchasaurus Rex (or if you prefer the proper latin phrase Giganticus, SamwiseGamgeeus, Douchbaggius Maximus); and
5. A Martian soldier unable to stand at attention because he has been strangled to death by his best friend...can be VERY, VERY FUNNY!!

There is quite a bit more that I’m pretty sure of after reading this Vonnegut classic, but on the above I am very confidant. I had so much fun with this book and I am sure that I still missed some of what Vonnegut was trying to say. His delivery is so dry and understated that if your attention wonders even for a moment, you can miss his point. I think this is one of those books that just screams to be read in a group and discussed. Maybe that’s why books like this lend themselves so well to re-reading every so often, because there is so much more there to find upon closer inspection.


Here is a brief rundown of the plot (for what it’s worth). The story is told by an unnamed far future historian and takes place over a 40+ year period during the “Nightmare Ages”…“sometime between the Second World War and the Third Great Depression.” The story revolves around 3 main characters are Malachi Constant, the aforementioned Winston Niles Rumfoord and Rumfoord’s wife, Beatrice.

The story begins with Malachi Constant, the richest man in the world, being granted a rare invitation to the Rumfoord Estate to witness a “materialization.” You see Winston Niles Rumfoord, while traveling between Earth and Mars with his pooch came in contact with a phenomenon called chrono-synclastic infundibulum (one of the truly remarkable concepts created by Vonnegut, but you’ll have to read for yourself). As a result of his encounter, Rumfoord now exists as a wave phenomena, has complete knowledge of the past a future, and “materializes” for a few minutes at his home every 59.9 days. Malachi is the first person (other than Beatrice) to be allowed to see and speak to Rumfoord during his visits.

During the visitation, Rumfoord tells Malachi all about his future (and the future of his wife Beatrice) and explains that Malachi will go on a series of journeys and will eventually end up, with Beatrice, on one of the moons of Saturn called Titan (hence the title). Malachi, not liking the idea that his path is set goes about doing everything he can to prevent the events Rumfoord has ordained.
This event starts the series of events that make up the novel. Along the way, Vonnegut bitch-slaps organized religion; puts forth a funny, witty and piercing examination of the question “Free Will: YES or NO?;” and follows his characters as they experience growth and change through the constant loss and destruction over everything they are.


Without leaking too many details regarding the myriad of uncut gems that Vonnegut includes in this story, I do want to point out a few of my favorites.

On Religion

Clearly, Kurt's most all up in your face critiques are directed at “organized religion.” He doesn’t spend time bashing “belief” in any mean-spirited way. Rather, he focuses his ample ire on the “actions” that organized religion often leads its followers to perform. In this regard, my favorite satirical nuggest in this area were:

1. The Bible as Financial Analyst and Stock-picker.
2. The Church of God the Utterly Indifferent (this name still makes me chuckle)
3. The Earth as God’s Spaceship and the 10 commandments reworked as a launch countdown.

On Free Will and Why We’re Here

My single favorite “idea” from the entire book is the central idea of the novel in which Vonnegut answers for us the “what’s it all about” question. His answer, delivered with classic VonnegutSHOTness is sublime. When you take:

a. The intro to the story by the narrating future historian; plus
b. The final “reveal” regarding the purpose behind all of the actions of the characters in the story; plus
c. Some additional inter-story commentary from our narrator who hindsights this period of our history…
…and add it all together…the result for your eyes, gut and mind is a truly popping, wrenching, expanding STOP YOU IN YOUR TRACKS moment that may require a few injections of Whiskey (or stronger) to take the razor sharp edge off. It is certainly commentary that will burrow into your memory and lay idea eggs.

So I really, really liked it.

In sum, a truly exceptional work by a truly exceptional author expressing some exceptionally powerful ideas that made my exceptionally tiny brain scream for an exceptionally long time until I downed an exceptionally large glass of some exceptionally good stuff and suddenly felt exceptionally well….and exceptionally wobbly.


Nominee: Hugo Award for Best Science Fiction Novel (1960)
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Manny.
Author 30 books14k followers
June 27, 2009
I'll start with a roundabout introduction. Garry Kasparov was not just one of the best chessplayers of all time, he was also one of the best analysts. Even as a teenager, he was always coming up with the most amazing ideas. Chessplayers often prefer to hoard their ideas; it can be worth a lot to surprise your opponent in a critical game, and there are many stories about grandmasters keeping a new move in the freezer for years, or even decades. Kasparov asked his trainer if he should be hoarding too. "No, Garry!" came the sage reply. "Use them now! You'll get new ones." And, indeed, this turned out to be a correct prediction.

Kurt Vonnegut wrote Sirens of Titan early in his career, and I wonder if he didn't receive similar advice. The novel contains enough ideas for half a dozen normal books, and fairly bubbles with creative energy. I like it much more than Slaughterhouse Five, and I've always wondered why it isn't better known. I suppose it doesn't actually make sense; but, for goodness sakes, do things always have to make sense? Free associating for a moment, Candide, A Grand Day Out and the Old Testament are all undisputed masterpieces. None of them make sense, and they would be greatly diminished if they did. Put them together and package the result as a 50s SF novel, and you might get something a little bit like Sirens.

So, you have a naively optimistic central character, who suffers the most appalling reverses of fortune in a way that somehow ends up being more comic than tragic; but, instead of going to South America, he spends most of the book wandering around a Solar System which is very slightly more credible than Nick Park's cheese-flavored Moon. He's pursued by a God who's rather too fond of elaborate practical jokes, but who is simultaneously trying to use the story to convey deep truths about the meaning of life. Unless He's just kidding. It's a bit hard to tell, but isn't that normal for pronouncements made under the influence of divine inspiration?

I see I've left out all the good bits. I haven't mentioned the chrono-synclastic infundibulum. Or Bea's sonnet, "Every Man's an Island", about how to breathe in space. Or Salo, and his message for the people at the other end of the Universe. Or Universal Will to Become. Or even the Sirens. If you haven't already done so, why don't you buy the book and check them all out for yourself? It's an easy read, and it even has a happy ending. I think.

Profile Image for Adina .
889 reviews3,535 followers
August 4, 2021
The Sirens of Titan is the 5th novel I’ve read by Kurt Vonnegut so you can say I am a fan. While it does not compare with Slaughterhouse-five and the Cat’s Cradle it was still good and I enjoyed returning to the humour the absurdity that I love. If you are interested to read Vonnegut I would not recommend starting this one. Any of the two that I mentioned above are a better choice.

Trying to summarize a book by Vonnegut is a very hard task to perform without sounding crazy but I will do my best. One guy, Winston Niles Rumfoord, sets to travel to Mars together with his dog where he falls into a Chrono-Synclastic Infundibulum which makes him to repeatedly and periodically materialize in different places. He materializes at his mansion every 50 days or so. During one of his appearances Rumfoord meets with Malachi Constant, the richest man on Earth, and predicts that the latter will travel to Mars, Earth and Titan. He also tells Constant that he will have a child with Rumfoord’s wife. Malachi refuses to believe the prophecy and does anything in his power to disprove it, even selling his stakes in the only company which was producing a ship capable to fly into space. From here, the novel follows a series of extraordinary and absurd events that will lead to the fulfilment of Rumfoors’s words. For people who read Slaughterhouse-five, Tralfamadore makes an appearance here as well.

Obviously, the Sirens of Titan is more than a novel where crazy stuff happens. Each of Vponnegut’s work is a satire and this one is no exception. However, the deeper meaning is not so obvious and it was not clear to me what the point of the novel was. I realized it questions free will and destiny, also questioning the idea of God and our belief that someone out there takes care of us. It seems the author believes that the fate of each human is “a victim of a series of accidents” without offering any possibility of control over them. He also muses that ‘the purpose of human life, no matter who is controlling it, is to love whoever is around to be loved.’ It also touches the absurdity of religions and wars among other subjects.
Profile Image for Vit Babenco.
1,463 reviews3,614 followers
May 10, 2023
There are plenty of space travels in The Sirens of Titan but it isn’t a space opera… It is a spaced out satire, a cosmic comedy of manners…
Mankind flung its advance agents ever outward, ever outward. Eventually it flung them out into space, into the colorless, tasteless, weightless sea of outwardness without end.
It flung them like stones.
These unhappy agents found what had already been found in abundance on Earth – a nightmare of meaninglessness without end. The bounties of space, of infinite outwardness, were three: empty heroics, low comedy, and pointless death.

Some enigmatic space phenomenon had turned a lonely space scout into something similar to photon, possessing properties of both particle and wave, and spread him all over outer space and time, making him periodically appear and disappear in different places as his material self…
Winston Niles Rumfoord vanished slowly, beginning with the ends of his fingers, and ending with his grin. The grin remained some time after the rest of him had gone.

This smart allusion to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland surely gave me an agreeable frisson.
Consequently, to improve humankind and to better its destiny omnipresent and omniscient Rumfoord decided to become a universal do-gooder and began to commit a hellish lot of preposterous deeds and even fashioned a new religion…
“O Lord Most High, what a glorious weapon is Thy Apathy, for we have unsheathed it, have thrust and slashed mightily with it, and the claptrap that has so often enslaved us or driven us into the madhouse lies slain!”

But however absurd new religion may seem it can’t be more absurd than those religions that already exist.
Profile Image for Ahmad Sharabiani.
9,564 reviews46 followers
November 25, 2021
The Sirens of Titan, Kurt Vonnegut

The Sirens of Titan is a Hugo Award-nominated novel by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., first published in 1959. His second novel, it involves issues of free will, omniscience, and the overall purpose of human history. Much of the story revolves around a Martian invasion of Earth.

Malachi Constant is the richest man in a future America. He possesses extraordinary luck that he attributes to divine favor which he has used to build upon his father's fortune.

He becomes the center point of a journey that takes him from Earth to Mars in preparation for an interplanetary war, to Mercury with another Martian survivor of that war, back to Earth to be pilloried as a sign of Man's displeasure with his arrogance, and finally to Titan where he again meets the man ostensibly responsible for the turn of events that have befallen him, Winston Niles Rumfoord. ...

تاریخ نخستین خوانش: روز بیست و یکم ماه فوریه سال2012میلادی

عنوان: افسونگران تایتان؛ نویسنده: کورت ونه گات؛ مترجم: علی اصغر بهرامی؛ تهران، نیلوفر، سال1390، در376ص؛ موضوع: داستانهای نویسندگان ایالات متحده آمریکا - سده20م

مردی با سفینه اش، وارد چاله های فضایی شده، و اکنون بیرون از زمان است، و در زمان مسافرت میکند؛ او فهمیده، زنش و یکی از هنرپیشه های هالیوود توسط مریخیها دزدیده شده، و با هم بچه دار میشوند و ....؛ «ونه گات» باورهای روز دنیای غرب را، در این اثر به رشته ی نگارش درآورده؛ از عصر روشنگری، تا نظریه‌ های فیزیک کوانتوم؛ خوانش و درک طنز، و درونمایه های اثر، برای خوانشگرانی که با اسطوره های غربی آشنا نیستند، بسیار کند است، گاه خوانشگر منظور متن را درنمییابد، با اینحال اثری با چشم اندازی نو، و جهانشمول است؛ «ونه گات»، در این رمان، با دستمایه قرار دادن اسطوره‌ و کلان روایتها، و شوخی، و دست‌ انداختن آنها، در پی به چالش کشیدن وضعیت بشر کنونی است، که علیرغم خیال تسخیر کهکشانها، و دستیابی اش به کره ی ماه، و سیارات منظومه شمسی، نه تنها همچون نیاکان خویش، خوشبختی، هنوز هم برایش میسر نیست، بلکه زندگی، برایش از بگذشته ها نیز، ناآشناتر نمایان است؛ عنوان رمان، برگرفته از عنوانهای اسطوره ها، و کهن الگوهای غربی است، شخصیتها: «خدایان»، «الهگان»، یا قهرمانانی هستند، که به سبب برخورداری از نیروهای فرابشری، توان انجام کارهای فراطبیعی را دارند؛ «ملاکی کنستانت»، یا انسانها، در این اسطوره‌ ها، یا باید شاهد فرود عذاب از جانب خدایان باشند، یا به جبر سرنوشت خویش، تن دهند، و نیروهای فرابشری را قهرمانان خویش بدانند

تاریخ بهنگام رسانی 12/10/1399هجری خورشیدی؛ 03/09/1400هجری خورشیدی؛ ا. شربیانی
Profile Image for BlackOxford.
1,085 reviews68.4k followers
September 19, 2020
Love the One You're With

Most of Vonnegut's enduring tropes start life in Sirens :
- Time and its distortions
- Places like Newport and Indianapolis
- People such as Rumfoord and Ben and Sylvia
- The planet Tralfamadore and its inhabitants
- And of course the Volunteer Fire Department

What holds these oddities together is what holds everything of Vonnegut together, an ethical theology. His sci-fi is a way of displacing talk about God just enough to do some serious thinking. And he may indeed have inspired a new generation of thinkers about God as a consequence.

Vonnegut's Church of God the Utterly Indifferent follows a teaching remarkably like a Christian theology developed almost 40 years after Vonnegut's novel. This theology of the Weakness of God rejects the idea of God as the all-powerful fixer of the universe. And it rejects the idea that power flows downhill, as it were, from the divine source to spiritual and secular leaders. Its ethical import is that all of us are engaged in a search for God, and that the only help we have in this search comes from our fellow human beings.

This is essentially Vonnegut's Titanic Theology. “The two chief teachings of this religion are these: Puny man can do nothing at all to help or please God Almighty, and Luck is not the hand of God." God does not interfere in human affairs; he is what in traditional theology is called 'apathetic'. He is not affected one iota by human action. In short "God Does Not Care." Whatever morality there is in human life comes not from His interests or the possible benefits from pleasing Him, but from the necessity for the community life of human beings.

So the ethic of Vonnegut's theology is direct and clear. There is only one commandment: "These words will be written on that flag in gold letters on a blue field: Take Care of the People, and God Almighty Will Take Care of Himself." This mandate requires no complicated exegesis or commentary. Nevertheless it's profundity takes a while to sink in: “It took us that long to realize that a purpose of human life, no matter who is controlling it, is to love whoever is around to be loved.”

In a world ruled by such an ethos there is the possibility of pain, but of a particular sort: “The worst thing that could possibly happen to anybody,” she said, “would be to not be used for anything by anybody.” So-called ‘Weakness Theologians’ like John Caputo are apt to agree: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/5...
Profile Image for J.L.   Sutton.
666 reviews926 followers
December 17, 2020
“The bounties of space, of infinite outwardness, were three: empty heroics, low comedy, and pointless death.”

Always prophetic. Always relevant. In Kurt Vonnegut's The Sirens of Titan, we accompany Malachi Constant on adventures through time and space. He is unlike any other hero you're likely to read about; Malachi "was a victim of a series of accidents, as are we all." The plot, which seems ridiculous and completely random (like those series of accidents), takes on visionary proportions in Vonnegut's hands. Especially in this novel, I thought about how much Vonnegut had influenced Douglas Adams and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

Whereas Vonnegut uses the absurd to explore what makes us human (because what else really is there besides the absurd?), Adams takes the absurd and turns it into a funny and highly entertaining romp. (I was so struck by the similarities that I began to re-read Adams even before finishing Sirens). I recommend this book for any fan of Vonnegut or Adams. Finally, by having our 'hero,' Malachi, as an unwitting victim of his own adventures (during a lifetime of learning and unlearning), Vonnegut approaches tragedy, but he turns away from it because that would be taking this life much too seriously.
Profile Image for jessica.
2,555 reviews35.5k followers
November 20, 2018
‘the sirens of titan’ (or as i have alternatively titled it, ‘why life is the universes greatest long con’) is the perfect catalyst for my impending existential crisis - all courtesy of john!

in this review, i will explore the two major themes of the novel, state what we can learn them, and explain how these lessons apply to our meager lives.

lets get started.

free will || ah, the biggest illusion of them them all. if the universe was a magician, the fact that we somehow believe we have control over our lives would be considered the finale, the best trick saved for last. because we are nothing more than 'victims of a series of accidents.' the combination of random events created us and will continue to lead us and nothing we can do or say has any influence over that. there is no way to control that which is unpredictable. (alexa, play despacito.)

meaning and purpose || if you choose to believe vonnegut, intrinsically everyone knows how to find the meaning of life within themselves. meaning that, even though we just established we have no control over our lives, we can still find meaning/purpose and make it highly personal in nature. in this instance, i agree with the book, in that ‘the purpose of human life, no matter who is controlling it, is to love whoever is around to be loved.’ unfortunately for me, im painfully single.

in closing, what have we learned? its that life is meaningless but we should be happy about it.

because even though we may not be able to control what life throws at us, we have the innate disposition to be able to make it meaningful. thats what makes us human.

and that is something we all could do well to remember.

thanks for coming to my ted talk.

4.5 stars
Profile Image for Fergus, Quondam Happy Face.
1,028 reviews17.7k followers
September 18, 2023
Salo is a foreign emissary from a risibly-remote planet. He's travelled trillions of light years to deliver a loony-toons message.

He's a likeable little gnome.

And if you said that's a ridiculous satire on the gee-whiz Boys from NASA spending umpteen gadzilions of Taxpayers' Dollars for a (whoops) Intimately Freudian rocket ship thrusting into deep space, bearing greetings from us poor humanoids - yes, complete with kiddy-like line drawings of two healthy, well-adjusted WASPS (male and female, of course) - well, then, I guess you read ole Kurt's mind.


And what if you belong to a dirt-poor part of the populace, and don't much care for Rich Folks' Gentrification Projects for Deep Space?

Kurt Vonnegut can read your lips!

So it goes.

That and a buck fifty may buy you a nice coffee.

It drove the poor man down the path of despair, right into the Monkey House, in fact. If you think the zany situations from Welcome to the Monkey House's collection of fictional gems were made up by an average normal American male, think again.

Vonnegut was as real as they get.

Warts and Blooming All.

Back in the early sixties, there was a little song - I think Bobby Goldsboro sang it - about a Funny Little Clown:

See the funny little clown -
I'm laughing on the outside
But I'm crying on the inside...

Don't let anyone tell you Kurt Vonnegut wasn't that clown -

For though his satire may SCALD -

His Endless Compassion could HEAL this poor old world, when it sees dear old Salo got it right.
Profile Image for Leonard Gaya.
Author 1 book934 followers
March 2, 2021
For one thing, according to Epicurean philosophy, the gods are in a state of perfect ataraxia and mind their own business. They have no needs and, although they are omniscient and can observe all points in the space-time continuum, nor do they bother themselves much about us, insignificant human beings. Perhaps the same could be said of the Tralfamadorians in Kurt Vonnegut’s novels. In Slaughterhouse-Five, they abduct poor Billy Pilgrim to their intergalactic zoo and observe with mild interest how he breeds with a porn-star mate. So it goes.

For another thing, here too, in The Sirens of Titans, we’ll meet the creatures from Tralfamadore and see if they can or even wish to do us, humans, any good. The unfortunate Malachi Constant (the protagonist) will travel across the whole solar system, from Earth to Mars, from Mars to Mercury and from there back to Earth and on to Titan, in the periphery of Saturn and the chrono-synclastic infundibulum. Meanwhile, he will suffer all sorts of hardships and strokes of bad luck — “a victim of a series of accidents, as are we all...” (LoA, vol. 1, p. 485). Still, despite it all, he will maintain to the very end that “somebody up there likes me” (p. 313). Malachi Constant is, in many ways, like Candide in Voltaire’s short novel, a die-hard optimist who, in the end, comes back from the dead, and gains a modicum of wisdom along the way. While Candide concluded that “one must cultivate one’s own garden” (an Epicurean motto, if ever there was one), Malachi declares that “it took us that long to realize that a purpose of human life, no matter who is controlling it, is to love whoever is around to be loved.” (p. 528)

For another thing, The Sirens of Titan was published in 1959, the same year as Philip K. Dick’s Time Out of Joint and Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers. The former was already touching on the nature of reality, and the latter already preaching about America’s moral standards. In The Sirens, Vonnegut, like PKD, plays with memory manipulation and all sorts of mindfuck; like Heinlein, he touches on the topic of war and the military but doesn’t linger on it for very long.

For another thing, what Vonnegut does here, though, is lay out one of his first “mosaic of jokes”, as he liked to call his books. Indeed, The Sirens of Titan is primarily a parody of trashy pulp science fiction novels, a boisterous, chucklesome book, written in syncopated, eclectic, dense textures, high energy, tangled threads, plot twists aplenty, extended techniques and unorthodox uses of language, and finally landing on its feet at the end. In this sense, The Sirens of Titan, twenty years early, precedes and foreshadows (and, I would say, is superior to) Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
Profile Image for Danger.
Author 33 books656 followers
April 19, 2017
3RD READ-THROUGH 4/18/17: Since I was about 19, I’ve been referring to this novel as my “favorite book.” I don’t know if *quite* holds that distinction still, having read a lot more in the succeeding 15 years, but it is STILL, without question one of the best! This book might be the “plottiest” of all of Vonnegut’s novels, while I enjoy the voice later Vonnegut much more (The Sirens of Titan was only his second book) the ideas presented here are deep and varied, lying what is obviously the philosophical and spiritual groundwork for a lifetime of work to still come. This book still hits, and it hits HARD. If you haven’t read this and don’t rectify that immediately, then I don’t think we can be friends. 5 GIGANTIC STARS!

This is my favorite Vonnegut book, and I've read them all, except for one, which I am afraid to read because he is dead now and once I read that last book there won't be any more to read and my life will be meaningless.
Profile Image for Dave.
3,103 reviews353 followers
October 5, 2022
Is it Fate or Coincidence?

The Sirens of Titan is an odd satirical twist of a science fiction novel which explores nothing quite as grand as the meaning of life. There are echoes here of Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land and Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide, but guess what. Sirens of Titan came first. Legend has it that Vonnegut wrote this in a few hours while at a dinner party. Obviously, some of the ideas were percolating in his head for awhile.

It is most of all a book of ideas. Vonnegut has the reader pondering the nature of luck, of fate, of coincidence, of predestination, of higher powers, and of course free will. Like stories about time travel, he posits the question of whether, knowing your destiny, can you avoid it or are you fated to fulfill that destiny no matter what. Even knowing the future only weds you to that future (as Leto Atriedes later discovered).

And what is free will. Are we controlled by destiny? By ancient space aliens like just so many marionettes? By the March of preordained history? If we are controlled by fate is it so different from a radio controlled army marching in lockstep? One of Vonnegut’s oddest satires is the notion of the invasion by Martians who are mind-controlled earthlings kidnapped and trained and who have their memories wiped.

Sirens of Titan is by no means a normal novel. It’s plotting is odd, different, unusual. The characters are all odd, disjointed, and never quite fit in or get along.

But what makes it work is the questions it keeps posing. Vonnegut plays with our sense of reality in ways that would make Neo and the Matrix proud. And, all throughout, Vonnegut keeps bothering the readers with issues of what’s fair and just. He asks if being lucky 🍀 is just some random thing like picking stocks based on the letters of biblical passages or if the fair thing is to handicap those born with advantages. Is it fair that some can run a four minute Mile and the rest of us mortals can’t. By George, let’s make the fastest carry weights so we can all be equal.

Vonnegut also has fun with mass media and the rumor mill, fortune tellers, and televangelists. He looks at mass hypnosis and the psychology of crowds. But, in the end, he keeps coming back to the meaning of life and whether playing music for ten thousand amoebas 🦠 is more important than finding your way home.
Profile Image for Kedar.
72 reviews38 followers
December 4, 2013
Do you read a Vonnegut book, or does the book read you? Does it expose your thoughts to the most detailed analysis of humanity, human behavior, and human mind and then tells you to not give a damn? Except that it also seizes the phrase 'to not give a damn' from your control. Leaves you hanging midair. Questioning.

So what to do? What is to be done? Apart from whatever has already been done?

You go beyond the story. See Unk staring at you pointedly with a hazy gaze. Figure out if he thinks whether you are in control of the story or is he the real commander. Go beyond the cliché, beyond the at-times stupendously obvious humour. Look at the blanketed irony. Then either sleep in the warmth of ignorance or throw away the cover and dive deep in the chills of reality.

Reading Vonnegut is probably a religion. The Church of God the Exquisitely Sarcastic.

Shake hands with Rumfoord. If he allows you to do so.

Peer through the kaleidoscope of allusions. The allusions in the form of the War, Harmoniums, Old Salo. A machine with a heart, as opposed to humans with emotions hardened as Titanic peat due to over exposure to something unrecognized or overtly familiar. Kazak, the dog on the leash. The soulless slave of gravity.

In between become "unstuck in time" while reading the events that led to the initiation of the formation of "The Church of God the Utterly Indifferent". Keep reading and re-reading several passages.

I have a feeling that I am lost. Lost while comprehending the gravitational depth for each line Vonnegut has written. I don't know whether I really liked this book or I really want to like it more than I did. I wonder what planet influenced me to write this review. The Hindu religion does give a lot of importance to planets and their influences on your life and the reviews you write.

I will abstain from asking myself these questions after a Vonnegut book in future. Best is to try and emulate the sweet sounds of Poo-tee-weet.

I need a stiff drink.
Profile Image for Apatt.
507 reviews805 followers
May 19, 2018
“Rented a tent, a tent, a tent; Rented a tent, a tent, a tent. Rented a tent! Rented a tent! Rented a, rented a tent.”
— Snare Drum on Mars”

That is funny until it suddenly becomes creepy, to tell you why would be a spoiler though.

The Sirens of Titan is great stuff, this should come as no surprise to you if you are a Kurt Vonnegut fan, but it surprised the hell out of me. You see, I didn't like Cat’s Cradle, one of his most celebrated books and, if I remember correctly, I didn't like Slaughterhouse-Five either, though I read that too long ago to be sure. Slaughterhouse-Five is even more celebrated than Cat’s Cradle. So I didn’t expect to like The Sirens of Titan, not a good attitude to start a book with, but after a few pages it just clicked.

The Sirens of Titan is obviously science fiction but if you are a die-hard sci-fi fan with Clarke, Asimov etc. as your literary heroes you may want to approach this book with a different set of expectations. Even with spaceships, aliens and chrono-synclastic infundibulation this novel is not primarily sci-fi. Kurt Vonnegut is only using sci-fi as a platform to tell an allegorical story about life, together with an anti-war and anti-religion themes. In spite of a fairly simplistic prose style, this novel really is quite profound. I don’t think I have managed to decipher all the subtexts, I am still pondering them as I write.

I wonder if the artist has actually read the book. This seems to be based on just the title.

The story begins with a man named Winston Niles Rumfoord who, together with his dog, accidentally becomes “chrono-synclastic infundibulated” during a space voyage. I will leave you to find the precise meaning of “chrono-synclastic infundibulated” for yourself, amusingly explained by Vonnegut. The upshot of it is that Rumfoord and his dog become a “wave phenomena” spread across the universe; they materialize briefly on a planet whenever that planet’s orbit intersects their spiral waveforms, and soon dematerialize when the planet moves away from the intersection. Being spread through space and time gives Rumfoord knowledge of future history because “the Everything that ever was always will be, and everything that ever will be always was.”. In other words, the future is just as immutable as the past. This foreknowledge leads Rumfoord to play God with the entire human race, with special attention paid to Malachi Constant, the richest man in the world, and Rumfoord’s wife, Beatrice. To this end, Rumfoord orchestrates a war between “Martians” and humanity simply to make a point and teach mankind a lesson.

With its unpredictable plot, characters, humour and philosophical themes The Sirens of Titan is a triumphant little novel that confounded my expectations. In spite of the comedic tone throughout the narrative the book is underpinned by sadness and loneliness. The time traveling aspect of the story is of the “predestination model” where the past and future exist simultaneously and both are equally unmalleable. Malachi Constant’s futile attempts to thwart his destiny as revealed to him by Rumfoord is funny to begin with until all his agency is taken away from him and he becomes a tragic and pathetic figure. The storyline is quite unpredictable from beginning to end, the book is often very funny, and the end is wonderfully poignant. Vonnegut makes the reader question his place in the vast uncaring universe, and he (rightly) doesn't offer any easy answer. One very impressive feature of Vonnegut’s prose style is that it is deceptively simple but hides a shrewd perception of the human condition and human compassion.

A more relevant cover

The Sirens of Titan actually works quite well as a “soft sci-fi” novel but it is more of an allegory about our floundering search for the meaning of life. I will probably give Slaughterhouse-Five another go and I look forward to reading Breakfast of Champions, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater and many more of Vonnegut’s works.

Fan art by Gargantuan-Media
Profile Image for Darwin8u.
1,599 reviews8,731 followers
April 1, 2016
“I was a victim of a series of accidents, as are we all.”
― Kurt Vonnegut, The Sirens of Titan


One of my favorite Vonnegut. Top-shelf. Snug and warm next to Cat's Cradle, Slaughterhouse-Five, Breakfast of Champions, & Mother Night. The magic of Vonnegut is he develops an idea to the point where -- just as you start believing it :: just as you are comfortable in his absuridty -- he kicks you down another Martian rabbit hole.

He doesn't want you sitting and enjoying yourself. He wants you constantly bubbling with that 'da Fu?' look on your face. He wants you to think -- goddammit. He wants you to understand and that means he has to first confuse the hell out of you. But that doesn't mean his rollercoaster ride has to be boring. No no. He is going to zip you forward and sideways so fast you are going think you are close to sickness, except his funky humor and biting satire seems to balm all nausea ad absurdum. Incredible. Genius.

There are points in this book where if Vonnegut had said he was forming a church, I'd join. If he said he was God the lawgiver, I'd reverently lower my eyes. If he said he expected a tithe, I'd buy another Vonnegut book. Yessir, I'd go door-to-door seeking converts to his form of absurd and giddy Humanism. Amen, pass the snuff-box.
Profile Image for mark monday.
1,677 reviews5,253 followers
June 27, 2019
rope-a-dope is a boxing tactic of pretending to be trapped against the ropes, goading an opponent to throw tiring ineffective punches. rope-a-dope is a tactic employed by Winston Niles Rumfoord as he blithely controls the fates of his wife Beatrice, entrepreneur Malachi Constant, the buffoonish and warlike Martians, and of course all of the humans crowding up this planet Earth. they try to push back against this immaterial man, beamed to them with his hound of space Kazak for less than an hour, every few months, full of plans that will change their identities, change their ultimate destinies. they take their swings, throw their punches, they tire themselves out. they don't even see the knock-out coming.

Vonnegut employs his own sort of tactics. he's a playful author and a serious thinker. such a delightful tale; such darkness below the surface. this a breezy story about the dismantling of faith and religion as the only way to save humanity. this is a cheerful story about long-game manipulation, memories wiped, rape, friend killing friend, and genocide used to bring people together. this is an upbeat story about lives upended, dreams destroyed, and exile from all of your kind. the lovely sirens of Titan call to readers and characters, beckoning them to a place of delight; those lovely sirens live on Saturn's moon, statues submerged in a pool of green muck and murk, ignored.
Profile Image for Tom Quinn.
552 reviews165 followers
December 22, 2020
This is not just one of Vonnegut's best books. It's one of the best books I've ever read.
Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 5 books4,100 followers
January 20, 2019
I'm one of those people who like to pick on the super popular works of SF especially when the literary intelligencia has deemed so-and-so SF writers better than the common hoi polloi. I have to see what is up with them, find a reason to bring them back to the SF fold rather than the claustrophobic Literary BS.

So what happens when I pick up Vonnegut and read him?

I like him. Again. Damn it. In fact, The Sirens of Titan may be my favorite. It's a toss-up between The Breakfast of Champions and this. Slaughterhouse Five is third. I was bored the first time I read Cat's Cradle, so I'll leave that off this list. :)

This is a funny book. It tackles so much. Predestination, luck, a god with a nasty sense of humor, more luck as a cosmic joke, and lots of rented tents. Rent a tent! Rent a tent! :)

Ostensibly, this SF pulp novel feels like an SF pulp novel with spaceships, a war with Mars, little music loving aliens on Mercury, and a mad ancient sculptor on Titan. Add a little shock to the system with all time and space open to ya and your cosmic dog, and all the good and bad luck of the universe will befall our MC. :)

Again, pretty wild.

So what is this? A pulpy-SF from '58? It's certainly light, funny, and entertaining.

But I suppose it's gotten the attention it has gotten for one big reason. It has depth, too. A lot to say about God. Insanity. Memory. And almost nothing good to say about modern society. It is, in every respect, a light satire.

More importantly, it's great writing. :) I totally recommend this to everyone.
Profile Image for Michael || TheNeverendingTBR.
479 reviews191 followers
June 26, 2022
"A purpose of human life, no matter who is controlling it, is to love whoever is around to be loved." ♡

Another masterpiece from an author that always blows me away with his great ideas.

It is disturbing in parts and amusing in others. I really enjoyed it!

It's a story about Winston Miles Rumfoord who gets caught (with his dog) in a time anomoly (a chronosynchlastic infundibulum) where he is held outside of time. He materialises on earth periodically at the home of his wife (very privately - no one admitted) but on one occurance he invites a playboy Malachi Constant to attend one of these materialisations. He informs Malachi that he will travel to Mars, Mercury and Titan and that Malachi and Rumfoord's wife Beatrice will have a son Chrono. Both Malachi and Beatrice try to prevent the future, but circumstances work against them and end up on Mars and eventually end up on Titan.

On Titan is a stranded being called Salo from Tralfamadore waiting for a spare part for his spaceship to enable him to carry on his journey. He has been there for over 200,000 years watching the Earth and waiting for a message from home.
Profile Image for Valeriu Gherghel.
Author 6 books1,443 followers
April 27, 2023
Să zicem: o satiră a condiției umane.

Senzația rămîne permanent că Vonnegut mobilizează un bombardier nuclear plus o divizie de tancuri în scopul de a captura un iepure șchiop. Înzestrările lui Vonnegut sînt la apogeu (ironie, inventivitate, voie bună etc., era tînăr, avea 37 de ani), dar romanul nu poate fi mai mult decît o glumă pe seama cititorilor naivi. Intriga amuză și cam atît. Fiind la rîndu-mi extrem de naiv, nu pot scăpa de senzația asta (a glumei).

Repet, nu este un SF propriu-zis, este o parodie. Deși criticii pretind că romanul în cauză propune (și) o meditație despre liberul arbitru și fatalitate, n-am găsit nici o pagină care să corespundă caracterizării.
Profile Image for Richard Derus.
2,971 reviews1,983 followers
September 4, 2017
Rating: 3.5* of five

I read this book when I was a teenager in the 1970s. I missed a lot of assumptions, like the one where it's okay for a man to discuss his own wife "being bred" by another man; the one where black people all speak in dialect, obviating the need to mention their skin color; the one about homosexual sex being offensive; I'm at a loss, as a 695-month-old reader with literally thousands more books under my expansive mental belt, how this 1950s prejudice whipped past my allegedly enlightened 1970s sensibilities.

Two stars off.

The Tralfamadorian Salo, tangerine-colored mechanical man whose millions of years of lightspeed travel get interrupted by an unexpected landing on the balmy, verdant shores of Titan, also gets the stink-eye from my increasingly myopic baby greens. Winston Niles Rumfoord, the chrono-synclastically infundibulated spacetime sprinter, becomes his buddy? Salo spends inordinate amounts of energy, for a Tralfamadorian, setting WNR (a note to come on these initials) up and making his life on Titan extraordinarily pleasant. That has more than a faint whiff of colonial privilege, Salo being the first inhabitant of Titan though not native to it, who expends all his energies to improve the lot of an ungrateful, entitled newcomer.

Another star off.

Malachi Constant, reasonably dim, phenomenally lucky, is summoned to Rumfoord's famous reappearance after he's been chrono-synclastically infundibulated (seriously, if you're ever in a foul humor or just draggy, say or better yet type, "chrono-synclastic infundibulum." Your smile muscles will automatically activate and your crow's-feet will dance) in order to converse with the great man, though why he's so great really isn't much discussed. And what happens? Constant is turned into an unlucky pauper and press-ganged to Mars to fight a fake war with real casualties designed to unite the people of earth. In service of this goal, Malachi Constant has his identity stripped from him, mechanical thought-control devices implanted in him, and he's specifically made subject to a black man's total control to symbolize his utter dehumanization.

More racism, fewer stars. What are we down to, one? I'll snatch that one back for black-man-as-nature-gawd-of-Mercury, Boaz using his natural rhythm (urp) to feed the harmoniums off his superiorly rhythmic pulse in preference to Unk/Malachi's more, what? bland? attenuated?, white man's pulse.

No stars for you, Vonnegut. Zip. Zero. Rien. Nada.

So whence cometh the three-and-a-half stars above? The Church of God the Utterly Indifferent. The mass religion of billions who know with the simple certainty of faith that God couldn't pick you out in a police line-up and couldn't possibly care less about you, your prayers, your troubles, and your existence or non-existence. You don't matter to God.

That is the single best take-away from reading this book. The assurance with which Vonnegut adduces the non-existence of God's interest in humanity is worth all three and a half stars I've rated the book. This isn't the reason I suspect people want to read a novel. It isn't my first thought on picking up a novel. But it damn sure makes for a great end! Though I have to say the ending of this novel, as opposed to its end in the sense of purpose, is...it's...on the bland side. Things rather stop than end. After a long, long time passes, the show rings down the curtain and you don't have to go home but you can't stay here.

I remembered this novel as a Big Deal, a game-changer for me, and so it might have been in my teens. I think encountering a created world in which the Indifference of the Divine was simply accepted as fact, and the attitude towards the accumulation of money was sneeringly superior to those who merely grub after gold in the mud resonated strongly with my noblesse oblige sense of wealth as responsibility not opportunity.

Another entry in the "re-read at your own risk" files. I might have liked it better left un-re-read.
Profile Image for Baba.
3,618 reviews983 followers
September 4, 2020
SF Masterworks 18 - Vonnegut Jr's second published work - reputedly the whole plot was put together at the spur of the moment with no prior planning, when he was asked about his next book! So, first published in 1959, this comedic (yes I said comedic) sci-fi story, although showing all the hallmarks of Vonnegut Jnr's future greatness somehow gets a bit lost for me, not knowing if it is a comedy or an all encompassing look at the possible futility of human existence!

This does strike me as one of those books you need to read more than once to fully appreciate. I enjoyed the first half of the book, with the richest man in the world, Malachi Constant, getting caught up in a conspiracy with 'unwitting' time traveller and seer, Winston Niles Rumford; it's the shenanigans that result from Rumford's attempted manipulation of human history that kind of lost me. 4 out of 12.
Profile Image for Klinta.
334 reviews159 followers
May 30, 2020
This book is so fantastic and crazy, yet at the same time so thought inducing and relatable. More than any book it showed the pointlessness of human life and also life goal and aim.

The story felt flexible enough to allow it to be what the reader would like it to be. It felt like the reader could strengthen their beliefs by reading this book, no matter what your beliefs were - it was all there - free will or control, religion and search of meaning, inequality and envy.

I loved his style and the repetitiveness that sometimes appeared. It seemed so well placed and brilliant.

Oh and I thought this is a handbook Elon Musk must be living by.
Profile Image for MJ Nicholls.
2,049 reviews4,117 followers
September 29, 2010
Wow. I'd forgotten quite how amazing a writer is Mr. Kurt Vonnegut. The Sirens of Titan is his second novel, and already his voice is developed to its peak: the irony, the cynicism, the repetition, the bleakness, the heartbreaking.

This book moved me more than his other works. Something about these sad, lonely and powerless characters fighting their fates in a dark, unfeeling cosmos. It is a bleak, emotionally resonant work, far more moving than Slaughterhouse 5 or Breakfast of Champions.

You can also see how influential this book was on Douglas Adams. The Hitchhikers Guide series, one might argue, is a whimsical offshoot of this novel.

A classic. Easily in his top three novels.

Profile Image for Steven  Godin.
2,489 reviews2,373 followers
February 16, 2021

Never really been a fan of the sci-fi genre. Especially when we're talking about blasting off to other planets and moons, or dealing with Martian Invasions. Just not my thing. I only read this because it's Vonnegut - pure and simple - as it's my goal to complete all his novels over time. Had he not wrote this then it's likely I wouldn't have even considered reading it. There is no doubt that he fills The Sirens of Titan with some extravagant concepts - probably more so than all the other Vonnegut novels I've read put together - and again he sticks the knife in with some lacerating satire, but, I just didn't find this as fun as some of his others. Humorous and playful it most certainly is, but upon completion; and only upon completion, did it start to dawn on me that there was something terrifying and sombre about it too. All because of Vonnegut's reluctance not to reveal or answer any of the pertinent questions within until its too late. Clever, to a certain degree. Despite the fact that this is overloaded with bizarre descriptions and situations, the novel is kept from being overly complex thanks to his sharp and simple writing style. Never did I lose track of what was going on. Generally, The Sirens of Titan felt like a casual read. And I never expected that. Religion. Space travel. Philosophical inclinations. A war between Mars and Earth. Scathing satire. Could you imagine if Pynchon had wrote this and made it three times as long? My god! Now that would have been something.

A solid 3/5. I just felt it lacked the backbone of later novels.
Profile Image for Mohammad Hrabal.
295 reviews201 followers
October 25, 2019
اولین کتابی است که از وانه گات می‌خوانم. تخیل قوی، روایت جذاب، طنز تلخ و قصه گویی دلنشین او ستودنی است. ترجمه‌ی آقای بهرامی هم خیلی خوب بود. آخر کتاب پیگفتاری از مترجم درباره‌ی وانه گات و آثار او و همچنین مصاحبه‌ای با وانه گات آورده شده است که آنها هم خواندنی هستند.
عالم جای بی‌اندازه بزرگی است. و جا برای تعداد بی‌اندازه بزرگی از مردم باز است تا درباره‌ی امور جهان حق با آنها باشد و در عین حال با هم موافق نباشند. ص 19 کتاب
گاهی انسان سقوط می‌کند و به وضع�� می‌افتد که چندان هم از وضع جانوران محترمانه‌تر نیست، و این گونه سقوط همیشه رقت انگیز است. و چه رقت انگیز‌تر است هنگامی که مرد سقوط کرده از همه‌ی امتیازها برخوردار بوده است. ص57 کتاب
رامفورد گفت: تکذیب، انکار- چه واژه‌ی زمان شناسانه‌ی به موقعی، البته به شرطی که چنین واژه‌ای وجود داشته باشد. من این حرف را میزنم، و بعد شما مرا تکذیب می‌کنید، آنگاه من شما را تکذیب می‌کنم، و آنگاه کس دیگری از راه می‌رسد و هر دوی ما را تکذیب می‌کند. رامفورد به خود لرزید. چه کابوسی است این، این که همه به صف می‌ایستند تا یکدیگر را تکذیب کنند. ص 61 کتاب
تا به امروز فقط یک چیز یاد گرفته‌ام و آن اینکه عده‌ای از مردم پیشانی دارند و باقی مردم پیشانی ندارند و حتی فارغ التحصیل دانشکده‌ی تجارت هاروارد هم نمی‌تواند بگوید چرا. ص 96 کتاب
گفت: "من قربانی مجموعه‌ای اتفاق بوده‌ام." و شانه‌هایش را بالا کشید و گفت: "همان طور که همه‌ی ما قربانی اتفاق بوده‌ایم." ص 235 کتاب
هیچ کاری که از آدمی سر می‌زند ظالمانه‌تر و خطرناک‌تر و کفرآمیز‌تر از آن نیست که کسی معتقد باشد – معتقد باشد که تقدیر آدمیان، چه خوب و چه بد، در دست خداوند است. ص260 کتاب
برای برخورداری از پشتوانه‌ی دوستی، پشتوانه‌ای که مناسب باشد، داشتن تنها یک دوست برای آدمی کافی است. ص 267 کتاب
چقدر طول کشید تا سرانجام فهمیدیم که یکی از هدف‌های حیات آدمی دوست داشتن دیگران است، دوست داشتن هرکسی که دور و بر ماست و می‌شود دوستش داشت، و هیچ فرقی نمی‌کند که کنترل حیات آدمی در دست کیست. ص 323 کتاب
Profile Image for jade.
489 reviews309 followers
March 6, 2021
“there is no reason why good cannot triumph as often as evil. the triumph of anything is a matter of organization. if there are such things as angels, i hope that they are organized along the lines of the mafia.”

this is a story about a man and his dog.

they materialize in a backyard every 59 days and impart the wisdom of the future onto nearby bystanders and the man’s butler. his wife will not listen.

this is also a story about a very lucky billionaire whose luck runs out.

he ends up in the far reaches of the universe, visiting mars and mercury and titan; all in pursuit of the lovely sirens the man with the dog has promised him. and since the man with the dog knows the future, the billionaire eagerly follows his advice.

there are many others, too, albeit more on the periphery of the story: a respectable businesswoman who becomes a teacher and a mother; a young delinquent with a good luck charm; a best friend who dies horribly; a soldier looking for more balance in his life and finding it underground.

but most of all, this is a story about the meaning of life.

© Chris Moore

i thought this was a clever, well-crafted read.

vonnegut has quite the philosophical story to tell that genuinely makes you think as he strips back the narrative layer by layer. don’t be surprised if a character ends up becoming (or being) the total opposite of who you thought they were at the start.

and yet he writes with charm and humor, which i honestly hadn’t expected. but i’m glad he did, because it made this story so much more fun to read. there’s an absurdist, surreal undertone to the entire book that’s only enhanced by these little humorous moments, making for an entertaining (and timeless!) reading experience.
“sometimes i think it is a great mistake to have matter that can think and feel. it complains so. by the same token, though, i suppose that boulders and mountains and moons could be accused of being a little too phlegmatic.”
and even though the premise seems so simple -- billionaire who loses everything seeks fortune in space aided by all-seeing man with dog -- i’m pretty sure you could write 40+ page essays attempting to analyze the amount of literary stuff that vonnegut slipped in there.

paying attention to characters’ names and keeping greek mythology in mind when it comes to planets and other locations should already cover a lot of it, i think.

there’s A LOT of social commentary in here, too. mostly about the ways in which us humans delude ourselves into finding meaning or purpose for our lives; how we attempt to explain away the existence of our world, of the universe. the emptiness that we end up chasing without appreciating what’s right in front of us.
“the big trouble with dumb bastards is that they are too dumb to believe there is such a thing as being smart.”
organized religion gets a huge kick to the curb in this discussion as well. “the church of god the utterly indifferent” had me in stitches. divine providence will not save you in vonnegut’s book, no matter how hard you may wish it were so.

this is definitely a book about ideas and our overarching humanity rather than it is about individual characters. the inherent tragedy -- chasing the nonexistent meaning of life and the universe rather than living it -- of it all invites a sense of nihilistic melancholia.

in that aspect, it firmly reminded me of other classics such as the hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy (humorous tone & surrealist vibes included) or even the great gatsby (re: the melancholic / nostalgic feelings).

i do think i personally prefer a book like hitchhiker’s.

sirens is very much about the journey, revealing its final message only in the last few pages of the book. and in doing so, it invites a much larger amount of needless suffering: rape, execution, war, death. these characters dance like marionettes under the control of something they aren’t even aware of.

hitchhiker’s is upfront about it much sooner, employing a much lighter tone. the universe is one big joke, but we’re all in on it. and if nothing matters, why should we not choose to have fun rather than do boring shit all day?

that is not to say that these books are exactly the same and fully comparable; vonnegut definitely has a couple of harder truths to deliver than douglas adams ever does, i think. plus, it’s obviously very subjective which of the two stories ends up resonating with you the most.

i think my own preference comes from the fact that despite its final message and continuous humor, sirens mostly made me feel empty inside rather than comforted by what it had to say.

© Jim Burns

a pleasant surprise while reading this was how timeless it felt. seriously! for 90% of the book, i was barely even noticing i was reading a story first published in 1959.

however, we do get a few blasts from the past which i still want to address.

first of all, the weird racist things: the only black character speaks very differently from all the others despite all of them being either english, american or alien. there’s also emphasis on the fact that he’s by far the physically strongest and most imposing character.

there’s also a bit of an obsession with the only prominent female character starting to look more and more like an indian (and / or ‘gypsy queen’) as the book goes along, brown skin included. this in direct contrast to when she was young and happy, which is explicitly referenced multiple times through a painting of her dressed in all white with pale skin.

and then there’s the fact that when the same prominent female character gets raped, her husband makes an incredibly tasteless joke about it. and once the book is getting ready to deliver its final message and all characters have learned their lesson, her final act is to… thank her rapist for raping her.

… yeah. that’s the culmination of her arc. i did NOT see that one coming.

but the one i’ll end on is the oldest published ‘no homo’ i have encountered so far. it was so far out of left field that i think i barked a surprised scoff of a laugh when i read it. judge for yourself:
“salo didn't think he could stand that because he loved winston niles rumfoord. there was nothing offensive in this love. that is to say, it wasn't homosexual.”
hey, 1959? ursula k. le guin is calling from 1969. the left hand of darkness just dropped. any comments?

© Craig Atteberry

so where does that leave us?

i think this book is a great recommendation for anyone who wants to read an exploration of free will and the meaning of life in a science-fiction setting. it’s got plenty of layers and philosophy, and its dry wit and absurdist commentary serve it very well.

vonnegut’s style of writing, tone, and prose were undoubtedly my favorite things about the novel. it’s also made me a lot more interested in the rest of his work.

however, i also struggle to put a proper rating to the sirens of titan. because even though i can recognize that it’s pretty damn well-written and approaches its subject matter in a clever and original way, it simply did not manage to fully grab and engage me.

part of that was its bleakness; part of that was its treatment of the only prominent female character and its no homo vibes. which is, of course, intertwined with its bleakness as it profoundly changes its message on free will for a female character versus a male character.

i will say this: i, too, wish i could live in the beautiful crystal caves of mercury and spend the rest of my life cuddling with translucent kites that are happily listening to my heartbeat. though maybe only if i can get 5G on top of it.

3.0 stars.
Profile Image for Nicholas Perez.
439 reviews96 followers
April 12, 2022
Read for my resolution to read Classic Sci-Fi

3/5 stars.

This isn't my first Kurt Vonnegut. I read Slaughterhouse-Five back in high school, but neither me nor my classmates nor anyone else who went to school in that era remembers it much. Perhaps a re-read is deserved. Hopefully, it'll be better than this.

The Sirens of Titan is about Malachi Constant, also called Unk or the Space Wanderer, the son of one of the world's most richest men. He catches the attention of Winston Niles Rumfoord, a man, along with his dog Kazak, who encountered a strange cosmic anomaly that allows them to physically materialize wherever they want and gives Rumfoord precognition. Along with Rumfoor's wife Beatrice, also called Bee, and her son Chrono, Malachi is thrown into some bizarre space shenanigans that are ultimately a philosophy about meaning in the universe. And boy is it weird.

This was one of the most "Okayest" experiences I've had reading a book. Aside from the ending, I didn't love it a lot--and I'm not saying I loved the ending because it ended. I didn't hate it either, even though there are some unsettling things in here. I just wasn't blown away by it like everyone else was.

Vonnegut answers the mysteries to the universe, particularly about God, but I was neither riled by those answers, nor moved, nor depressed by them. Ultimately, Vonnegut's message is that the universe and/or God doesn't really care about what we do and we should draw some sort of purpose out of that. The thing is, one, Vonnegut doesn't deliver this message in some sort of awe-inspiring way; not his style, I guess. So, I honestly felt like I just had some random stranger on the street walk up to me, say some stuff, and then walk away without it ever hitting me. Second, Vonnegut doesn't seem like he's trying to convince people of this view. Rather, it seems like he's speaking to those who already share his ideology--the influence on Stranger in a Strange Land can be seen!

It's an alright philosophy, I guess, but at some points in the story, it's enacted weirdly. For example, when Malachi gets back to Earth after being on both Mars and Mercury he says "Thank God!" and the minister of the Church of the Utterly Indifferent--Vonnegut's quite playful approach to organized religion--admonishes him for doing so. "Thank God!" isn't necessarily a religious pronouncement or some invoking any God(s). Plenty of non-religious people say it as a knee-jerk response to something good happening; there's no evidence that Malachi was ever religious. Another weird enactment is that when Beatrice/Bea is banished to Titan along with Malachi and their son Chrono, it is done because her accusers claim that she sees herself as unique among humanity, if not by God then herself. Where did she act like this or do this??? At most, she was just tired of Rumfoord's shit which by the end of the book I was too.

The book's plot doesn't really exist beyond Malachi has to go to Titan with Bea/Beatrice and Chrono because Rumfoord said so. There's also something about three beautiful siren women who don't make any actual appearances beyond artwork and pictures. Seriously! What is the point of the sirens!? Towards the end of the book we're told that Malachi knew what they once meant, but what is that? His sexual/romantic desires?

In terms of characters, I kind of like Malachi and Bea/Beatrice only because of what they went through. Every other character, except the robot Salo, was just either dislikeable or not memorable. Malachi is forced to go through some weird stuff in space he doesn't understand, war, and being forced to kill his best friend and loneliness. Bea/Beatrice has to deal with being treated like shit and having to tell everyone off. At one point we learn that Malachi, with no control over his own body as far as I can tell, raped Bea/Beatrice and that's how Chrono came to be. She later thanks Malachi for this--LIKE SERIOUSLY WHAT THE HELL!? Eventually they both die at an old age and Chrono goes and lives with the Titan birds or something. Malachi is taken back to Earth by Salo who just wanted a friend and before he dies Salo lets Malachi have a vision of his dead best friend take him to Heaven. It was actually kind of sad, but it was the only moment I felt moved by.

Maybe I should have just gone back to Slaughterhouse-Five, I don't know. This was just okay.
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