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"Books are the plane, and the train, and the road. They are the destination, and the journey. They are home."
- Anna Quindlen

Review: The Sirens of Titan, by Kurt Vonnegut

The Sirens of Titan - Kurt Vonnegut

Every man's an island as in

     lifeless space we roam.

Yes, every man's an island:

     island fortress, island home.

- Bee's sonnet


The Sirens of Titan is about isolation.  It is one of the loneliest stories I have ever read.


It's peculiar, because in some ways it is a love story, in some ways it is about family, in others it is a moving depiction of friendship, and in yet others it's about the human relationship with the divine.  But in a fundamental way, each character is totally locked away within himself, inaccessible and all alone.


Vonnegut diagnoses the problem in the very first chapter.  Man does not yet know how to find the meaning of life within himself, so he ventures desperately outward, searching for a signal somewhere out there in the universe.  But all he finds is "a nightmare of meaninglessness."  There is no true connection, and no true meaning, because he is looking in the wrong place.


What follows from this opening is Vonnegut's typical blend of quirky satire, bizarre and senseless plotting, and a thinly-disguised howling distress call for all of humanity.  It's not as perfectly-constructed as Cat's Cradle, or as paralyzingly profound as Slaughterhouse-Five, but it may be the most deceptively simple Vonnegut novel I've yet read.  The layers keep peeling back in my mind, and I can't seem to get a handle on it at all.



Every man's an island...


A megalomaniac who accidentally smears himself across space and time, able to interact with millions and alter the course of history, but never able to truly connect with another.


A woman so obsessed with the idea of her own purity that she refuses to consummate her marriage.


A mindwiped man who spends his life searching for the best friend he doesn't truly remember and does not realize that he murdered.


A broken man who lives all alone on the planet Mercury caring tenderly for the harmoniums, the planet's beautiful but mindless native beings.


A sentient alien robot who kills himself upon learning that the secret message he'd been tasked with carrying to a distant star system at great peril actually contains but a single word: Greetings.


A boy who ditches his parents forever to live among the massive, terrifying birds of Titan - his cries still drifting to his parents' ears, occasionally, on the wind.


A religion that scorns "God the Utterly Indifferent" in the abortive hope that humans will stop seeking favor with the divine and finally - finally - start caring for each other.


...island fortress, island home.