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.

Unique and Interesting Exoplanets

There are many exoplanets in our universe, all with varying characteristics. Here are just a few of them that have been discovered.

#1: The Ocean Planet – GJ1214b

This planet is likely to be an ocean planet, meaning it is entirely covered with one large ocean (no land). It is located about 40 light-years away from Earth.

#2: The Fast Planet – PSRJ1719-14b

Exoplanet PSRJ1719-14b quickly orbits its star; it takes about 2.2 hours for the planet to complete a full orbit around its sun. However, this is not the planet’s only unique characteristic. In addition to its fast orbit, this exoplanet also has a chance of being made of diamonds, although this has not been proved. Diamond planets form when the pressure and temperature are high enough to turn the carbon on the planet into diamonds. It is about 3,914 light-years away from Earth. 

#3: The Dying Planet – WASP-12b

Despite being around the size of Jupiter, this exoplanet is constantly nearing its star. Eventually, the gravity of its star will pull this planet into the star. Currently, this planet is 870.8 light-years away from Earth.

#4: A Large Planet – TrES-4

This planet is over 70% of the size of the largest planet in our solar system, Jupiter. What makes this planet unique, however, is that it has only %75 of the mass of Jupiter, giving it a much lower density. It is 1562.3 light-years away from Earth.

#5: An Old Planet – Methuselah

Estimations predict Methuselah is about 13 billion years old. Scientists believe that at that point in time (13 billion years ago), the materials to form planets were not actually able to form planets. This exoplanet is about 12,400 light-years away from Earth.

These are just a few of the many amazing exoplanets in our universe, with many more still waiting to be discovered.

-Peri A.

James Webb Space Telescope: First Images Revealed Event

Launched on December 25, 2021, the James Webb Space Telescope (or Webb) has the potential to revolutionize astronomy, astrophysics, and other space sciences forever. Last month, the first images from Webb were transmitted back to Earth, and what they show is astonishing.

On Saturday, August 20, the Mission Viejo Library held the James Webb Space Telescope: First Images Revealed event, which showcased the preliminary images received from Webb as well as a live presentation by NASA Solar System ambassadors alongside expert comments and conclusions from video panelists. 

Webb works by using infrared light (or heat, imperceptible to the human eye), to view and capture images from deep space. This new technique complements the Hubble telescope, but it also allows Webb to see extremely far away at distances over 13 billion years away – nearly as old as the universe itself!

One of my favorite images from the presentation was the Carina Nebula, shown to the left. The James Webb Telescope has captured the first image of a star actually being born in a stellar nursery, confirming scientific theories while also raising new questions about the details of star birth. 

I also liked the picture of the deep space field, shown to the right. Although the brightest stars are “photobombing” the image, since they’re part of the Milky Way galaxy, some of the smaller and dimmer spots are actually never-before-seen galaxies, part of the ancient world formed just after the creation of the universe. The curves near the center of the image also show concrete proof of gravitational lensing (or the curving of space-time as theorized by Albert Einstein). 

Despite all of these fascinating discoveries, Webb is far from finished. Not only is there so much left to be discovered and explained about the images it has already sent, it is projected to last for a decade or longer, so it will undoubtedly unveil more and more about the universe we live in. Overall, I really enjoyed the Webb event, and look forward to presentations like this in the future.

Images courtesy of NASA (nasa.gov)

– Mahak M.