The Sirens of Titan
September 1st 2006 12:32
'The Sirens of Titan' is Kurt Vonnegut's second book. It is also the one book of his that is most definable as 'science-fiction' (rather than science fiction-like literature). It's a very enjoyable book and I'd reccomend it to both sci-fi fans and people looking to get into Vonnegut's stuff. After his first book, the proto-satire 'Player Piano', this is probably the true start of his unique and famous writing style - with many of his recurring themes, styles and ideas appearing for the first time here.
The story concerns one Malachi Constant, a 22nd-century man who happens to be extraordinarily rich (apparently thanks to nothing more than luck). Constant finds himself manipulated by the Church of God the Utterly Indifferent into a series of interplanetary events... he is caught up in a war between Earth and Mars, and eventually travels to Titan to meet an alien traveller. Various interlinked forces are at work here and there's some time travel-related jiggery-pokery known as chrono-synclastic infundibulum involved.
As far as the plot is concerned it's a fairly complex piece of work. It's more linear than Vonnegut's later work but it exhibits the kind of circular evolution (especially in it's use of time travel) that is central to most of his best novels. Notions of free will are explored in the cynical way that Vonnegut would go on to perfect, and he indulges in this with a healthy level of pathos and fatalism to keep things relatively grounded. The plot is surprisingly tight for all it's twistiness, and the book is probably more sound than a lot of his other work - at least in a superficial sense (ie. the plot).
This was actually the first Vonnegut book I ever read, and - obviously - I enjoyed it a lot. He's probably my favourite author, I'm now trying to pace myself as I read through his back catalogue. I don't want to get to 30 and know that I'll never get to read a new Vonnegut novel again... though that's probably exactly what will happen anyway. For all it's intricate plotting this is probably the most attention-grabbing and straight-forward book to reccomend to people looking to read some Vonnegut. It isn't as shot full of irony and cynicism as his later (and best) books, but it's very clever and satisfying and is probably the best place to start (though I could just be saying that because it's where I started).
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