Kurt Vonnegut is the best. And I don’t mean that in a “I’ve read Atlas Shrugged and Moby Dick and Death in the Afternoon and I’m serious about literature,” kind of way. I mean it like, Kurt Vonnegut wrote really entertaining books. His most famous might be Slaughterhouse Five, but my favourite is his second novel, a book called The Sirens of Titan (Galapagos is probably my next favourite; check that one out too). If you like super-intelligent books with a lot of humor, you’ll like this. If you like George Orwell mixed with Roald Dahl and a heaping helping of Douglas Adams, you’ll like Sirens. If you like science fiction stories that are both far-fetched and somehow easily believable, you should read this one.
The book was written in 1959, but it doesn’t matter; it could have taken place at any time. It’s actually kind of hard to describe the story without giving away too much, but the premise is that the luckiest, richest (perhaps jerkiest) man on earth is prophesied to travel through space on a grand adventure, and he does, but it’s not all happiness and space-flowers. As the book jacket says, “there’s a catch to the invitation – and a prophetic vision about the purpose of human life that only Vonnegut has the courage to tell.” There’s also a colony of soldiers on Mars preparing to battle earth, mind control, and an alien named Salo from a far-flung galaxy patiently waiting for 200,000 years for the part to repair his broken down spaceship. There’s a lot going on in the story, but what you’ll remember most about this book is the humanity of the characters: human beings who are bad, sad, pathetic, heart-breaking, funny, frustrating, and wonderful. It’s the people, that make this story great.
There are deep elements to the story: some crazy yet almost believable future dystopian visions of what kind of people we could become, the kinds of mistakes we could (and already are) making; and in that way the story has a potential to be sad and worrisome, but Vonnegut’s dry humor and rich visual descriptions save you. I don’t think you’ll be sad or disturbed when you finish Sirens, but you might be surprised, even embarrassed, at how much a satirical, silly novel made you feel.
*(Even better: it’s a relatively short, relatively easy read, so you don’t have to slog through Rand or Melville to feel like you’ve read something important. Enjoy!)