The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. begs the question of just how will Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. be remembered. In fact, will he be remembered at all? I found the book to be well in step with his early novels. There is a time travelling man and dog who appear regularly appear on Earth wondering about the house where the man’s disgruntled wife spends her days fighting off tourists and religious fanatics who want to see the space man. There is the richest man in the world who loses his fortune and finds himself on a rocket ship bound for Jupiter. There is an alien from Tralfamador, marooned on Titan, one of Jupiter’s moon’s, waiting through the centuries for the replacement part his rocket needs to arrive. And there is the suicidal Martian invasion of Earth that ends in the creation of a new religion, The Church of God the Utterly Indifferent.

It’s all in good fun with a dash or two of metaphysics thrown in. Maybe a splash of social criticism here and there for good measure. I enjoyed it, but I also found it very 60’s. I’ve been reading Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. most of my life, probably for the last 30 years. Now that I’ve finished this one, I think I’ve read all of his published work, so you can count me as a fan. But I wonder if anyone will be reading him two or three generations from now. If they are, I suspect they’ll be reading Slaughterhouse Five. Maybe a few graduate students will still be reading the rest of his novels, but I’m not sure.

It feels natural to wonder about this regarding Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. since so many of his books, The Sirens of Titan included, deal with the issue of time and the notion that all time exists simultaneously. Everything that will happen has already happened. The time travelling man and dog in The Sirens of Titan are like Billy Pilgrim in Slaughterhouse Five, unstuck in time and space. They travel to the future and back, from planet to planet, experiencing it all as happening at once. Billy Pilgrim could choose which parts of his life he could visit. I hope Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. can, too. That seems like a fitting heaven for him, a paradise he might want to visit now and then. Actually, it doesn’t sound that bad to me, either.

I first ran this review back on my old blog, Ready When You Are, C.B. shortly after Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. died.  I think it’s still too soon to say how long his legacy will last, but I stand by my comments above. I think the question of how timely vs. timeless his work is is still a legitimate question.  I’m rooting for him.  

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2 Comments

  1. Greg says:

    I need to re-read his novels. I read them one after the other shortly after graduating college, and that didn’t allow the themes and events to sink in. Thank you for the reminder!!

  2. Bella says:

    In high school, I we had to do an author study project. One aspect of this project was to write/rewrite an epilogue for the story. Here is an excerpt from my epilogue to The Sirens of Titan. I intended it to be tribute to his already ingenious literary work.
    13
    Perfect Timing

    “Saturn has nine moons, the greatest of which is Titan.”
    -NARRATOR
    Unk enjoyed the rest of his banishment on Titan. He took Boaz’s advice and loved his mate and son. Chrono refused to return the affection, but Unk didn’t care, he lived a life of bliss on Titan. He felt no pain. Chrono’s apathy and standoffish attitude didn’t bother Unk. Unk just accepted his son’s personality. Unk also decided to take Boaz’s other advice to never be lonely.
    He lived in the same vicinity as his mate and son in his rudimentary teepees. Unk tore down anything that resembled modernization or a higher-educated civilization. He tore it all down, not truly knowing why, but he felt something inside tell him that modern was bad. Modern brought pain. Magnetism was modern. Constant’s office on Earth had floating furniture because of magnetism. Unk didn’t want to be reminded of his old self. So he tore it all down and constructed savagely crude dwellings all over Titan- anywhere in walking or rowing distance from where Chrono decided he would live.
    Constant was never considered the family man type on Earth; Unk was a family man ever since he landed on Titan. Unk centered his life on Bee and Chrono; therefore he began his destruction near the Rumfoord Sea because of Chrono. Chrono enjoyed fishing and detested German Bat Ball; the latter being extremely difficult to do on the sandy shores of the Rumfoord Sea so that was where Chrono planted himself.
    . . .

    “I know you love me. ‘Spite anyone else’s thinking. You love me as best you can.” Boaz smiled with true, unselfish joy as he said this, partly because of the truth in the statement, partly because he felt the harmoniums agreed with him. Boaz knew that his body was beginning to give out. He felt it when he trekked the short distance from his luxurious cave dwelling to the old downed ship which supplied his dietary needs. He felt it when he rolled the boulder over the opening to his cave. Boaz felt old age sinking into his bones whenever he cleaned and shined and shined and cleaned his luscious red boots. “You boys asking Old Boaz for another concert? Is that what you want? Old Boaz’s heartbeat aint as tasty as it used to be, huh?” The few harmoniums lucky enough to feed on the rhythmic vibrations of Boaz’s pulse offered no audible response.
    Boaz never met Salo, so, sadly, he was never informed that true meaning of human existence was to help a machine deliver the message, “greetings” to a planet quite far from said machine’s home planet. Poor, uninformed Boaz lived out the rest of his life believing all life was about was loving everyone and everything and spending time with those you care about. Poor, ignorant Boaz.
    . . .

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