The Sirens of Titan – Kurt Vonnegut
Malachi Constant, whose name means faithful messenger, has a rather strange encounter with a man he presumes is giving him an all-important message. That man is Winston Niles Rumfoord, who is chrono-synclastically infundibulated, meaning he exists continuously on the path of a spiral, instead of punctually as the people of Earth do. Rumfoord has the privilege of knowing that everything that ever was, always will be, and similarly that everything that will be, always has been. He can also see what happens in the future, read minds, and do other nifty tricks. He tells Constant that they will meet again on Titan, one of the moons of Saturn. Constant, who is the richest, most depraved man on Earth who has the money and influence to fulfill his every whim, doesn’t know what to make of that. Then, Rumfoord tells him that he also visits Mars, Mercury, and briefly returns to Earth before getting to Titan. Although unable to imagine how it might happen, it all does, and the Constant who ends up on Titan has a lot, and a little, to think about and account for.
There was a lot I loved about “The Sirens of Titan.” I loved that it was more in line with what I normally think of as “science fiction” because it included space travel, unbelievable technology, and a wildly unforeseen and unpredictable future. Vonnegut brings out the usual wordplay dealing with time travel (particularly about existing “punctually”), which is always fun for a little mind-bending contemplation. Overall, though, I felt it was just OK. This novel was heavily steeped in religious commentary, and that’s not a topic I generally like to discuss. I also couldn’t quite follow his arguments – religion means nothing, but humans need a sense of higher purpose, so even when religion means nothing, we still need something to believe in and exist for. Or something like that.
It was a fun read though. The adventures on Mars and Mercury were particularly entertaining. One of my favorite things about science fiction is what solutions it invents for the limits of technology and the laws of physics. For example, there is no need for space suits because the society on Mars uses “goofballs” for breathing – pills that provide x amount of hours of oxygen to be absorbed through the small intestine rather than the lungs. But if you’re in a vacuum, you still need to tape your mouth, nose, and ears shut because otherwise you will die from hemorrhaging. Fun things like that. At times it was light and funny enough to remind me of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (which I think is my gold star standard for science fiction), so it was fun to read, but probably not essential if you’re only going to read a few Vonnegut books.