I read several Kurt Vonnegut novels when I was in high school. I loved them. So, for the 2016 Reading Challenge, I decided to re-read a Kurt Vonnegut novel – but which one? The Seattle Public Library web site told me that a copy of The Sirens of Titan was sitting on the shelf at the Capitol Hill Library. It was one I hadn’t read since high school. I planned to pick it up on my way home from work. Later that same day, Phillip asked me to pick up a hold he had at the Capitol Hill Library. It was perfect timing.
The Sirens of Titan is, I think, about free will – or the lack of it.
Winston Niles Rumfoord and his dog, Kazak, were in a private space ship, traveling from Earth to Mars, when they encountered a chrono-synclastic infundibulum, which turned them both into wave phenomena. After the encounter, they existed as a spiral, stretching across time and space from our sun to Betelgeuse. Whenever a celestial body passes through the spiral, Winston Niles Rumfoord and Kazak materialize there.
They materialize on Earth, inside the Rumfoord estate, once every fifty-nine days. The materializations were private affairs, witnessed only by Mrs. Rumfoord and their butler.
Due to its particular orbit around Saturn, Winston Niles Rumfoord and Kazak always exist on the moon Titan.
Nine years after the encounter with the chrono-synclastic infundibulum, Malachi Constant, a billionaire with incredible luck, receives an invitation to witness a materialization in the Rumfoord estate.
Before he dematerializes, Winston Niles Rumfoord informs Malachi Constant that, in the future, Malachi and Mrs. Rumfoord will be married on Mars ( “Not married exactly – ” he said, “but bred by the Martians – like farm animals.”) and have a son. Winston Niles Rumfoord knows this because, as a wave phenomena, he sees the past, present, and future simultaneously.
Meanwhile, there is a million+ year-old robot named Salo, from the planet Tralfamador, who has crash-landed on Titan. He’s been manipulating the human race, for its entire history, to create the one part he needs to repair his space ship. His space ship is powered by UWTB, the Universal Will To Become – the same energy which created the universe out of nothingness.
Meanwhile, the Army of Mars is planning an invasion of Earth.
The Sirens of Titan is philosophy disguised as silliness. It is complexity disguised as simplicity. I am in awe of how Kurt Vonnegut made writing look so effortless.
The Sirens of Titan was published in 1959. It won a Hugo Award in 1960. It contains the basics of later Kurt Vonnegut novels.
Here’s a fun fact I learned in-between reading The Sirens of Titan and writing this post: Douglas Adams cited The Sirens of Titan as an influence for The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.
- A book you haven’t read since high school
- A science-fiction novel
- A classic from the 20th century
- A book from the library