Literature / The Sirens of Titan

Somebody up there likes me.

Oh no, they don't. In fact chances are that even if there were somebody or something up there, it's more than likely they don't care about you. At all.

Sirens of Titan (1959) was Kurt Vonnegut's second novel and is notable for being one of his more overt Science Fiction novels. Set in 22nd-century America, it tells the story of Malachi Constant, one of the richest men in the world, who has the gall, the temerity to attribute his good fortune to divine providence.

His life changes irrevocably when he encounters Winston Niles Rumfoord, a playboy millionaire turned space explorer turned omniscient being after he pilots his spaceship into a chrono-synclastic infundibulum. (Chrono-synclastic is Latin/Greek for "time bent equally in all directions", and infundibulum is Latin for "funnel".) Rumfoord is effectively "smeared across time" and becomes aware of all events, past, present and future. Armed with this knowledge, Rumfoord begins to direct Constant on a quest of self-knowledge and instruction, along the way setting up the "Church of God the Utterly Indifferent".

This Book Contains Examples of the Following Tropes:

  • Assimilation Plot
  • Batman Gambit: Rumfoord effectively engineers a short-lived and very one-sided interplanetary war between Mars and Earth, using his friend and his ex-wife no less, in order to unite the people of Earth.
  • Black Comedy: Standard in a Vonnegut novel.
  • A God Am I: In a godless, indifferent universe, Winston Niles Rumfoord is the closest thing to a deity we have.
  • The Chessmaster: Winston Niles Rumfoord. On a much larger scale, the Tralfamadorians, who may have influenced the very creation of humanity in order to ultimately manufacture and deliver a single spare part for a stranded space-ship.
  • Cosmic Plaything
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: The inevitable fate of the Martian force which invades Earth. Which was Rumfoord's plan all along, of course.
  • Have You Seen My God?: Missing, presumed non-existent.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Boaz.
  • Insignificant Little Blue Planet
  • The Man Behind the Man
  • Minovsky Physics: The chrono-synclastic infundibulum. Overlaps with It Runs on Nonsensoleum.
  • Non-Linear Character: Winston Niles Rumfoord.
  • Our Wormholes Are Different
  • Political Correctness Gone Mad: The self-handicapping custom of Rumfoord's followers.
  • Shaggy Dog Story: The story may not be pointless, but apparently all human endeavour and experience is.
    • Or at least, has been so far. There's a subtle implication that with the delivery to Titan complete, Rumfoord's departure may signify the beginning of humanity's freedom to pursue our own destiny, for better or worse.
  • Shown Their Work: Parodied. Vonnegut states that all information pertaining to cosmic phenomena is quoted from a (fictional) children's encyclopedia.
  • Take That, Me!: The doctors in the Martian army will erase a person's memories if they're deemed to be unfit for duty. They don't erase everything, though, because when they first did that the patients "[C]ouldn't walk, couldn't talk, couldn't do anything. The only thing anybody could think of to do with them was to housebreak them, teach them a basic vocabulary of a thousand words, and give them jobs in military or industrial public relations." Before he decided to write for a living, Vonnegut was a public relations man for General Electric.
  • Together in Death: Subverted in Vonnegut's trademark gentle sardonicism.
  • Trauma Conga Line: Malachi Constant goes through one. First, he loses all of his money. Then, he's taken to Mars, where he's coerced into joining the Army Of Mars and having an antenna implanted in his head which subjected him to terrible pain whenever one of his superiors decided he'd done something worthy of punishment. He has a son with Rumfoord's ex-wife, Beatrice, but he's brainwashed several times, forgetting everything about who he was. After one of his mindwipes, he's forced to strangle his best friend, Stony Stevenson to death, not remembering who he is. After he finally escapes from the army, he gets trapped in a network of caves on Mercury for three years, being driven temporarily insane by his circumstances. When he escapes and returns to Earth, he gets a great reception as the prophesied "Space Wanderer" and it seems things are just beginning to look up for him... but then the proverbial rug is yanked out from under him when Rumfoord tells not only him, but the whole world that he is Malachi Constant, the same Malachi Constant that the new predominant religion on Earth sees as a symbol of everything disgusting and hateful. Rumfoord then springs on him the news that he will never reunite with his best friend Stony, because he killed Stony. After that, Constant is a completely broken man.
  • Rich Idiot with No Day Job: Both Constant and Rumfoord qualify for this before their respective changes.
  • You Can't Fight Fate: Everything that Rumfoord predicts comes true. Except when he's deliberately lying, of course.