Book Review: Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut

From the moment you first begin reading Sirens of Titan, Kurt Vonnegut makes his distinctive voice and writing style very apparent.  When I first picked up the book in the science fiction section, I expected to find a run of the mill sci-fi epic, but instead I found a book that I think is one of the most unique I have ever read.

It begins in Newport, Rhode Island at the renowned Rumfoord estate, where a crowd has gathered, as usual, to watch the materialization of a man and his dog. The crowd is denied access as always, but they continue to show up, as they hope for even the smallest of chances to witness this miracle. This miracle is the appearance of a man by the name of Winston Niles Rumfoord and his dog Kazak, which has happened once every 59 days, due to a mysterious concept Vonnegut has concisely named “Chrono-Synclastic Infundibulum”. This phenomenon stretches Winston and his dog Kazak out across all of space past present and future, making him extremely sought after as a sort of fortune teller who has almost absolute knowledge about the human race and their future as a civilization.

By giving Winston the ability to basically know everything at all times I think Vonnegut makes him a very interesting character, as his actions are the driving force in the story but the purpose behind them isn’t revealed at all until the very end. I would definitely say this makes him the most intriguing character in the book, because from different perspectives he can be seen as the protagonist, antagonist, or even an omnipotent third person at times.

The story begins when a man named Malachi Constant gets a rare invite to this materialization, and ends up on a grand tour of the solar system that Vonnegut uses to question the concepts of free will, friendship, and loneliness. Winston tells Malachi that him and Winston’s current wife Beatrice will fall in love, and end up living out their final days on Titan, Saturn’s largest moon. Malachi and Beatrice’s absolute refusal of their fate and the futility of their actions in the end makes a powerful point about free will, and the progression of these two characters also give the reader insights into Vonnegut’s opinion on loneliness and friendship.

Personally, I really liked this book, because the plot is very unconventional, and Vonnegut’s vision of space and the story he writes are both extremely imaginative. The book also frequently employs the use of satirical and dark humor, which I thought was pretty fitting with the tone of the book as a whole. However, because of the unconventional plot structure of the book the writing can come across as a bit hard to follow, as the story is not made entirely clear until the very end and at many times the setting and focus of the book completely shifts out of nowhere.

Overall, I think this book is worth reading for anyone who is interested in sci-fi used as a medium for a greater message, such as the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey or the Dune Series by Frank Herbert, but also for anyone who wants to try something new or wants a unique and interesting read.

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