Oct 29, 2010

The Sirens of Titan

"He was a machine, like all Tralfamadorians. The Tralfamadorians, according to Salo, manufactured each other. No one knew for certain how the first machine had come into being. The legend was this: Once upon a time on Tralfamadore there were creatures who weren't anything like machines. They weren't dependable. They weren't efficient. They weren't predictable. They weren't durable. And these poor creatures were obsessed by the idea that everything that existed had to have a purpose, and that some purposes were higher than others. These creatures spent most of their time trying to find out what their purpose was. And every time they found out what seemed to be a purpose of themselves, the purpose seemed so low that the creatures were filled with disgust and shame. And, rather than serve such a low purpose, the creatures would make a machine to serve it. This left the creatures free to serve higher purposes. But whenever they found a higher purpose, the purpose still wasn't high enough. So machines were made to serve higher purposes, too. And the machines did everything so expertly that they were finally given the job of finding out what the highest purpose of the creatures could be. The machines reported in all honesty that the creatures couldn't really be said to have any purpose at all. The creatures thereupon began slaying each other, because they hated purposeless things above all else. And they discovered that they weren't even very good at slaying. So they turned that job over to the machines, too. And the machines finished up the job in less time than it takes to say, "Tralfamadore." "

Above is an excerpt from Kurt Vonnegut's "The Sirens of Titan". It is in no way a representative of the general theme, or a major turning point or for that matter the high point of humor in the novel( that is if you consider this as humor). How can it be? Sirens contains ideas worth 10 different full length novels and in the end it is about meaninglessness of it all, so how can a small excerpt give any sort of glimpse into the novel? Not the excerpt above and definitely not the pathetic little description on the back of the novel which makes it sound like B-grade science-fiction.
Around three years back Kurt Vonnegut re-ignited the passion for books in me and turned me into what I can safely say an avid reader. Around one and a half years back when I had read all what Vonnegut had ever written, it felt like a huge void ( much like when football season ends in May) , but this was different considering that possibly my glory days of being a keen reader were gone for good. Direct comparison of any author I read subsequently with Vonnegut didn't help the cause at all. But it turned out to be naive assumption considering that all Vonnegut books can be re-read and re-re-read without losing any of their charm. I finished reading The Sirens of Titan again today.
The closest I can come to describe The Sirens of Titan is that it is a brilliant satire on religion( in its The Church of God the Utterly Indifferent) , War/Military( in its brain-washed Martian army), Stock Markets ( in its richest man on earth who became a billionaire by betting on stocks with initials corresponding to letters in bible) ,human life in general (in its human beings used to serve an unbelievably trivial cause) among lots and lots of other things. I may have given more than decent amount of spoilers above , but it hardly matters because The Sirens of Titan can't be spoilt. I read it second time with almost the same amount of awe and curiosity as the first time. Jasper Fforde in his amazing introduction in the copy I have desperately tries to say that Sirens is not a science-fiction novel, Vonnegut uses science just as a medium to convey some great concepts. To be fair, Vonnegut doesn't even try to give any (ridiculous) explanation to all the science and technology he has used in Sirens- which is a good thing because it would have unnecessarily made the novel twice as thicker without serving any purpose in this case. This novel needs to be read.By everyone.
Even if Mercury,Mars,Titan, aliens, galaxies, wave-phenomena, chrono-synclastic infundibula and space-ships fueled by UWTB( Universal Will to Become) are not your thing, this book is.
Even if absurd & convoluted are not your thing, this book is.
Even if cynicism is not your thing, this book is.
Even if books are not your thing, this book is.
It's hard to believe but you will find The Sirens of Titan bleak, depressing, funny and uplifting at the same time. Worst thing that could happen to you after reading it is that you may stop taking your life very seriously and thereby ruining it. It's still worth it.
The Sirens of Titan has my highest possible recommendation. Thank you Mr. Vonnegut, may you rest in peace.

Mind-boggling Science Fiction 3

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