The Sirens of Titan, Kurt Vonnegut (1959)
In his foreword to While Mortals Sleep, the latest posthumous Vonnegut story collection, Dave Eggers calls Vonnegut “a moral voice.” That’s what most struck me in Titan, and it’s what struck me about Slaughterhouse-Five and Cat’s Cradle: Vonnegut is so unafraid to be moral–though that’s often a lethal authorial position in the world of writing workshops. The back of my edition says that Titan is “about The Meaningless[ness?] Of It All,” but it’s really about the utmost in what’s meaningful; Vonnegut seems to be saying, Be nice to each other, you tiny idiots, because life may have no greater purpose than that!
Vonnegut is one of my dad’s favorite authors, and I read this on his recommendation. His take on the book, which I find more convincing than mine, is: “In the beginning, and in the end, ‘somebody up there likes me.’ That is the main takeaway of the book…it may be a little robot creature made by other robot creatures, and his goals may not be understandable or include liking Unk (me,) but who’s to say this is not the way God works?”
A master class in:
Quirky irreverence, of course! As well as the lyricism possible therein.
…And the space that does exist for morality, even in good, nonpolemical fiction.
“Sometimes I think it is a great mistake to have matter that can think and feel. It complains so. By that same token, though, I suppose that boulders and mountains and moons could be accused of being a little too phlegmatic.”
“…and there would be only one moon, Unk thought, and the moon would be fat, stately, and slow.”
From the dedication page: “No names have been changed to protect the innocent, since God Almighty protects the innocent as a matter of Heavenly routine.”
From a writing assignment to his students at Iowa: “As for your term papers, I should like them to be both cynical and religious. I want you to adore the Universe, to be easily delighted, but to be prompt as well with impatience with those artists who offend your own deep notions of what the Universe is or should be. ”
And his letter to a friend about to teach at Iowa: “Every so often you will go nuts. All of a sudden the cornfields get you.”