The Sirens of Titan
Overview
 
The Sirens of Titan is a Hugo Award-nominated
Hugo Award for Best Novel
The Hugo Awards are given every year by the World Science Fiction Society for the best science fiction or fantasy works and achievements of the previous year. The award is named after Hugo Gernsback, the founder of the pioneering science fiction magazine Amazing Stories, and was once officially...

 novel
Novel
A novel is a book of long narrative in literary prose. The genre has historical roots both in the fields of the medieval and early modern romance and in the tradition of the novella. The latter supplied the present generic term in the late 18th century....

 by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
Kurt Vonnegut
Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. was a 20th century American writer. His works such as Cat's Cradle , Slaughterhouse-Five and Breakfast of Champions blend satire, gallows humor and science fiction. He was known for his humanist beliefs and was honorary president of the American Humanist Association.-Early...

, first published in 1959
1959 in literature
The year 1959 in literature involved some significant events and new books.-Events:*April 30 - Theatrical première of Bertolt Brecht's Saint Joan of the Stockyards, originally performed on radio in 1932....

. His second novel, it involves issues of free will
Free will
"To make my own decisions whether I am successful or not due to uncontrollable forces" -Troy MorrisonA pragmatic definition of free willFree will is the ability of agents to make choices free from certain kinds of constraints. The existence of free will and its exact nature and definition have long...

, omniscience
Omniscience
Omniscience omniscient point-of-view in writing) is the capacity to know everything infinitely, or at least everything that can be known about a character including thoughts, feelings, life and the universe, etc. In Latin, omnis means "all" and sciens means "knowing"...

, and the overall purpose of human history. Much of the story revolves around a Martian
Martian
As an adjective, the term martian is used to describe anything pertaining to the planet Mars.However, a Martian is more usually a hypothetical or fictional native inhabitant of the planet Mars. Historically, life on Mars has often been hypothesized, although there is currently no solid evidence of...

 invasion of Earth
Earth
Earth is the third planet from the Sun, and the densest and fifth-largest of the eight planets in the Solar System. It is also the largest of the Solar System's four terrestrial planets...

.
The protagonist
Protagonist
A protagonist is the main character of a literary, theatrical, cinematic, or musical narrative, around whom the events of the narrative's plot revolve and with whom the audience is intended to most identify...

 is Malachi Constant, originally of Hollywood, California
California
California is a state located on the West Coast of the United States. It is by far the most populous U.S. state, and the third-largest by land area...

, and the richest man in 22nd-century America. He possesses extraordinary luck that he attributes to divine favor which he has used to build upon his father's fortune.
Encyclopedia
The Sirens of Titan is a Hugo Award-nominated
Hugo Award for Best Novel
The Hugo Awards are given every year by the World Science Fiction Society for the best science fiction or fantasy works and achievements of the previous year. The award is named after Hugo Gernsback, the founder of the pioneering science fiction magazine Amazing Stories, and was once officially...

 novel
Novel
A novel is a book of long narrative in literary prose. The genre has historical roots both in the fields of the medieval and early modern romance and in the tradition of the novella. The latter supplied the present generic term in the late 18th century....

 by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
Kurt Vonnegut
Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. was a 20th century American writer. His works such as Cat's Cradle , Slaughterhouse-Five and Breakfast of Champions blend satire, gallows humor and science fiction. He was known for his humanist beliefs and was honorary president of the American Humanist Association.-Early...

, first published in 1959
1959 in literature
The year 1959 in literature involved some significant events and new books.-Events:*April 30 - Theatrical première of Bertolt Brecht's Saint Joan of the Stockyards, originally performed on radio in 1932....

. His second novel, it involves issues of free will
Free will
"To make my own decisions whether I am successful or not due to uncontrollable forces" -Troy MorrisonA pragmatic definition of free willFree will is the ability of agents to make choices free from certain kinds of constraints. The existence of free will and its exact nature and definition have long...

, omniscience
Omniscience
Omniscience omniscient point-of-view in writing) is the capacity to know everything infinitely, or at least everything that can be known about a character including thoughts, feelings, life and the universe, etc. In Latin, omnis means "all" and sciens means "knowing"...

, and the overall purpose of human history. Much of the story revolves around a Martian
Martian
As an adjective, the term martian is used to describe anything pertaining to the planet Mars.However, a Martian is more usually a hypothetical or fictional native inhabitant of the planet Mars. Historically, life on Mars has often been hypothesized, although there is currently no solid evidence of...

 invasion of Earth
Earth
Earth is the third planet from the Sun, and the densest and fifth-largest of the eight planets in the Solar System. It is also the largest of the Solar System's four terrestrial planets...

.

Plot

The protagonist
Protagonist
A protagonist is the main character of a literary, theatrical, cinematic, or musical narrative, around whom the events of the narrative's plot revolve and with whom the audience is intended to most identify...

 is Malachi Constant, originally of Hollywood, California
California
California is a state located on the West Coast of the United States. It is by far the most populous U.S. state, and the third-largest by land area...

, and the richest man in 22nd-century America. He possesses extraordinary luck that he attributes to divine favor which he has used to build upon his father's fortune. Aside from this he has done nothing significant with his life, leading a rakish existence. He becomes the centerpoint of a journey that takes him from Earth
Earth
Earth is the third planet from the Sun, and the densest and fifth-largest of the eight planets in the Solar System. It is also the largest of the Solar System's four terrestrial planets...

 to Mars
Mars
Mars is the fourth planet from the Sun in the Solar System. The planet is named after the Roman god of war, Mars. It is often described as the "Red Planet", as the iron oxide prevalent on its surface gives it a reddish appearance...

 in preparation for an interplanetary war, to Mercury
Mercury (planet)
Mercury is the innermost and smallest planet in the Solar System, orbiting the Sun once every 87.969 Earth days. The orbit of Mercury has the highest eccentricity of all the Solar System planets, and it has the smallest axial tilt. It completes three rotations about its axis for every two orbits...

 with another Martian survivor of that war, back to Earth to be pilloried
Pillory
The pillory was a device made of a wooden or metal framework erected on a post, with holes for securing the head and hands, formerly used for punishment by public humiliation and often further physical abuse, sometimes lethal...

 as a sign of Man's displeasure with his arrogance, and finally to Saturn
Saturn
Saturn is the sixth planet from the Sun and the second largest planet in the Solar System, after Jupiter. Saturn is named after the Roman god Saturn, equated to the Greek Cronus , the Babylonian Ninurta and the Hindu Shani. Saturn's astronomical symbol represents the Roman god's sickle.Saturn,...

's moon Titan
Titan (moon)
Titan , or Saturn VI, is the largest moon of Saturn, the only natural satellite known to have a dense atmosphere, and the only object other than Earth for which clear evidence of stable bodies of surface liquid has been found....

 where he again meets the man ostensibly responsible for the turn of events that have befallen him, Winston Niles Rumfoord.

Rumfoord himself comes from a wealthy New England
New England
New England is a region in the northeastern corner of the United States consisting of the six states of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut...

 background. His private fortune was large enough to fund the construction of a personal spacecraft, and he became a space explorer. Traveling between Earth and Mars, his ship—carrying Rumfoord and his dog, Kazak—entered a phenomenon known as a chrono-synclastic infundibulum, which is defined by Vonnegut as "those places ... where all the different kinds of truths fit together." Vonnegut notes that any detailed description of this phenomenon would baffle the layman
Layman
A layperson or layman is a person who is not an expert in a given field of knowledge. The term originally meant a member of the laity, i.e. a non-clergymen, but over the centuries shifted in definition....

, but any comprehensible explanation would insult an expert. Consequently, he "quotes" an article from a (fictional) children's encyclopedia. (Interestingly, much of Vonnegut's information on the Solar system
Solar System
The Solar System consists of the Sun and the astronomical objects gravitationally bound in orbit around it, all of which formed from the collapse of a giant molecular cloud approximately 4.6 billion years ago. The vast majority of the system's mass is in the Sun...

 came from a similar source.) According to this article, since the Universe is so large, there are many possible ways to observe it, all of which are equally valid, because people from across the Universe can't communicate with each other (and therefore can't get into an argument). The chrono-synclastic infundibula are places where these "ways to be right" coexist. When they enter the infundibulum, Rumfoord and Kazak become "wave phenomena", somewhat akin to the probability waves encountered in quantum mechanics
Quantum mechanics
Quantum mechanics, also known as quantum physics or quantum theory, is a branch of physics providing a mathematical description of much of the dual particle-like and wave-like behavior and interactions of energy and matter. It departs from classical mechanics primarily at the atomic and subatomic...

. They exist along a spiral stretching from the Sun to the star Betelgeuse
Betelgeuse
Betelgeuse, also known by its Bayer designation Alpha Orionis , is the eighth brightest star in the night sky and second brightest star in the constellation of Orion, outshining its neighbour Rigel only rarely...

. When a planet, such as the Earth, intersects their spiral, Rumfoord and Kazak materialize, temporarily, on that planet.

When he entered the infundibulum, Rumfoord became aware of the past and future. Throughout the novel, he predicts future events; unless he is deliberately lying, the predictions always come true.

It is in this state that Rumfoord established the "Church of God the Utterly Indifferent" on Earth to unite the planet after a Martian invasion. It is also in this state that Rumfoord, materializing on different planets, instigated the Martian invasion. On Titan, the only place he can exist as a solid human being and not as a broadcast image, Rumfoord befriends an explorer from Tralfamadore
Tralfamadore
The Tralfamadorians are a fictional alien race mentioned in several novels by Kurt Vonnegut. Tralfamadore is their home planet. Details on the inhabitants of the planet vary from novel to novel:...

 (a world that also figures in Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five
Slaughterhouse-Five
Slaughterhouse-Five, or The Children's Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death is a satirical novel by Kurt Vonnegut about World War II experiences and journeys through time of a soldier called Billy Pilgrim...

,
among several others) who needs a small metal component to repair his damaged spaceship.

Salo, the Tralfamadorian explorer, is actually a robot
Robot
A robot is a mechanical or virtual intelligent agent that can perform tasks automatically or with guidance, typically by remote control. In practice a robot is usually an electro-mechanical machine that is guided by computer and electronic programming. Robots can be autonomous, semi-autonomous or...

 built many millennia earlier to carry a message from Tralfamadore to a distant galaxy. His spacecraft is powered by the Universal Will to Become, or UWTB, the "prime mover" which makes matter and organization wish to appear out of nothingness. (UWTB, Vonnegut informs the reader, was responsible for the Universe in the first place, and is the greatest imaginable power source.) A small component on Salo's spacecraft breaks, stalling him in the Solar System. He requests help from Tralfamadore, and his fellow Tralfamadorians respond by manipulating human history so that primitive humans evolve and create a civilization in order to produce the replacement part. Rumfoord's encounter with the chrono-synclastic infundibulum, the following war with Mars, and Constant's exile to Titan were all manipulated by the Tralfamadorians control of the UWTB. Stonehenge
Stonehenge
Stonehenge is a prehistoric monument located in the English county of Wiltshire, about west of Amesbury and north of Salisbury. One of the most famous sites in the world, Stonehenge is composed of a circular setting of large standing stones set within earthworks...

, the Great Wall of China
Great Wall of China
The Great Wall of China is a series of stone and earthen fortifications in northern China, built originally to protect the northern borders of the Chinese Empire against intrusions by various nomadic groups...

 and the Kremlin are all messages in the Tralfamadorian geometrical language, informing Salo of their progress.

As it turns out, the replacement part is a small metal strip, rounded on one corner, with two holes punched in it. Salo's message, for whose sake the whole of human history was manipulated, is a single dot, which in Tralfamadorian means "greetings".

The metal strip is brought to Salo by Constant and his son Chrono (born of Rumfoord's ex-wife). A sunspot disrupts Rumfoord's spiral, sending him and Kazak separately into the vastness of space. An argument between Rumfoord and Salo moments before, left unresolved because of Rumfoord's disappearance, leads the distraught Salo to disassemble himself, thereby stranding the humans on Titan. Chrono chooses to live among the Titanian birds; after thirty-two years, his mother dies, and Constant manages to reassemble Salo. Then,using the part delivered so many years previous by Chrono, he repairs the Tralfamdorian saucer
Flying saucer
A flying saucer is a type of unidentified flying object sometimes believed to be of alien origin with a disc or saucer-shaped body, usually described as silver or metallic, occasionally reported as covered with running lights or surrounded with a glowing light, hovering or moving rapidly either...

.

Salo returns Constant to Earth, specifically to the outskirts of Indianapolis, Indiana
Indianapolis, Indiana
Indianapolis is the capital of the U.S. state of Indiana, and the county seat of Marion County, Indiana. As of the 2010 United States Census, the city's population is 839,489. It is by far Indiana's largest city and, as of the 2010 U.S...

, where Constant dies. As he dies, he experiences a hallucination secretly implanted in his mind by Salo of a pleasant event, thus giving the novel a somewhat ironic happy ending
Happy ending
A happy ending is an ending of the plot of a work of fiction in which almost everything turns out for the best for the protagonists, their sidekicks, and almost everyone except the villains....

.

The title is derived from a grouping of statues which Salo sculpts out of "Titanic peat
Peat
Peat is an accumulation of partially decayed vegetation matter or histosol. Peat forms in wetland bogs, moors, muskegs, pocosins, mires, and peat swamp forests. Peat is harvested as an important source of fuel in certain parts of the world...

". The statues, eventually submerged in Rumfoord's swimming pool, are in the form of three beautiful women. Constant uses the design in an advertisement for cigarettes, attempting to mitigate their frightening beauty through blatant commercialism
Commercialism
Commercialism, in its original meaning, is the practices, methods, aims, and spirit of commerce or business. Today, however, it primarily refers to the tendency within open-market capitalism to turn everything into objects, images, and services sold for the purpose of generating profit...

.

Film rights

Vonnegut sold the film rights to Sirens of Titan to Jerry Garcia
Jerry Garcia
Jerome John "Jerry" Garcia was an American musician best known for his lead guitar work, singing and songwriting with the band the Grateful Dead...

, guitarist and vocalist for rock band The Grateful Dead
Grateful Dead
The Grateful Dead was an American rock band formed in 1965 in the San Francisco Bay Area. The band was known for its unique and eclectic style, which fused elements of rock, folk, bluegrass, blues, reggae, country, improvisational jazz, psychedelia, and space rock, and for live performances of long...

. Garcia began working with Tom Davis
Tom Davis (comedian)
Tom Davis is an American writer and comedian. He is an Emmy Award winner, and is best known for his former partnership with Al Franken, as half of the comedy duo "Franken & Davis" on Saturday Night Live.-Life and career:...

 in early December 1983 and finished their first draft in January 1985. Garcia commented on the book and the screenplay in a November 1987 interview:
There's really three basic characters that are having things happen to them. Three main characters. [Malachi,] Rumfoord, and Bee. It's like a triangle, a complex, convoluted love story. And it's really that simple....So our task has been to take the essential dramatic relationships, make it playable for actors, so that it's free from the Big Picture emphasis of the book. There's also some extremely lovely, touching moments in the book. It's one of the few Vonnegut books that's really sweet, in parts of it, and it has some really lovely stuff in it. It's the range of it that gets me off.


Garcia died in 1995 before bringing the film to the screen. After waiting a "respectable period of time", Robert B. Weide
Robert B. Weide
Robert B. Weide is an American screenwriter, producer, and director, perhaps best known for his Emmy-winning work on documentaries and Curb Your Enthusiasm.-Career:Weide's career began with an early passion for the Marx Brothers...

, who had written and produced the 1996 film adaptation
Mother Night (film)
Mother Night is a 1996 film based on Kurt Vonnegut's 1961 book of the same name.Nick Nolte stars as Howard W. Campbell, Jr., an American who moves with his family to Germany after World War I and goes on to become a successful German language playwright...

 of Mother Night
Mother Night
Mother Night is a novel by American author Kurt Vonnegut, first published in 1961. The title of the book is taken from Goethe's Faust....

, and had worked on a Vonnegut documentary for years, asked the author about the status of the rights. Vonnegut bought back the rights from Garcia's estate and gave them to Weide on a "verbal handshake" where they remained for years while he attempted to write and find backers for his adaptation. By 2006, Weide reluctantly announced that he had lost the rights. In April 2007, it was announced that screenwriter James V. Hart
James V. Hart
James V. "Jim" Hart is an American screenwriter and author.-Career:He wrote the 2005 children's novel Capt. Hook: The Adventures of a Notorious Youth, a prequel depicting J. M. Barrie's villain Captain Hook, the nemesis of Peter Pan, when Hook was a youngster...

 wrote an adaptation which Vonnegut approved before he died.

Stage versions

In 1974 Stuart Gordon
Stuart Gordon
After the University of Wisconsin demanded future theatrical productions by Screw Theater be overseen by a University Professor, Gordon cut his University ties to form Broom Street Theater. Its first production, the new translation of the risque Lysistrata, premiered in May 1969. Gordon is...

 adapted a version of the novel for the stage with the Organic Theatre Company of Chicago
Chicago
Chicago is the largest city in the US state of Illinois. With nearly 2.7 million residents, it is the most populous city in the Midwestern United States and the third most populous in the US, after New York City and Los Angeles...

. According to notes on a playbill from 1976 being auctioned on eBay
EBay
eBay Inc. is an American internet consumer-to-consumer corporation that manages eBay.com, an online auction and shopping website in which people and businesses buy and sell a broad variety of goods and services worldwide...

, the 1976 production featured actors Joe Mantegna
Joe Mantegna
Joseph Anthony "Joe" Mantegna, Jr. is an American actor, producer, writer,director, and voice actor. He is best known for his roles in box office hits such as Three Amigos , The Godfather Part III , Forget Paris , and Up Close & Personal...

 and Dennis Franz
Dennis Franz
Dennis Franz is an American actor best known for his role as Andy Sipowicz, a hard-boiled police detective in the television series NYPD Blue. He previously appeared as Lt...

. The play was also performed in 1977 at UCLA and the University of California, Berkeley
University of California, Berkeley
The University of California, Berkeley , is a teaching and research university established in 1868 and located in Berkeley, California, USA...

. The novel will also be adapted by The London Bubble Theatre Company for performance in London (UK) parks in July and August 2010.

Audiobook

In 2009, Audible.com
Audible.com
Audible.com is an Internet provider of spoken audio entertainment, information, and educational programming.Audible sells digital audiobooks, radio and TV programs, and audio versions of magazines and newspapers....

 produced an audio version of The Sirens of Titan, narrated by Jay Snyder, as part of its Modern Vanguard line of audiobooks.

In popular culture


Scottish singer-songwriter Al Stewart
Al Stewart
Al Stewart is a Scottish singer-songwriter and folk-rock musician.Stewart came to stardom as part of the British folk revival in the 1960s and 1970s, and developed his own unique style of combining folk-rock songs with delicately woven tales of the great characters and events from history.He is...

 paid homage to the novel with the song "Sirens of Titan" on his 1975 album Modern Times
Modern Times (Al Stewart album)
Modern Times is Al Stewart's sixth studio album, released in 1975. The album has been re-released in 2007 with bonus tracks.-1975 Original LP edition:Side 1#"Carol" – 4:24#"Sirens of Titan" – 2:50#"What's Going On?" – 3:34#"Not the One" – 4:34...

, featuring the lyric "I was a victim of a series of accidents, as are we all..." as the chorus.

In a 1979 interview released in 2007, Douglas Adams
Douglas Adams
Douglas Noel Adams was an English writer and dramatist. He is best known as the author of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which started life in 1978 as a BBC radio comedy before developing into a "trilogy" of five books that sold over 15 million copies in his lifetime, a television...

 discussed Vonnegut as an influence on The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy:
"Sirens of Titan is just one of those books – you read it through the first time and you think it's very loosely, casually written. You think the fact that everything suddenly makes such good sense at the end is almost accidental. And then you read it a few more times, simultaneously finding out more about writing yourself, and you realize what an absolute tour de force it was, making something as beautifully honed as that appear so casual."
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