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On one hand, I’m not even sure if I should even bother writing a review of this. Let’s see, one of the most beloved books by a beloved author everyone knows? Gee, I wonder if folks know that it might actually be pretty good? But on the other hand, I did like it quite a bit, and hey, I need content so here we go.
In Palm Sunday, Vonnegut gave Sirens of Titan an A when he graded his books up to that time. (He gave both Slaughterhouse-Five and Cat’s Cradle A-pluses, and I’m inclined to agree.) Cat’s Cradle might be my favorite of the Vonnegut I’ve read so far; like Sirens, it works as a great machine.
Sirens, however, is a magnificent machine — the workings of it are kept secret until the end. At first, it seems a little disjointed; when Malachi Constant goes to Mars, as “prophesied” by Rumfoord (though is it really prophesy when you know exactly what’s going to happen, or when you’re engineering it?), at first it seems like a different book, or perhaps a new subplot, but things soon become clear. The pattern repeats itself as Malachi gets to Mercury, then back to Earth, then, finally Titan. This isn’t a spoiler: Malachi’s told all this within the first 20 or so pages.
Rumfoord, with his omniscience acts like somewhat of a God character — and for most of the novel you see him as such. Which makes the final twist so perfect. You think you’ve got the novel figured out — and that it’s a pretty damn good one too — but when you get to the part where all is revealed, you realize you’re not exactly right, and that it’s a GREAT novel.
Sirens was his second novel, back when he was primarily thought of as a sci-fi author. As such, the original cover is kind of hilarious, making it look like a straightforward pulp novel. That, it is not, and I’d be curious to hear reactions of folks who first read it back in 1959 with that cover wrapping it. Even his first novel, Player Piano, isn’t really something that’d ready a reader to expect something like this. Piano is much closer to straight sci-fi. This one — while it does feature space travel and ultra-advanced technology and other trappings of the genre, it’s really not.
Like with a lot of Vonnegut, there are a lot of great asides — the way Malachi Constant’s family got its money for one, or the concept of The Church Of God The Utterly Indifferent. Though, with the latter, I kinda felt that the burdening of folks to counteract Luck — similar to the conceit in “Harrison Bergeron” from Welcome to the Monkey House — was a little eh; though then again, I’m not the biggest fan of “Harrison” either. But it does raise a good point about how some folks need religion, and how even a religion designed to be an anti-religion, can get into some of the same trappings. Sorta like that one South Park where Cartman’s unthawed in the future to see the wars between the two different groups of atheists.
That said, Sirens is a great novel; even though Rumfoord is a narcissistic jerk, he’s a great character — and I like that he sets up the world to hate Malachi, probably the most likable character, being sort of a Dobbsian figure. However — one complaint. The novel could have used more space puppy.