The Sirens Of Titan


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When Winston Niles Rumfoord flies his spaceship into a chrono-synclastic infundibulum he is converted into pure energy and only materializes when his waveforms intercept Earth or some other planet. As a result, he only gets home to Newport, Rhode Island, once every fifty-nine days and then only for an hour. But at least, as a consolation, he now knows everything that has ever happened and everything that ever will be. He knows, for instance, that his wife is going to Mars to mate with Malachi Constant, the richest man in ...

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Dec 16, 2008

Challenging people's perceptions (SPOILER ALERT!)

Vonnegut?s The Sirens of Titan is centered on Winston Niles Rumfoord, a man who becomes ever-present across a spectrum of time and space, and his manipulations of mankind. Materializing and dematerializing at regular intervals, Rumfoord exists on multiple planets throughout the solar system, and perceives the past and future as if they were the present. The plot begins with the first man that Rumfoord allows to visit with him: Malachi Constant, the richest man in the country. Upon meeting Rumfoord, Constant finds that all his wealth and success are of no significance when compared to the significance of Rumfoord. Rumfoord tells Malachi step by step how his future will be spent across the solar system and that he cannot escape this destiny. This future becomes inescapable when Constant eventually finds himself with a new identity in a Martian army, having no recollection of his past life. By starting a ?war? between mankind and this army composed of abducted earthlings, Rumfoord manipulates mankind into uniting into one force, and ultimately, a new world religion. Through his manipulations, Rumfoord leads mankind into a supposed state of peace and harmony, but at the cost of many lives and the reputations of several key characters. The story ends on Titan, the largest of Saturn?s moons, where the purpose of life on earth is revealed to be a byproduct of alien manipulations from far away in order to complete a mundane task. Even the powerful Rumfoord can do nothing to alter the ultimate destiny and purpose of mankind.
Vonnegut?s The Sirens of Titan dives deep into the philosophies of free will vs. destiny. The idea of inescapable destiny is heavily engrained in that, even when told the future by Rumfoord, neither Constant nor Bea nor anybody else is able to avoid the events foretold to them. In learning that the sole purpose of mankind is a manipulation to produce a replacement part in a spaceship, even the poly-present Rumfoord finds himself to be part of an inescapable destiny which bears no significance to mankind itself. However, Vonnegut clearly illustrates that everybody makes their own choices. Although the plot plays out exactly as Rumfoord predicts, the ?paths? to those ends are left open-ended and the story progresses in an unpredictable spur-of-the-moment manner. At the end of the story, Bea points out that the ?purpose? of mankind is so unrelated to the actual events taken to achieve that purpose, that the history of mankind has not been manipulated into anything absolute.
Though the mass populations of people in The Sirens of Titan behave in a very predictable way, Vonnegut was careful to give his main characters a lot of depth ? none of them are quite what they seem. For example, Rumfoord is often portrayed as being indifferent and heartless in the way that he manipulates and interacts with people; however, this is only because he is content that he cannot change anything in the present. Although Rumfoord ends up bringing humanity into unity, he does it at a high cost that raises a lot of moral questions ? is it right to sacrifice the lives of others for the good of the whole? Who is Rumfoord that he can make that decision? As all-knowing and all-powerful as Rumfoord is made out to be, he is revealed in the end to be just as subjective to his emotions and flawed as the next man: He is upset that humanity is being manipulated, and therefore manipulates humanity himself ? which is only a ?better cause? from the perspective of mankind.
Vonnegut makes excellent use of symbolism throughout his work, drawing parallels between characters, objects, and events that make bold statements. For example, the fountain on the Rumfoord estate, the sirens on Titan, as well as all of the main characters in the story all follow a set purpose and function. Like the people of earth, the ?words? that the Martian snare drum ?speaks? are so unrelated to its actual purpose that they are immediately dismissed as gibberish. Mankind, Rumfoord, and Salo are all under different subsets of manipulation/control, regardless of their own goals.
Although it may seem as though Vonnegut is pressing ideas of destiny over free will or self-determinism over the concept of mankind being under the control of a God, those questions are left open-ended, leaving the reader to question these concepts for him/herself. None of the main characters are perfect, which leaves a question as to whether or not their philosophies are flawed as well. The Sirens of Titan is an excellent book designed to help people to think and rethink their philosophies on free will, determinism, and morality. Vonnegut has successfully given his readers a lot of material to draw parallels and form their own conclusions of, while wrapping it all up in an exciting unpredictable plot that changes directions at every turn.


Dec 2, 2008

Thought-provoking and a witty social commentary

Kurt Vonnegut?s The Sirens of Titan begins as the protagonist, Malachi Constant, an arrogant, impulsive multibillionaire, learns his destiny. Divulging the revelation to Constant is Winston Niles Rumfoord, a man who manipulates everyone in the story in order to bring about the ends that he desires. Before interacting with Constant, Rumfoord had gallantly steered his private spacecraft into a ?chrono-synclastic infundibulum.? Passing through this outer-space phenomenon locked him in an endless spiral ?with its origin in the Sun and its terminal in Betelgeuse,? (8) enabling him to read minds and predict the future. Rumfoord prophesizes that Constant will be mated with Rumfoord?s own wife (Beatrice), travel to Mars, Mercury, back to Earth, and finally to Titan, a satellite of the planet Saturn. Rumfoord then constructs a small civilization on Mars and leads it on a suicidal mission to take over Earth. The guilt the earthlings feel when they realize they have slaughtered their own serves as a catalyst for a new religion on Earth. Rumfoord?s Deistic religion teaches that God is completely indifferent to the welfare of humankind. In spite of Rumfoord?s perception of being in control of the world, it is eventually revealed that he and every earthling have been manipulated all along by a distant planet with the sole purpose of getting a replacement part to their messenger stranded on Titan.

Manifested in this work are many of the qualities Vonnegut is famous for: his satire, dry wit and incredible settings and characters (e.g., an infundibulated man creates a goofball-eating army on Mars with the help of a stranded robot from the all-controlling planet of machines, Tralfamadore). Some critics complain at how totally unbelievable the story is, but they fail to grasp Vonnegut?s ultimate purpose in writing The Sirens of Titan. By no means was he attempting to employ hard science or construct rational situations, in fact, it is Vonnegut?s ability to break free from these types of constraints that makes him the writer he is. Every time it seems as if the ?big secret? of the story is revealed, another emerges, always something radical and challenging. Even if a reader is offended by an aspect of the story, or thinks the plotline is bogus, the wit and astounding imagination of Vonnegut are enough to hold attention.

Part of the genius of Vonnegut is that he is able to place serious themes ? religion, the notion that human beings are the center of the focus of a divine being, war, the purpose of existence, the family, society ? in strange, comical situations that entertain the reader, but also cause him or her to drop his or her guard, enabling an examination of the themes in much greater depth than would be possible if done in a different manner. For example, the alien Tralfamadorian machine reflects on over 200,000 years of observing mankind, ?The Earthlings behaved at all times as though there were a big eye in the sky ? as though that big eye were ravenous for entertainment? (281).

Possibly the most important and enjoyable gift The Sirens of Titan offers to its readers is the discussion it stimulates. Malachi Constant represents humanity?s incessant need for power and control. He is excessively arrogant and feels insecure and violated whenever his superiority is threatened. What does that say about Vonnegut?s thoughts on human nature? The pre-ordained future that the characters are trying to avoid represents humanity?s struggle for free will. The characters cannot escape their plotline, which suggests that humans in the real world have no free will. Are humans controlled by a higher power? Are humans enticed into the illusion of believing they are in control by their inherent feelings of superiority? Raising these types of questions is one of Vonnegut?s greatest abilities.

The book's message regarding the meaning of life can be interpreted in many different ways. The most obvious meaning of the novel is that mankind's purpose was to be the tool of aliens to serve a trivial end (producing a spare part for a space ship). Tralfamadore influenced all of human history; everything humankind accomplished was actually an accomplishment of the Tralfamadorians. They even relayed messages to their messenger through the humans, ?The meaning of Stonehenge in Tralfamadorian, when viewed from above, is: ?Replacement part being rushed with all possible speed?? The Great Wall of China means in Tralfamadorian, when viewed from above: ?Be patient. We haven?t forgotten about you.? The Golden House of the Roman Emperor Nero meant: ?We are doing the best we can.?[etc.]? (276-77). This would mean that man's existence is ultimately pointless. Vonnegut has been known to deliver such pessimistic predictions on humanity, but there is another interpretation. The other more satisfying way to look at it is that the meaning of life is a mystery that when revealed will surprise everyone ? depressing some and uplifting others. Actually, each character has his or her own verdict on what the meaning of life is judging from their past experiences recounted in the story. Beatrice Rumfoord says ?The worst thing that could possibly happen to anybody would be to not be used for anything by anybody? Thank you for using me, even though I didn?t want to be used by anybody? (317). Malachi Constant decides, ?A purpose of human life, no matter who is controlling it, is to love whoever is around to be loved? (320).

For science fiction readers searching for something deeper than fantastic voyages or space operas, they have found the pot of gold in Kurt Vonnegut?s The Sirens of Titan. This creative, witty social commentary leaves the reader contemplating society, religion and the meaning of life. If he or she is able to resist the depressing outlook of the story then this deeply thought-provoking novel will more than satisfy.


Oct 18, 2007

Not Vonnegut's best, but still good.

One of Kurt Vonnegut's lesser-known works, The Sirens of Titan is an exploration of fate, science, and human nature; basically, it's a classic humorous twist on life. I personally did not like this book as much as Vonnegut's other works (the material, though presented in a light-hearted manner, is fairly deep and sometimes depressing), but it was a good read, nonetheless.


Apr 4, 2007

intergalactic & scynical sci fi

Vonnegut spins an eloquent tale that holds the readers attention and also leads him to question the linchpins holding together man and his mind.

An interesting and colorful story that is definitely science fiction, but also maybe just a comment on the habitual man. It may be a bit lacking in true depth, but it seems to make up for that with wild imagination.

Well worth picking up, you may not put it down until you finish it!

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