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The Sirens of Titan (SF Masterworks No18) by Kurt Vonnegut (Orion Millennium, £6.99, 224 pages, paperback; first published 1959, this edition 30 September 1999.)

Probably a stupid idea in hindsight, agreeing to review The Sirens of Titan. Surely everybody - even the non-sf reading literati who sail the skies of big national newspaper reviews high above- knows Kurt Vonnegut?

Brilliant pseudo-sf novels, bleakly comic, often despairing of mankind? Ring any bells? No? Oh, come on. Slaughterhouse 5, Cats Cradle, Mother Night… I studied Vonnegut on a serious Literature degree, for heaven's sake, that's how famous he is!

All right, back to the stupid idea in hindsight. The Sirens of Titan is marvellous. It's so funny it made me want to cry because it's so true. Great suffering, great power, great riches - even great ideas - are reduced to naught by Vonnegut's uncomplicated Socratic wisdom. And that, by and large, is the basis of the novel.

Men and beasts are chrono-synclastically infundibulated, Earth is almost invaded by Mars and distant aliens completely control the destiny of all Mankind for their own laudably laughable ends. But these are fairly minor asides in the story, which refuses to be drawn aside from the basic question of The Meaningless Of It All and the small stories of even smaller individuals who find the Meaninglessness hard to accept.

The narrative is uncluttered by the large dollops of realism that so many other writers often force upon us like extra helpings of vegetables, and the result is a twisting, weaving, ducking and diving fable of one man's - and by extension Man's - usage by the universe.

If you don't own The Sirens of Titan already then you probably don't deserve to!

Review by Stuart Carter.

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© Stuart Carter 18 December 1999