I’ve been looking forward to getting to know Kurt Vonnegut’s works for a long time now, and when an Audible 2-for-1 deal offered The Sirens of Titan up along with Murakami’s Kafka on The Shore, I couldn’t very well keep away, could I?
Winston Niles Rumfoord is stuck inside a weird wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey thing that allows his conscience to penetrate time; however, there’s a catch – he can only manifest throughout different parts of the Solar System for very small windows of time. It’s very complicated but it doesn’t stop this man, this spacefaring millionaire from dictating the fate of humanity.
What is human life all about, anyway? That’s the question at the centre of this novel, the question that plagues Rumfoord, that pushes him to create his church of “God the Utterly Indifferent” through downright Machiavellian manipulations. How does Rumfoord do that? Through the creation of a militaristic Martian civilization, the funds for which are funnelled through Swiss banks by his ancient, loyal butler. Said Martian civilization is then used as a blunt object to batter all of Earthen humanity, but not in the way you would think.
But Winston Niles Rumfoord’s pulling of strings does not end there; the story we follow is that of Winston’s wife, Beatrice Rumfoord, and of Malachi Constant, the richest, most deprived human on the face of the Earth. For both of them, free will and choice are more important than anything – to see it taken away from them for Winston Niles Rumfoord’s own ends was entertaining and unsettling at once. Malachi was a despicable human being to start with, whose journey made him sympathetic and downright pitiful. Beatrice meanwhile seems a victim of circumstance, afraid of living her life, happy to watch it go past her. Add in to this a pair of Martian soldiers by the names of Unk and Boaz, a teenage boy called Kronos, and an extra-terrestrial robot, and you’ve got something special.
The Sirens of Titan is absurd, it’s ridiculous, and it offers us a beautiful branch of humanism based not on kowtowing to some watchful God but on people’s willingness to make of life what they will. The ironic undertones, the absurd situations our main characters find themselves in, and the ridiculous revelation about the purpose of human life on Earth towards the end of the novel make for a memorable hop through the Solar System. I suspect that a certain bloke by the name of Douglas Adams read this and said to himself, “Hey, there’s an idea…”
The narration, courtesy of Jay Snyder, only added to the enjoyment. The voice of Winston Niles Rumfoord was filled with wry amusement, dripping with irony or whatever other emotion Rumfoord shows. Snyder’s performance did what all the best narrators are capable of dong – it breathed life into every character in The Sirens of Titan.
I couldn’t have asked for a better introduction to Vonnegut’s work. This is satire first, science-fiction second, and there’s plenty you’ll love, whether you’re a sci-fi reader or not. My score for it is 5/5 on Goodreads.
"Say what you will about the sweet miracle of unquestioning faith, I consider a capacity for it terrifying and absolutely vile!"
You’ll enjoy this novel if:
- You’re up for an outrageous romp through the Solar System;
- You’re looking for a real scene-stealer of a character – Winston Niles Rumfoord is certainly that!
- And Much More! Prob’ly.