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Book Discoveries: The Sirens of Titan

The Sirens of Titan
Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., by my own personal standards, is quite possibly the God of creativity and existential thought.….at least as far as putting it to literature goes. Lately, I’ve decided to ‘go back’ and read some of his classics. For those who haven’t yet already read Cat’s Cradle please do, as it will make your head spin in all the right ways. I am definitely one who has added “busy, busy, busy” to my list of appropriate responses of the question, “how are you?”

The oldie-but-goodie book of this month for me was, however, The Sirens of Titan. A novel in which Vonnegut not only seeks to question what the meaning of life is and why we are here, but also seems to, well, answer it. If you were a fan of The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, but weren’t quite sure “42” sufficed, then I highly recommend The Sirens of Titan as your next plan – though, the latter came before the former and undoubtedly influenced Douglas Adams, there’s still a chance some of us read one before the other.

The Sirens of Titan begins with our two main characters meeting for the first time in a fabulously decorated, rich and luxurious house (complete with a magical waterfall): Winston Niles Rumfoord (an astronaut, who, while traveling space wound up in a chrono-synclastic infundibulum and now can only materialize at infrequent intervals on earth) and Malachi Constant (the wealthiest man of the 22nd century). Rumfoord, as a consequence of being in the infundibulum, now has the gift of seeing the future and relates to Constant the events that will unfold in his near future, including Malachi’s travels to Mars, Mercury, and finally to Saturn’s moon Titan. (If you are wondering what a “chrono-synclastic infundibulum” is, then you can refer to Vonnegut’s own definition which says that it’s a place where “all the different kinds of truths fit together” – the effect of being caught in said infundibulum is essentially to become a kind of quantum wavelength.)

The book primarily revolves around a Martian invasion of Earth, but the events leading up to the war and the events afterwards are really the fruit of the novel. I don’t feel I am at liberty to spoil much of what occurs as the mystery is part of the experience, but I can say that there is nothing quite like reading about “The church of God the utterly indifferent” to make you question your own humanity. Vonnegut has a history of pushing people to reconsider the obscure belief that humans are somehow the center point of the universe. It’s a humbling piece of work, for starters, but it is also one that makes you question your own truths which you hold relevant in your life. As all the followers of the new religion recall: “Take care of the People, and God Almighty will Take Care of Himself.”

The Sirens of Titan was first published in 1956 and was Vonnegut’s second novel after Player Piano. In his later years, Vonnegut would grade each of his novels, giving The Sirens of Titan an A and Player Piano a B. His latter works seemed to score higher on his personal scale, though only two made the A-plus group: Cat’s Cradle and Slaughterhouse-Five.

So, if you are feeling sad and depressed and want to feel happy again, DON’T read this book – but, if you are willing to ask yourself some of the ultimate questions about human existence and get an honest opinion about the fragility of life, then I suggest being brave and reading The Sirens of Titan. I do, though, also recommend having a beer on hand to help with the aftermath.

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