Monday, December 30, 2013

The Sirens of Titan

My first book of Kurt Vonnegut, acquired in a second hand bookshop with dusty papers smelling of mothballs had an alluring title. My crooked mind was partly influenced to pick up this book after a microsecond glimpse of the Tajmahal at the cover, and a thirty second mental imagination of the title.
I finished this book during a non-stop five hour plane journey, this book is not something that grips you with strong arms, it doesn't make you gasp or make you feel like you should kiss the author's hands because you got a momentary revelation of the sacred and the unknown.

Instead this book gently coaxes you as an angler who would casually wait with a hook which you can nibble at your own pace. The seeming casualness with which the entire story moves forward is mixed with deliberate randomness and misdirection.
Let that not fool you, this book is a gem, a forerunner for another gem†.

The book starts with the primary antagonist Niles Rumfoord and his loyal dog Kazak who become waves when they encountered chrono-synclastic infundibulum and as a result could only visit Earth once in 59 days. He is vehemently hated by his wife who never forgave his careless mistake of becoming a waveform without consulting her, and his materializations on earth vexes her much. The genial Rumfoord is honored as a valiant hero for getting caught in such a timeless error, but he brings upon a surprise marital invasion on Earth by his Machiavellian moves.

He silently kidnaps a lot of people to Mars, brainwashes them and organizes a stupid army to invade Earth. Then once the alien army is thoroughly destroyed, he establishes a new religion on Earth and becomes its God, without any public advertising.  He foretells parts of these events to his wife and a rich playboy Malachi Constant, and also tells them that they would be helpless to alter their future as they would be bred forcefully to give birth to a boy named Chrono in a colony in Mars. His final engineering brings his wife, Constant and their son Chrono to Titan, as Rumfoord ruminates on the purposelessness of all of his actions!

Without much pop and fizzle, the story continues on how Rumfoord was used as a pawn and by whom to what extent. Even if I were to narrate you the story from start to finish in this review, it would not be a spoiler alert! For this book is not about the story at all, it is rather the experience you get from reading this book. Characters refuse to be typecast, hero is not courageous and dashing, heroine is not seductive and the villain is not completely cruel. And there is no moral punched out when the story comes to an end, nor is there a 'they lived happily ever-after'.

I loved how the author painted a dystopian setting in humor which made it even more poignant, and questioned about the effects of free will when people are forced to follow it. And the best of all, it gives the reader a sense of peace to know that their mess, problems and screw-ups are just pin points when compared to the giant happenings around us.

It is said that Vonnegut completely put together this book, his second, over a single night because someone at a party requested him to!

† I was intrigued by the similarity in plot direction of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and this book. Douglas Adams has indeed mentioned that he was influenced by Sirens of Titan to question about the life, universe and everything!