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It deserves the title 'SF Masterwork',
This review is from: The Sirens Of Titan (S.F. MASTERWORKS) (Paperback)
For some reason it was America that held the monopoly on the SF satirical novel. Vonnegut, and later Sladek and Sheckley and indeed Dick with his more subtle comedy, produced some sublime works which turned society on its head and forced us to take a long hard look.
For Nineteen Fifty-Nine this is a remarkable novel, published at a time when SF was arguably becoming very serious about itself.
There is nothing scientific or realistic about `The Sirens of Titan'. As Dick was later to do to incredible effect, Vonnegut used the language of SF to make his own points without letting any of those annoying scientific facts get in the way of the story.
The central figure, Winston Niles Rumfoord, is a billionaire with his own private spaceship which he promptly flies into a Syno-Chronastic Infundibulum which transforms him (and his dog Kazak who happened to be with Rumfoord on the ship) into a wave of energy pulsing between our sun and Betelgeuse. The upshot of this is that Rumfoord can see the past and future simultaneously. Niles reappears on Earth every fifty-nine days and has spoken to no one but his wife and butler until the day he summons fellow billionaire Malachi Constant.
Rumfoord tells Constant that he will travel to Mars, then to Mercury, back to Earth and then to Titan, amongst other things.
Malachi of course is highly sceptical and so Vonnegut begins a tour-de-force of storytelling in which Rumfoord manipulates the entire world, while using Malachi - in some cases quite literally - as a puppet.
What only becomes clear later is that Rumfoord himself is only a tiny part in a two hundred thousand year old plan by the Tralfamadoreans to get a spare part to a stranded messenger on Titan. He is taking a secret message to a race in another part of the galaxy, the final irony being that the message is a simple dot, which translates in Tralfamadorean as `greetings!'
Vonnegut employs many SF clichés in new and surprising ways. The billionaire's private prototype spaceship for instance is straight out of an EE `Doc' Smith adventure. The flying saucers of course, by Nineteen Fifty-Nine were a familiar staple of B-movies. Salo, the Tralfamadorean who has been waiting on Titan for Two Hundred Thousand Years for his spare part, is a three-legged robot who, unaccountably, has developed more compassion and emotion than most of the human cast.
Above all, in a genre that was previously awash with novels about the superiority of Humanity, The Sirens of Titan emphasises the sheer insignificance of our world.
The only British successor of any note to Vonnegut is Douglas Adams, whose Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy's central premise (that the Earth was designed by mice as a giant organic computer to answer one specific question) is very similar to that of Vonnegut's. One should also note Kingsley Amis' `The Alteration' which can hold its own as a British novel in the satirical SF novel stakes against all-comers. See also Richard Cowper. These have been unjustly overshadowed by the popularity of the US authors for reasons which cannot be fathomed.