Nominated as one of America’s best-loved novels by PBS’s The Great American Read
The Sirens of Titan is an outrageous romp through space, time, and morality. The richest, most depraved man on Earth, Malachi Constant, is offered a chance to take a space journey to distant worlds with a beautiful woman at his side. Of course there’ s a catch to the invitation–and a prophetic vision about the purpose of human life that only Vonnegut has the courage to tell.
“Reading Vonnegut is addictive!”—Commonweal
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About the Author
Date of Birth:November 11, 1922
Date of Death:April 11, 2007
Place of Birth:Indianapolis, Indiana
Place of Death:New York, New York
Education:Cornell University, 1940-42; Carnegie-Mellon University, 1943; University of Chicago, 1945-47; M.A., 1971
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The Sirens of Titan
By Kurt Vonnegut
Random HouseKurt Vonnegut
All right reserved.
Between Timid and Timbuktu
"I guess somebody up there likes me."--Malachi Constant
Everyone now knows how to find the meaning of life within himself.
But mankind wasn't always so lucky. Less than a century ago men and women did not have easy access to the puzzle boxes within them.
They could not name even one of the fifty-three portals to the soul.
Gimcrack religions were big business.
Mankind, ignorant of the truths that lie within every human being, looked outward-pushed ever outward. What mankind hoped to learn in its outward push was who was actually in charge of all creation, and what all creation was all about.
Mankind flung its advance agents ever outward, ever outward. Eventually it flung them out into space, into the colorless, tasteless, weightless sea of outwardness without end.
It flung them like stones.
These unhappy agents found what had already been found in abundance on Earth--a nightmare of meaninglessness without end. The bounties of space, of infinite outwardness, were three: empty heroics, low comedy, and pointless death.
Outwardness lost, at last, its imagined attractions.
Only inwardness remained to be explored.
Only the human soul remained terra incognita.
This was the beginning of goodness and wisdom.
Whatwere people like in olden times, with their souls as yet unexplored?
The following is a true story from the Nightmare Ages, falling roughly, give or take a few years, between the Second World War and the Third Great Depression.
There was a crowd.
The crowd had gathered because there was to be a materialization. A man and his dog were going to materialize, were going to appear out of thin air--wispily at first, becoming, finally, as substantial as any man and dog alive.
The crowd wasn't going to get to see the materialization. The materialization was strictly a private affair on private property, and the crowd was empthatically not invited to feast its eyes.
The materialization was going to take place, like a modern, civilized hanging, within high, blank, guarded walls. And the crowd outside the walls was very much like a crowd outside the walls at a hanging.
The crowd knew it wasn't going to see anything, yet its members found pleasure in being near, in staring at the blank walls and imagining what was happening inside. The mysteries of the materialization, like the mysteries of a hanging, were enhanced by the wall; were made pornographic by the magic lantern slides of morbid imaginations--magic lantern slides projected by the crowd on the blank stone walls.
The town was Newport, Rhode Island, U.S.A., Earth, Solar System, Milky Way. The walls were those of the Rumfoord estate.
Ten minutes before the materialization was to take place, agents of the police spread the rumor that the materialization had happened prematurely, had happened outside the walls, and that the man and his dog could be seen plain as day two blocks away. The crowd galloped away to see the miracle at the intersection.
The crowd was crazy about miracles.
At the tail end of the crowd was a woman who weighed three hundred pounds. She had a goiter, a caramel apple, and a gray little six-year-old girl. She had the little girl by the hand and was jerking her this way and that, like a ball on the end of a rubber band. "Wanda June," she said, "if you don't start acting right, I'm never going to take you to a materialization again."
The materializations had been happening for nine years, once every fifty-nine days. The most learned and trustworthy men in the world had begged heartbrokenly for the privilege of seeing a materialization. No matter how the great men worded their requests, they were turned down cold. The refusal was always the same, handwritten by Mrs. Rumfoord's social secretary.
Mrs. Winston Niles Rumfoord asks me to inform you that she is unable to extend the invitation you request. She is sure you will understand her feeling in the matter: that the phenomenon you wish to observe is a tragic family affair, hardly a fit subject for the scrutiny of outsiders, no matter how nobly motivated their curiosities.
Mrs. Rumfoord and her staff answered none of the tens of thousands of questions that were put to them about the materializations. Mrs. Rumfoord felt that she owed the world very little indeed in the way of information. She discharged that incalculably small obligation by issuing a report twenty-four hours after each materialization. Her report never exceeded one hundred words. It was posted by her butler in a glass case bolted to the wall next to the one entrance to the estate.
The one entrance to the estate was an Alice-in-Wonderland door in the west wall. The door was only four-and-a-half feet high. It was made of iron and held shut by a great Yale lock.
The wide gates of the estate were bricked in.
The reports that appeared in the glass case by the iron door were uniformly bleak and peevish. They contained information that only served to sadden anyone with a shred of curiosity. They told the exact time at which Mrs. Rumfoord's husband Winston and his dog Kazak materialized, and the exact time at which they dematerialized. The states of health of the man and his dog were invariably appraised as good. The reports implied that Mrs. Rumfoord's husband could see the past and the future clearly, but they neglected to give examples of sights in either direction.
Now the crowd had been decoyed away from the estate to permit the untroubled arrival of a rented limousine at the small iron door in the west wall. A slender man in the clothes of an Edwardian dandy got out of the limousine and showed a paper to the policeman guarding the door. He was disguised by dark glasses and a false beard.
The policeman nodded, and the man unlocked the door himself with a key from his pocket. He ducked inside, and slammed the door behind himself with a clang.
The limousine drew away.
Beware of the dog! said a sign over the small iron door. The fires of the summer sunset flickered among the razors and needles of broken glass set in concrete on the top of the wall.
The man who had let himself in was the first person ever invited by Mrs. Rumfoord to a materialization. He was not a great scientist. He was not even well-educated. He had been thrown out of the University of Virginia in the middle of his freshman year. He was Malachi Constant of Hollywood, California, the richest American--and a notorious rakehell.
Beware of the dog! the sign outside the small iron door had said. But inside the wall there was only a dog's skeleton. It wore a cruelly spiked collar that was chained to the wall. It was the skeleton of a very large dog--a mastiff. Its long teeth meshed. Its skull and jaws formed a cunningly articulated, harmless working model of a flesh-ripping machine. The jaws closed so--clack. Here had been the bright eyes, there the keen ears, there the suspicious nostrils, there the carnivore's brain. Ropes of muscle had hooked here and here, had brought the teeth together in flesh so--clack.
The skeleton was symbolic--a prop, a conversation piece installed by a woman who spoke to almost no one. No dog had died at its post there by the wall. Mrs. Rumfoord had bought the bones from a veterinarian, had had them bleached and varnished and wired together. The skeleton was one of Mrs. Rumfoord's many bitter and obscure comments on the nasty tricks time and her husband had played on her.
Mrs. Winston Niles Rumfoord had seventeen million dollars. Mrs. Winston Niles Rumfoord had the highest social position attainable in the United States of America. Mrs. Winston Niles Rumfoord was healthy and handsome, and talented, too.
Her talent was a poetess. She had published anonymously a slim volume of poems called Between Timid and Timbuktu. It had been reasonably well received.
The title derived from the fact that all the words between timid and Timbuktu in very small dictionaries relate to time.
But, well-endowed as Mrs. Rumfoord was, she still did troubled things like chaining a dog's skeleton to the wall, like having the gates of the estate bricked up, like letting the famous formal gardens turn into New England jungle.
The moral: Money, position, health, handsomeness, and talent aren't everything.
Malachi Constant, the richest American, locked the Alice-in-Wonderland door behind him. He hung his dark glasses and false beard on the ivy of the wall. He passed the dog's skeleton briskly, looking at his solar-powered watch as he did so. In seven minutes, a live mastiff named Kazak would materialize and roam the grounds.
"Kazak bites," Mrs. Rumfoord had said in her invitation, "so please be punctual."
Constant smiled at that-the warning to be punctual. To be punctual meant to exist as a point, meant that as well as to arrive somewhere on time. Constant existed as a point--could not imagine what it would be like to exist in any other way.
That was one of the things he was going to find out--what it was like to exist in any other way. Mrs. Rumfoord's husband existed in another way.
Winston Niles Rumfoord had run his private space ship right into the heart of an uncharted chrono-synclastic infundibulum two days out of Mars. Only his dog had been along. Now Winston Niles Rumfoord and his dog Kazak existed as wave phenomena--apparently pulsing in a distorted spiral with its origin in the Sun and its terminal in Betelgeuse.
The earth was about to intercept that spiral.
Almost any brief explanation of chrono-synclastic infundibula is certain to be offensive to specialists in the field. Be that as it may, the best brief explanation is probably that of Dr. Cyril Hall, which appears in the fourteenth edition of A Child's Cyclopedia of Wonders and Things to Do. The article is here reproduced in full, with gracious permission from the publishers:
Chrono-Synclastic Infundibula--Just imagine that your Daddy is the smartest man who ever lived on Earth, and he knows everything there is to find out, and he is exactly right about everything, and he can prove he is right about everything. Now imagine another little child on some nice world a million light years away, and that little child's Daddy is the smartest man who ever lived on that nice world so far away. And he is just as smart and just as right as your Daddy is. Both Daddies are smart, and both Daddies are right.
Only if they ever met each other they would get into a terrible argument, because they wouldn't agree on anything. Now, you can say that your Daddy is right and the other little child's Daddy is wrong, but the Universe is an awfully big place. There is room enough for an awful lot of people to be right about things and still not agree.
The reason both Daddies can be right and still get into terrible fights is because there are so many different ways of being right. There are places in the Universe, though, where each Daddy could finally catch on to what the other Daddy was talking about. These places are where all the different kinds of truths fit together as nicely as the parts in your Daddy's solar watch. We call these places chrono-synclastic infundibula.
The Solar System seems to be full of chrono-synclastic infundibula. There is one great big one we are sure of that likes to stay between Earth and Mars. We know about that one because an Earth man and his Earth dog ran right into it.
You might think it would be nice to go to a chrono-synclastic infundibulum and see all the different ways to be absolutely right, but it is a very dangerous thing to do. The poor man and his poor dog are scattered far and wide, not just through space, but through time, too.
Chrono (kroh-no) means time. Synclastic (sin-classtick) means curved toward the same side in all directions, like the skin of an orange. Infundibulum (in-fun-dib-u-lum) is what the ancient Romans like Julius Caesar and Nero called a funnel. If you don't know what a funnel is, get Mommy to show you one.
The key to the Alice-in-Wonderland door had come with the invitation. Malachi Constant slipped the key into his fur-lined trouser pocket and followed the one path that opened before him. He walked in deep shadow, but the flat rays of the sunset filled the treetops with a Maxfield Parrish light.
Constant made small motions with his invitation as he proceeded, expecting to be challenged at every turn. The invitation's ink was violet. Mrs. Rumfoord was only thirty-four, but she wrote like an old woman--in a kinky, barbed hand. She plainly detested Constant, whom she had never met. The spirit of the invitation was reluctant, to say the least, as though written on a soiled handkerchief.
"During my husband's last materialization," she had said in the invitation, "he insisted that you be present for the next. I was unable to dissuade him from this, despite the many obvious drawbacks. He insists that he knows you well, having met you on Titan, which, I am given to understand, is a moon of the planet Saturn."
There was hardly a sentence in the invitation that did not contain the verb insist. Mrs. Rumfoord's husband had insisted on her doing something very much against her own judgment, and she in turn was insisting that Malachi Constant behave, as best he could, like the gentleman he was not.
Malachi Constant had never been to Titan. He had never, so far as he knew, been outside the gaseous envelope of his native planet, the Earth. Apparently he was about to learn otherwise.
The turns in the path were many, and the visibility was short. Constant was following a damp green path the width of a lawn mower--what was in fact the swath of a lawn mower. Rising on both sides of the path were the green walls of the jungle the gardens had become.
The mower's swath skirted a dry fountain. The man who ran the mower had become creative at this point, had made the path fork. Constant could choose the side of the fountain on which he preferred to pass. Constant stopped at the fork, looked up. The fountain itself was marvelously creative. It was a cone described by many stone bowls of decreasing diameters. The bowls were collars on a cylindrical shaft forty feet high.
Impulsively, Constant chose neither one fork nor the other, but climbed the fountain itself. He climbed from bowl to bowl, intending when he got to the top to see whence he had come and whither he was bound.
Standing now in the topmost, in the smallest of the baroque fountain's bowls, standing with his feet in the ruins of birds' nests, Malachi Constant looked out over the estate, and over a large part of Newport and Narragansett Bay. He held up his watch to sunlight, letting it drink in the wherewithal that was to solar watches what money was to Earth men.
The freshening sea breeze ruffled Constant's blue-black hair.
Excerpted from The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut Excerpted by permission.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The Sirens of Titan is the best Vonnegut book I've read by far. It tells of Malachai Constant, the richest man on Earth, and his adventure through space. This science fiction story is just great in every way imaginable. The characters are deep, the plot is meaningful, and the theme will blow your mind away. Vonnegut's 'The Sirens of Titan' questions the whole reason of mankind's existence on earth, and adds a completely unique theory to how and why we came to arrive on our planet. It will definitely get you thinking.
Once you start this book, you will want to read directly through to the finish in one sitting. Vonnegut creates entire worlds through writing, and entirely new creatures. This book can be best descibed as a 'Sci-Fi-Drama,' because it intertwines human emotion into a science-fiction atmosphere. After you finish this book, you will take at least twenty minutes to sit back and contemplate life. Believe me. I did.
I had never read any Vonnegut until a friend told me I had to read this book and loaned it to me. I thought slaughterhouse five was some kind fo slasher movie. Anyway, I started this and was completely surprised. Vonnegut tells this strange science fiction story well. He's got a great imagination. The way the story wraps around on itself is amazing. The ideas he came up with to make the story work are very creative. I haven't read anything else of his yet, but I look forward to trying. The same friend gave me 'Visions of Reality' by David Gregory, which, in my experience, is as close as current writers get to this sort of wildly creative Science fiction.
This book is extremely good. It's the digital verson that is keeping me from giving 5 stars. Spelling mistakes on every freaking page makes it hard to read anything! SPELL CHECK PLEASE!
This is my favorite book of all time, with Catch-22 a close second. The writing here and the story are unmatched, even by his Vonnegut's other works. If you don't read it you are missing out on a little piece of literary heaven.
Sirens of Titan is a joy to read. If Slaughter House 5 is an attempt to offer hope in the light of war, to offer life back to those who for no good reason were deprived of their life in WWII, then Sirens of Titan is a meditation on God and human destiny. Who said God bears any resemblence to the Christian God? If our God is merely our creators, well what if our creators more resemble the product they created? That product would be us, our species, life on this earth, which encompasses life, death, suffering, and general disregard of life at the unit of an single creature. Not to mention numerous flaws in our character, judgments, and perceptions. This the parable Vonnegut offers in this book. His meditation is as wonderous and as uncomfortable as life itself: who ever told you (or us) that we are in charge? And who cooked up this concept of a benevolent God, a concept seemingly created in utter disregard for the world we exist in and observe, none observing more closely than Vonnegut.
one of the best books written by the greatest writer of our time. read it.
Sc-fii comedy psicodelic drama that has a special place in my heart
It feels like it took me forever to finish The Sirens of Titan. That feeling has more to do with my reaction to the material than the difficulty, though, because Sirens is an easy read. In general, whenever something happens that would take a long time to narrate, Vonnegut saves himself the trouble by simply summarizing the action. In this way, Vonnegut packs the eventful seventy-four years of Malachi Constant's life into 320 trade paperback pages. This time-saving summarization hit a nerve for me, though, because it illuminated even more clearly the primary characteristic of this novel's plot, one of my least favorite characteristics of any bad plot, which is when they don't grow organically, but serve only as an infrastructure for the author to make snarky remarks about whatever suits his fancy. And indeed, for snark, Vonnegut can hardly be topped. Few aspects of human civilization go unridiculed, and Vonnegut's ridicule is just and mordant...however, I only found it amusing for awhile. Then it began to grow tiresome. I'm at a period of my life now where I'm trying to learn not to hate people so much, trying to see the good in the world rather than endless hopelessness. So while I can see the quality here, and I can see why people love Vonnegut, The Sirens of Titan just wasn't for me, right now.
this book took me a while to get into, but once it got going i liked it well enough. it was a bit disjointed which was annoying, but it had some really nice moments in it and some wonderful things about religion which i enjoyed.
A great exploration of religion and militarism, done with classic Vonnegut humor. As ever, I'm in awe of the author's ability to infuse his frequently bleak tales with such wit and humanity.
An excellent Vonnegut book. If you are a fan of his writing or of anything good then I highly recommend it. It is a histerical look into the future that include the classic aliens from Tralfalmadore. It is an interesting look at human nature whether they live on Earth, Mars, Titan, or a space traveling man and his dog that control the future. It is very enjoyable.
Vonnegut has an interesting satire that draws you in and makes it quite pleasurable to listen to his thoughts on the meaning of life, free will, and what form a novel should take. I remember seeing him speak at NCSU, back in the late 80's, and still remember his analysis of the three story forms (Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, or life which has highs and lows, but no real beginning or end). This story definitely takes the last emphasis.I strongly suggest reading The Watchmen if you like this. Alan Moore must have had this in mind when writing it (or should have).
It's epic and will blow your mind. If you seek the meaning of life read this book and be enlightened.
Sorry but no. I'm so disappointed with this one! In a way it's a relief because every other time I've read a Vonnegut I've been sort of embarrassed by how much I loved it. But this was definitely not for me. The adventures meandered and the people were dull. I found the tone far too uncanny to enjoy. The fictive religion had no heart. And since the satiric philosophies of his other books have all stayed with me and made me want to relate them to my life afterward, I know this one is simply off for me.It also wears its age poorly. Race and gender are insulted offhand without due attention. (Specifically, I didn't like the black dialect dialogue or the, you know, rape?) He even squeezes in a gay joke way at the end. It's weird! Because I know Vonnegut's work is above that, but I think the downside of his sharp vernacular grasp is that some of it goes sour decades later. It's ok with me if they're not all perfect, but I kind of hated spending my time on it.
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.
How do you reconcile the Grandfather Paradox, Free Will and the meaning of life? You ridicule them.Vonnegut's powerful novel leaves his mark on the rest of science fiction.Douglas Adams grossly plagiarized from this book.great read but not as funny as other Vonnegut books.Pulled an allnighter to finish it
The Sirens of Titan, Kurt Vonnegut¿s second book, is one that I first read a long time ago, and have not re-read since, Like the majority of his work it tends to get labelled ¿science fiction¿, a label he himself hated, arguing that the themes he was trying to talk about transcended the idea of genre. His books do tend to be wider-read than much SF, and deservedly so.Sirens is about Winston Niles Rumford, a rich eccentric in the 22nd century who ¿ like Billy Pilgrim to come ¿ becomes unstuck in time, existing as a wave in space-time who periodically appears in particular locations and dispenses knowledge gleaned from his time travel. Along the way he colonises another planet, engineers a suicidal interplanetary war, and establishes a new religion ¿ the Church of God the Utterly Indifferent ¿ all in the name of trying to make humanity better itself, cheerfully abusing and sacrificing the book¿s principle protagonist, Malachi Constant, along the way. Ultimately though, Rumford¿s manipulations prove futile in the face of a realisation of a greater, and yet more arbitrary, manipulation of the entire human race. (And even knowing that revelation in advance, it still made me laugh when it turned up ¿ it¿s clear to see why Douglas Adams cited Vonnegut as a major influence when he came to write The Hitch-Hiker¿s Guide¿)Vonnegut looks at religion, love, fate, beauty, and the great questions of why we¿re here, and what our purpose in life is. On one level, the book¿s conclusions are somewhat nihilistic, but even in the pointlessness that marks the book¿s ending Vonnegut is alluding to something quintessentially more human with the potential to become something more. Malachi¿s final moments have a bittersweet quality of redemption to them that suits the tone of the entire book. Beauty is where we find it and what we make of it. For a book written so early in his career, it¿s amazingly well-formed. Vonnegut¿s position as one of America¿s finest authors is well earned.
I honestly never believed I would read another Vonnegut novel I would love more than God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater. Upon finishing The Sirens Of Titan, I stand corrected. I liken Vonnegut's answer to the meaning of life nearly as clear and simple and hidden as "TURN SHIP UPSIDE DOWN". It would have been as plain as day if only we'd stopped and thought about it a little harder.
this book taught me more about beauty when i was in high school than any other experience i ever had. sometimes i wish i had paid more attention to it.
My favorite of Vonnegut's novels. It meanders beautifully through space and time, tinted with incredible sadness. IT'S AN INTELLIGENCE TEST!
about religion, friendship, the human soul, and free-will. One of Vonnegut's earliest and one of his best. My friend Kevin told me it opened up chambers in his heart he didn't know existed. that's fair enough. Unk: ¿ I was a victim of a series of accidents,¿ he said. ¿As are we all¿.
My favourite Vonnegut book by far. I have a quote from this tattooed on me. I even prefer this to 'Cat's Cradle.'
After reading this I wonder how influential it was on Dougla Adams...