The Sirens of Titan

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Overview

The Sirens of Titan is an outrageous romp through space, time, and morality. The richest, most depraived man on Earth, Malachi Constant, is offered a chance to take a space journey to distant worlds with a beautiful woman at his side. Of course, there's a catch to the invitation...and a prophetic vision about the purpose of human life that only Vonnegut has the courage to tell.
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Overview

The Sirens of Titan is an outrageous romp through space, time, and morality. The richest, most depraived man on Earth, Malachi Constant, is offered a chance to take a space journey to distant worlds with a beautiful woman at his side. Of course, there's a catch to the invitation...and a prophetic vision about the purpose of human life that only Vonnegut has the courage to tell.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Vonnegut is George Orwell, Dr. Caligari and Flash Gordon compounded into one writer . . . a zany but moral mad scientist.”—Time

“Reading Vonnegut is addictive!”—Commonweal

“His best book . . . He dares not only ask the ultimate question about the meaning of life, but to answer it.”—Esquire

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780736601139
  • Publisher: Books on Tape, Inc.
  • Publication date: 7/1/1978
  • Format: Cassette
  • Edition description: Unabridged, 8 Cassettes

Meet the Author

Kurt Vonnegut
Kurt Vonnegut’s black humor, satiric voice, and incomparable imagination first captured America’s attention in The Sirens of Titan in 1959 and established him as “a true artist” (The New York Times) with Cat’s Cradle in 1963. He was, as Graham Greene declared, “one of the best living American writers.” Mr. Vonnegut passed away in April 2007.

Biography

Born in 1922, Vonnegut grew up in Indianapolis, Indiana. His architect father suffered great financial setbacks during the Depression and was unemployed for long stretches of time. His mother suffered from mental illness and eventually committed suicide in 1944, a trauma that haunted Vonnegut all his life. He attended Cornell in the early 1940s, but quit in order to enlist in the Army during WWII.

Vonnegut was shipped to Europe, fought in the Battle of the Bulge, and was captured behind enemy lines and incarcerated in a German prison camp. As a POW, he witnessed the firebombing of Dresden by Allied forces, an event of devastating magnitude that left an indelible impression on the young soldier.

After the war, Vonnegut returned home and married his high school sweetheart. In addition to two daughters and a son of their own, he and his first wife adopted three children orphaned in 1958 by the death of Vonnegut's sister Alice. (He and his second wife adopted another daughter.) The family lived in Chicago and Schenectady before settling in Cape Cod, where Vonnegut began to concentrate seriously on his writing. His first novel, the darkly dystopian Player Piano, was published in 1952 and met with moderate success. Three additional novels followed (including the critically acclaimed Cat's Cradle), but it was not until the publication of 1969's Slaughterhouse Five that Vonnegut achieved true literary stardom. Based on the author's wartime experiences in Dresden, the novel resonated powerfully in the social upheaval of the Vietnam era.

Although he is best known for his novels (a genre-blending mix of social satire, science fiction, surrealism, and black comedy), Vonnegut also wrote short fiction, essays, and plays (the best known of which was Happy Birthday, Wanda June). In addition, he was a talented graphic artist who illustrated many of his books and exhibited sporadically during his literary career. He died on April 11, 2007, after suffering irreversible brain injuries as a result of a fall.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Kurt Vonnegut
    1. Date of Birth:
      November 11, 1922
    2. Place of Birth:
      Indianapolis, Indiana
    1. Date of Death:
      April 11, 2007
    2. Place of Death:
      New York, New York

Read an Excerpt

The Sirens of Titan


By Kurt Vonnegut

Random House

Kurt Vonnegut
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0385333498


Chapter One

Between Timid and Timbuktu

"I guess somebody up there likes me."--Malachi Constant


Everyone now knows how to find the meaning of life within himself.

But mankind wasn't always so lucky. Less than a century ago men and women did not have easy access to the puzzle boxes within them.

They could not name even one of the fifty-three portals to the soul.

Gimcrack religions were big business.

Mankind, ignorant of the truths that lie within every human being, looked outward-pushed ever outward. What mankind hoped to learn in its outward push was who was actually in charge of all creation, and what all creation was all about.

Mankind flung its advance agents ever outward, ever outward. Eventually it flung them out into space, into the colorless, tasteless, weightless sea of outwardness without end.

It flung them like stones.

These unhappy agents found what had already been found in abundance on Earth--a nightmare of meaninglessness without end. The bounties of space, of infinite outwardness, were three: empty heroics, low comedy, and pointless death.

Outwardness lost, at last, its imagined attractions.

Only inwardness remained to be explored.

Only the human soul remained terra incognita.

This was the beginning of goodness and wisdom.

Whatwere people like in olden times, with their souls as yet unexplored?

The following is a true story from the Nightmare Ages, falling roughly, give or take a few years, between the Second World War and the Third Great Depression.

There was a crowd.

The crowd had gathered because there was to be a materialization. A man and his dog were going to materialize, were going to appear out of thin air--wispily at first, becoming, finally, as substantial as any man and dog alive.

The crowd wasn't going to get to see the materialization. The materialization was strictly a private affair on private property, and the crowd was empthatically not invited to feast its eyes.

The materialization was going to take place, like a modern, civilized hanging, within high, blank, guarded walls. And the crowd outside the walls was very much like a crowd outside the walls at a hanging.

The crowd knew it wasn't going to see anything, yet its members found pleasure in being near, in staring at the blank walls and imagining what was happening inside. The mysteries of the materialization, like the mysteries of a hanging, were enhanced by the wall; were made pornographic by the magic lantern slides of morbid imaginations--magic lantern slides projected by the crowd on the blank stone walls.

The town was Newport, Rhode Island, U.S.A., Earth, Solar System, Milky Way. The walls were those of the Rumfoord estate.

Ten minutes before the materialization was to take place, agents of the police spread the rumor that the materialization had happened prematurely, had happened outside the walls, and that the man and his dog could be seen plain as day two blocks away. The crowd galloped away to see the miracle at the intersection.

The crowd was crazy about miracles.

At the tail end of the crowd was a woman who weighed three hundred pounds. She had a goiter, a caramel apple, and a gray little six-year-old girl. She had the little girl by the hand and was jerking her this way and that, like a ball on the end of a rubber band. "Wanda June," she said, "if you don't start acting right, I'm never going to take you to a materialization again."

The materializations had been happening for nine years, once every fifty-nine days. The most learned and trustworthy men in the world had begged heartbrokenly for the privilege of seeing a materialization. No matter how the great men worded their requests, they were turned down cold. The refusal was always the same, handwritten by Mrs. Rumfoord's social secretary.

Mrs. Winston Niles Rumfoord asks me to inform you that she is unable to extend the invitation you request. She is sure you will understand her feeling in the matter: that the phenomenon you wish to observe is a tragic family affair, hardly a fit subject for the scrutiny of outsiders, no matter how nobly motivated their curiosities.

Mrs. Rumfoord and her staff answered none of the tens of thousands of questions that were put to them about the materializations. Mrs. Rumfoord felt that she owed the world very little indeed in the way of information. She discharged that incalculably small obligation by issuing a report twenty-four hours after each materialization. Her report never exceeded one hundred words. It was posted by her butler in a glass case bolted to the wall next to the one entrance to the estate.

The one entrance to the estate was an Alice-in-Wonderland door in the west wall. The door was only four-and-a-half feet high. It was made of iron and held shut by a great Yale lock.

The wide gates of the estate were bricked in.

The reports that appeared in the glass case by the iron door were uniformly bleak and peevish. They contained information that only served to sadden anyone with a shred of curiosity. They told the exact time at which Mrs. Rumfoord's husband Winston and his dog Kazak materialized, and the exact time at which they dematerialized. The states of health of the man and his dog were invariably appraised as good. The reports implied that Mrs. Rumfoord's husband could see the past and the future clearly, but they neglected to give examples of sights in either direction.

Now the crowd had been decoyed away from the estate to permit the untroubled arrival of a rented limousine at the small iron door in the west wall. A slender man in the clothes of an Edwardian dandy got out of the limousine and showed a paper to the policeman guarding the door. He was disguised by dark glasses and a false beard.

The policeman nodded, and the man unlocked the door himself with a key from his pocket. He ducked inside, and slammed the door behind himself with a clang.

The limousine drew away.

Beware of the dog! said a sign over the small iron door. The fires of the summer sunset flickered among the razors and needles of broken glass set in concrete on the top of the wall.

The man who had let himself in was the first person ever invited by Mrs. Rumfoord to a materialization. He was not a great scientist. He was not even well-educated. He had been thrown out of the University of Virginia in the middle of his freshman year. He was Malachi Constant of Hollywood, California, the richest American--and a notorious rakehell.

Beware of the dog! the sign outside the small iron door had said. But inside the wall there was only a dog's skeleton. It wore a cruelly spiked collar that was chained to the wall. It was the skeleton of a very large dog--a mastiff. Its long teeth meshed. Its skull and jaws formed a cunningly articulated, harmless working model of a flesh-ripping machine. The jaws closed so--clack. Here had been the bright eyes, there the keen ears, there the suspicious nostrils, there the carnivore's brain. Ropes of muscle had hooked here and here, had brought the teeth together in flesh so--clack.

The skeleton was symbolic--a prop, a conversation piece installed by a woman who spoke to almost no one. No dog had died at its post there by the wall. Mrs. Rumfoord had bought the bones from a veterinarian, had had them bleached and varnished and wired together. The skeleton was one of Mrs. Rumfoord's many bitter and obscure comments on the nasty tricks time and her husband had played on her.

Mrs. Winston Niles Rumfoord had seventeen million dollars. Mrs. Winston Niles Rumfoord had the highest social position attainable in the United States of America. Mrs. Winston Niles Rumfoord was healthy and handsome, and talented, too.

Her talent was a poetess. She had published anonymously a slim volume of poems called Between Timid and Timbuktu. It had been reasonably well received.

The title derived from the fact that all the words between timid and Timbuktu in very small dictionaries relate to time.

But, well-endowed as Mrs. Rumfoord was, she still did troubled things like chaining a dog's skeleton to the wall, like having the gates of the estate bricked up, like letting the famous formal gardens turn into New England jungle.

The moral: Money, position, health, handsomeness, and talent aren't everything.

Malachi Constant, the richest American, locked the Alice-in-Wonderland door behind him. He hung his dark glasses and false beard on the ivy of the wall. He passed the dog's skeleton briskly, looking at his solar-powered watch as he did so. In seven minutes, a live mastiff named Kazak would materialize and roam the grounds.

"Kazak bites," Mrs. Rumfoord had said in her invitation, "so please be punctual."

Constant smiled at that-the warning to be punctual. To be punctual meant to exist as a point, meant that as well as to arrive somewhere on time. Constant existed as a point--could not imagine what it would be like to exist in any other way.

That was one of the things he was going to find out--what it was like to exist in any other way. Mrs. Rumfoord's husband existed in another way.

Winston Niles Rumfoord had run his private space ship right into the heart of an uncharted chrono-synclastic infundibulum two days out of Mars. Only his dog had been along. Now Winston Niles Rumfoord and his dog Kazak existed as wave phenomena--apparently pulsing in a distorted spiral with its origin in the Sun and its terminal in Betelgeuse.

The earth was about to intercept that spiral.

Almost any brief explanation of chrono-synclastic infundibula is certain to be offensive to specialists in the field. Be that as it may, the best brief explanation is probably that of Dr. Cyril Hall, which appears in the fourteenth edition of A Child's Cyclopedia of Wonders and Things to Do. The article is here reproduced in full, with gracious permission from the publishers:

Chrono-Synclastic Infundibula--Just imagine that your Daddy is the smartest man who ever lived on Earth, and he knows everything there is to find out, and he is exactly right about everything, and he can prove he is right about everything. Now imagine another little child on some nice world a million light years away, and that little child's Daddy is the smartest man who ever lived on that nice world so far away. And he is just as smart and just as right as your Daddy is. Both Daddies are smart, and both Daddies are right.

Only if they ever met each other they would get into a terrible argument, because they wouldn't agree on anything. Now, you can say that your Daddy is right and the other little child's Daddy is wrong, but the Universe is an awfully big place. There is room enough for an awful lot of people to be right about things and still not agree.

The reason both Daddies can be right and still get into terrible fights is because there are so many different ways of being right. There are places in the Universe, though, where each Daddy could finally catch on to what the other Daddy was talking about. These places are where all the different kinds of truths fit together as nicely as the parts in your Daddy's solar watch. We call these places chrono-synclastic infundibula.

The Solar System seems to be full of chrono-synclastic infundibula. There is one great big one we are sure of that likes to stay between Earth and Mars. We know about that one because an Earth man and his Earth dog ran right into it.

You might think it would be nice to go to a chrono-synclastic infundibulum and see all the different ways to be absolutely right, but it is a very dangerous thing to do. The poor man and his poor dog are scattered far and wide, not just through space, but through time, too.

Chrono (kroh-no) means time. Synclastic (sin-classtick) means curved toward the same side in all directions, like the skin of an orange. Infundibulum (in-fun-dib-u-lum) is what the ancient Romans like Julius Caesar and Nero called a funnel. If you don't know what a funnel is, get Mommy to show you one.

The key to the Alice-in-Wonderland door had come with the invitation. Malachi Constant slipped the key into his fur-lined trouser pocket and followed the one path that opened before him. He walked in deep shadow, but the flat rays of the sunset filled the treetops with a Maxfield Parrish light.

Constant made small motions with his invitation as he proceeded, expecting to be challenged at every turn. The invitation's ink was violet. Mrs. Rumfoord was only thirty-four, but she wrote like an old woman--in a kinky, barbed hand. She plainly detested Constant, whom she had never met. The spirit of the invitation was reluctant, to say the least, as though written on a soiled handkerchief.

"During my husband's last materialization," she had said in the invitation, "he insisted that you be present for the next. I was unable to dissuade him from this, despite the many obvious drawbacks. He insists that he knows you well, having met you on Titan, which, I am given to understand, is a moon of the planet Saturn."

There was hardly a sentence in the invitation that did not contain the verb insist. Mrs. Rumfoord's husband had insisted on her doing something very much against her own judgment, and she in turn was insisting that Malachi Constant behave, as best he could, like the gentleman he was not.

Malachi Constant had never been to Titan. He had never, so far as he knew, been outside the gaseous envelope of his native planet, the Earth. Apparently he was about to learn otherwise.

The turns in the path were many, and the visibility was short. Constant was following a damp green path the width of a lawn mower--what was in fact the swath of a lawn mower. Rising on both sides of the path were the green walls of the jungle the gardens had become.

The mower's swath skirted a dry fountain. The man who ran the mower had become creative at this point, had made the path fork. Constant could choose the side of the fountain on which he preferred to pass. Constant stopped at the fork, looked up. The fountain itself was marvelously creative. It was a cone described by many stone bowls of decreasing diameters. The bowls were collars on a cylindrical shaft forty feet high.

Impulsively, Constant chose neither one fork nor the other, but climbed the fountain itself. He climbed from bowl to bowl, intending when he got to the top to see whence he had come and whither he was bound.

Standing now in the topmost, in the smallest of the baroque fountain's bowls, standing with his feet in the ruins of birds' nests, Malachi Constant looked out over the estate, and over a large part of Newport and Narragansett Bay. He held up his watch to sunlight, letting it drink in the wherewithal that was to solar watches what money was to Earth men.

The freshening sea breeze ruffled Constant's blue-black hair.

Continues...


Excerpted from The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 154 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(96)

4 Star

(39)

3 Star

(13)

2 Star

(2)

1 Star

(4)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 154 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 18, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    HILARIOUSLY MEANINGFUL

    The Sirens of Titan is the best Vonnegut book I've read by far. It tells of Malachai Constant, the richest man on Earth, and his adventure through space. This science fiction story is just great in every way imaginable. The characters are deep, the plot is meaningful, and the theme will blow your mind away. Vonnegut's 'The Sirens of Titan' questions the whole reason of mankind's existence on earth, and adds a completely unique theory to how and why we came to arrive on our planet. It will definitely get you thinking.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 19, 2000

    A Masterpiece.

    Once you start this book, you will want to read directly through to the finish in one sitting. Vonnegut creates entire worlds through writing, and entirely new creatures. This book can be best descibed as a 'Sci-Fi-Drama,' because it intertwines human emotion into a science-fiction atmosphere. After you finish this book, you will take at least twenty minutes to sit back and contemplate life. Believe me. I did.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 5, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    A good introduction to Vonnegut

    I had never read any Vonnegut until a friend told me I had to read this book and loaned it to me. I thought slaughterhouse five was some kind fo slasher movie. Anyway, I started this and was completely surprised. Vonnegut tells this strange science fiction story well. He's got a great imagination. The way the story wraps around on itself is amazing. The ideas he came up with to make the story work are very creative. I haven't read anything else of his yet, but I look forward to trying.
    The same friend gave me 'Visions of Reality' by David Gregory, which, in my experience, is as close as current writers get to this sort of wildly creative Science fiction.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 7, 2012

    Favorite book

    This is my favorite book of all time, with Catch-22 a close second. The writing here and the story are unmatched, even by his Vonnegut's other works. If you don't read it you are missing out on a little piece of literary heaven.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 27, 2006

    Rather Advanced Vonnegut, But Oh So Clear

    Sirens of Titan is a joy to read. If Slaughter House 5 is an attempt to offer hope in the light of war, to offer life back to those who for no good reason were deprived of their life in WWII, then Sirens of Titan is a meditation on God and human destiny. Who said God bears any resemblence to the Christian God? If our God is merely our creators, well what if our creators more resemble the product they created? That product would be us, our species, life on this earth, which encompasses life, death, suffering, and general disregard of life at the unit of an single creature. Not to mention numerous flaws in our character, judgments, and perceptions. This the parable Vonnegut offers in this book. His meditation is as wonderous and as uncomfortable as life itself: who ever told you (or us) that we are in charge? And who cooked up this concept of a benevolent God, a concept seemingly created in utter disregard for the world we exist in and observe, none observing more closely than Vonnegut.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 14, 2014

    Love the ending to this book!!! It was quite perfect!!

    Love the ending to this book!!! It was quite perfect!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 9, 2013

    CHARMING AND THOUGHTFUL

    Entertaining with a profound undertone especially toward the end

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 27, 2013

    SLADES HIDEOUT!!!

    ITS VERY SECRET!!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 31, 2013

    check it out

    If you haven't read/liked Vonnegut's work before, try this one. It has everything: good character development, mystery, action, a little romance (I'm not a fan of the bodice-ripper, so take that into consideration) - a good book for sci-fi fans, although that's not its primary focus. 4 stars instead of 5 because it moves a little slowly in parts, but be patient.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 5, 2013

    Great book for a Vonnegut fan.  This is one of his earlier works

    Great book for a Vonnegut fan.  This is one of his earlier works.

    I enjoy how parts of the book take place on other planets.  It is a little more Sci-Fi than his other works.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 25, 2012

    Da best

    My favorite book ever, changed my life. Vonnegut was a perfect human.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 20, 2012

    Can i be

    Can i be Raven?

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 8, 2011

    interesting and enticing

    Sirens of Titan is a fascinating book involving twists in a highly original plot and tremendous characters. Kurt Vonnegut always seems to make a point to make the reader think, and in this novel, he did just that. His intentions were to have the audience take themselves out of the regular world through dark humor and deep themes. The title itself does not exactly reflect the plot of the book, but it highlights it in a significant way that only increases the level of originality in the voice of Vonnegut. The novel had a peaceful ending that may or may not totally satisfy the reader. It leaves a lot to the imagination while still subtly dropping an ironic and comical theme on the life and reason behind the human race. Sirens of Titan is a sci-fi novel that keeps the reader intrigued by varying perspectives, subplots, and ingenious characters that all come together in a way that allows the book to truly speak for itself.

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  • Posted March 1, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    GREAT.

    Without question one of the best books I've ever read. Vonnegut's outdoes himself again and again, this being no exception. This will take the area of your brain devoted to human curiosity and inject twenty ounces of heroine directly into it quickly and violently. The ending will just blow you away. Not a single complaint, worth reading again and again.

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  • Posted August 8, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Great Book!

    Could not put this book down! The exciting plot will have you on the edge of your seat the whole time.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 7, 2008

    Vonnegut does it again

    Constant Malachi, the richest man in America¿s twenty second century, is one day invited to witness the materialization of Winston Niles Rumfoord and his hound Kazak. Early on it is explained that while traveling space on his private space craft, Winston and his dog flew into a space time anomaly and were transformed into a wave phenomena. Throughout the whole novel Rumsfoord and Constant travel between Earth, Mars, Mercury, and Titan, one of Saturn¿s moons. Because Rumfoord has been transformed into a wave phenomenon; he can see the past and future. He tells Constant about a Martian invasion and how they must unite the world to combat the invasion. The truth is that Rumfoord himself started the Martian civilization and is using the invasion and Constant to setup a new religion on the planet. In my opinion the main character, Constant Malachi, is well developed character. Vonnegut makes Constant believe that someone has been watching over him for some time. Vonnegut portrays Constant as the protagonist and allows Rumfoord to manipulate him. Constant loses his fame and is transformed into a Martian invader who has no memory of his previous life. Rumfoord¿s main goal throughout the novel is to become the religious leader of his new church in order to be the most influential man on Earth. Like other Vonnegut, the story contains a main theme that overlaps throughout the whole novel. One example is the ability to see the past and future. I highly recommend this novel. The plot and characters are fantastic. It¿s one of Vonnegut most thought provoking books about religion. However, unlike many Vonnegut classics it lacks in the comedy department. People who like Vonnegut books for their style should definitely read this book. The book is not a satire and provides almost no laughs for unlike Slaughter house five that makes war look funny. ¿Sirens of Titan¿ makes war a serious matter and leaves no room for Vonnegut¿s beloved pictures of satirical commentary.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 26, 2006

    A mind Opener - A Satirical slam on evolution and our existence alone!!!

    I don't know what some of these other people were looking for when They read this book... But, This story still runs through my everyday thought, EVERYDAY! Malachi Constant, The son of an american, monopolizing sole-propieter, becomes a symbol of someone we despise as part of our human race for selfless acts, yet self-indulging acts such as irresponsibility and self-destruction. Follow his adventurous mid-life travels as he is made an example out of in the public eye Or, does he make an example out of us?......? READ THIS BOOK!.. or else...

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 8, 2005

    Not Quite a Vonnegut

    I only read three other Vonneguts but this one seemed very different. It has less humor and more serious topics that I would have never expected from Vonnegut. One of teh things that I dislike in a book but seem fitting in a Vonnegut was loose ends of unexplained events and irrelevence. This book had less of that but it also made it distinct amoung Vonneguts. But it also lacks the total unexpectancies that I love about Vonnegut. There are also no characters to really connect with. A bit of a dissapointment.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 9, 2005

    a touching tale of what life is all about.

    as an avid fan of vonnegut, i knew this was to be one of his best (if not his best) works and saved it as one of the last to read. it is by far my favorite. i never show emotion when reading, but i laughed and wept outwardly. a phenominal book, i told anyone who would listen about it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 22, 2005

    Atypical

    I didn't like this book, I don't know if I just tried to read it too quick or something, but one of the two kurt Vonnegut books I didn't end up liking (The other being dead eye dick) I really want to give this 2.5, cause it was kind of disappointing but still mildy interesting.

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