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Literature / The Sirens of Titan

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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:

  • 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.
  • Break the Haughty: Malachi Constant's first thought after meeting cloistered, snooty Beatrice Rumfoord is that he'd like to knock her down a peg by adding her to his list of conquests. Later, on the trip to Mars, this is exactly how their son Chrono is conceived.
  • 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.
  • Creator Career Self-Deprecation: 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.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: The inevitable fate of the Martian force which invades Earth. Which was Rumfoord's plan all along, of course.
  • Dramatic Irony: From the beginning we know that Unk killed his best friend, even as he continues to hold onto hope they're still alive. This reveal is so obvious as to be nearly trivial by the time the character discovers it.
  • Exact Words: Rumfoord predicts everything that's going to happen to Malachi over the course of the novel right at the start, and everything he says is technically true, but he makes it sound like it's going to be an exciting, pulpy adventure rather than the years-spanning Trauma Conga Line it actually turns out to be.
  • Have You Seen My God?: Missing, presumed non-existent.
  • The Man in Front of the Man: How the entire Army of Mars is managed. From Generals down to platoon sergeants, they all march to the commands of some nearby underling. Boaz, though ostensibly a private, is actually in charge of Unk's platoon, and uses his mind-control device to confuse and command his sergeant.
  • Minovsky Physics: The chrono-synclastic infundibulum. Overlaps with It Runs on Nonsensoleum.
  • Physical God: In a godless, indifferent universe, Winston Niles Rumfoord is the closest thing to a deity we have.
  • Political Overcorrectness: The self-handicapping custom of Rumfoord's followers.
  • Shown Their Work: Parodied. Vonnegut states that all information pertaining to cosmic phenomena is quoted from a (fictional) children's encyclopedia.
  • Solar System Neighbors: Strange organisms called "Harmoniums" cling in the caves of Mercury. It's worth noting this was written back when Mercury was thought to be tidally locked.
  • Throw the Dog a Bone: After everything he goes through (see Trauma Conga Line, below), Malachi gets thrown one in the end as his death triggers a Dying Dream wherein his dead best friend comes down from Heaven to fetch him, and tells him that actually, yes - someone up there does like him!
  • 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.
  • You Can't Fight Fate: Everything that Rumfoord predicts comes true. Except when he's deliberately lying, of course.