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The Sirens of Titan
Kurt Vonnegut
Orion Millennium, 224 pages

Chris Moore
The Sirens of Titan
Kurt Vonnegut
Kurt Vonnegut was born in Indianapolis. In 1940, he enrolled at Cornell University as a biochemistry major and contributed to the Cornell Sun as managing editor and columnist. After enlisting in the Army in 1943, he was captured during the Battle of the Bulge while he was a battalion scout and later released in 1945. Upon his return, he was awarded a Purple Heart. Later that year he married Jane Marie Cox whom he had first met in kindergarten. Vonnegut took a job in 1947 with the General Electric Company Research Laboratory in Schenectady as a public relations writer. Then in 1950, his first short story, "Report on the Barnhouse Effect," was published.

Kurt Vonnegut Website
ISFDB Bibliography

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Neil Walsh

I'm not sure how he escaped my notice all those years, but I've only just recently discovered Kurt Vonnegut. I picked up a battered paperback copy of Slaughterhouse 5 at a church rummage sale in London last summer. What the heck, I thought, it's only £0.20 (about 47 cents in real money, i.e., Canadian dollars). It turned out to be one of the best investments of my life. Since then, I've been reading anything and everything I can find by Vonnegut. He's one of those rare authors claimed by both sides -- SF and the mainstream -- as one of their own. In other words, some of his work is mainstream fiction while some is undeniably SF, but it's all good enough that the literary snobs will try to deny that the SF actually is SF.

The Sirens of Titan is #18 in the SF Masterworks series from Victor Gollancz' Millennium imprint. It's definitely in the SF category. And although it's only the second novel Vonnegut published, it doesn't suffer from authorial immaturity. He's the kind of writer who didn't need to take a few books to get warmed up; he was born fully formed into the world of published works.

The Sirens of Titan is centrally concerned with the meaning of life. Or rather, the meaninglessness of life. Winston Niles Rumfoord is a wealthy playboy who takes his privately funded spaceship and drives it straight into a chrono-synclastic infundibulum, just to see what will happen. He also takes his dog along for company. What happens is that he is smeared from here to the far end of the galaxy. He and his dog materialize -- or mostly materialize -- whenever their waveforms intercept Earth or some other similar obstacle in the vast vacuum of space. From the perspective of "punctual" humans, Rumfoord and Kazak (the dog) appear at their former home in Newport, Rhode Island, for about an hour once every 59 days. From Rumfoord's perspective, however, time no longer has quite the same meaning. Rumfoord, you must understand, is now able to see everything that ever has happened or will happen. This puts him in a rather unique position to create his own religion, complete with guaranteed miracles, since he is effectively able to predict the future with 100% accuracy. Based on his new and fairly complete comprehension of the universe, the religion he creates is the Church of God the Utterly Indifferent.

I won't divulge any more of the plot for those who haven't yet had the pleasure. Suffice it to say that The Sirens of Titan is a good example of Vonnegut's style: it's thoroughly infused with his satiric wisdom, dark humour, and clever charm. If you still haven't tried Vonnegut, this is as good a place as any to start -- and it's worth a lot more than 47 cents. A bargain at any price.

Copyright © 2000 by Neil Walsh

Neil Walsh is the Reviews Editor for the SF Site. He lives in contentment, surrounded by books, in Ottawa, Canada.

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