Fiction Reviews

The Sirens of Titan

(1959 / 2006) Kurt Vonnegut, Gollancz, 7.99, pbk, 249 pp, ISBN 0-575-07902-9


The Sirens of Titan was Vonnegut's second novel first published in the US in 1959, first in the UK by Gollancz in 1962. After reprints in the UK Coronet was the next major publisher to pick it up in 1967 and they reprinted it six times up to 1979 and it has been republished every five years or so to date. This book obviously has staying power and now Gollancz are re-releasing it as on of their 10 greatest SF novels of all time. So what's the attraction?

Well, aside from Vonnegut having mainstream as well as SF appeal (which greatly helps) this is a darkly humorous, intelligently written story of powerful forces (human political as well as alien) affecting individuals' lives for, not some grand purpose but, apparent triviality.

Astronaut Winston Niles Rumfoord gets transformed into a wave function alternating his location in space and materialising home only for an hour once every fifty-nine days. In the process he gets to learn everything and which, naturally, includes everything that will ever happen. Almost inevitably this leads to the establishment of the Church of God the Utterly Indifferent. Meanwhile a human war breaks out between Earth and Mars...

As said this is packed with wry and dark humour, it being a satire. Though funny, I have to say that to me it is depressingly near the bone as a comment on the human condition. I find this hard edge disheartening but then I am a sensitive soul. Do not let my weakness put you off. This work's humour speaks very much to today's readership as it did half a century ago: the army scenes are as relevant to Iraq as they were to earlier war mongering and troop control. And the aliens' message in the end is a hoot. The alien civilization of Tralfamadore appears in some of Vonnegut's other novels and I would rate The Sirens of Titan as one of Vonnegut's key works along with Slaughterhouse-Five.

Jonathan Cowie

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