“The Sirens of Titan” (Post 3/3)

part 03

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Post 1/3

Post 2/3

[45] Vocabulary:

The actual babble, spatter and potch of the fountain could underline the Space Wanderer’s words.



noun – A slap, especially to a child.

verb     (1) To slap or spank a child (2) To slap; bump

(Uncommon word. This is a strange use of it.)


Rumfoord did not look well. His color was bad. And, although he smiled as always, his teeth seemed to be gnashing behind the smile. His complacent glee had become a caricature, betraying the fact that all was not well by any means.


[47] I need to get a better feel for the difference between:

(a) “____,” Rumfoord said.


(b) “____,” said Rumfoord.

There is some subtle change in effect between the two. I tend to use (a) but there are times I see authors use (b) and it fits so well. It keeps a conversation flowing; doesn’t imply as much of a pause or finality in the dialogue, like in the following:

“They’d like it just as much the other way around, you know,” he said.

“The other way around?” said the Space Wanderer.

“If the big reward came first, and then the great suffering,” said Rumfoord. “It’s the contrast they like. The order of events doesn’t make any difference to them. It’s the thrill of the fast reverse-


[48] Vocabulary:

“He wallowed in sycophants.”



noun – a person who acts obsequiously toward someone important in order to gain advantage (yes-man, bootlicker, etc).

[49] Vocabulary

“He wallowed in every known form of voluptuous turpitude.



noun (formal) – depravity; wickedness.


“To us of the Church of God the Utterly Indifferent, there is nothing more cruel, more dangerous, more blasphemous that a man can do than to believe that – that luck, good or bad, is the hand of God!”



Salo once described this durable form of government to Rumfoord as hypnotic anarchy, but declined to explain its workings. “Either you understand at once what it is,” he told Rumfoord, “or there is no sense in trying to explain it to you, Skip.”


[52] Vocabulary:

Its power plant was nothing for a mechanical dilettante to tinker with.



noun – a person who cultivates an area of interest, such as the arts, without real commitment or knowledge. (amateur, dabbler, layman).

[53] This is a great example of Vonnegut; an entire book’s worth of cheekiness, observation and commentary compressed into one fable.

The Tralfamadorians, according to Salo, manufactured each other. No one knew for certain how the first machine had come into being.

The legend was this:

Once upon a time on Tralfamadore there were creatures who weren’t anything like machines. They weren’t dependable. They weren’t efficient. They weren’t predictable. They weren’t durable. And these poor creatures were obsessed by the idea that everything that existed had to have a purpose, and that some purposes were higher than others.

These creatures spent most of their time trying to find out what their purpose was. And every time they found out what seemed to be a purpose of themselves, the purpose seemed so low that the creatures were filled with disgust and shame.

And, rather than serve such a low purpose, the creatures would make a machine to serve it. This left the creatures free to serve higher purposes. But whenever they found a higher purpose, the purpose still wasn’t high enough.

So machines were made to serve higher purposes, too.

And the machines did everything so expertly that they were finally given the job of finding out what the highest purpose of the creatures could be.

The machines reported in all honesty that the creatures couldn’t really be said to have any purpose at all.

The creatures thereupon began slaying each other, because they hated purposeless things above all else.

And they discovered that they weren’t even very good at slaying. So they turned that job over to the machines, too. And the machines finished the job in less time than it takes to say, “Tralfamadore.”


[54]      Q: With all this talk of German batball, is it actually a sport?

A: It looks like Vonnegut made it up. Even in the reality of the book, it seems like something created for Rumfoord when he was a boy.

[55] Vocabulary:

Kazak came from the domed and minareted building.




noun – a tall, thin tower of a mosque with a balcony from which the people are called to prayer.

[56] Vocabulary:

He, too, looked frowzy and palsied.



adjective – scruffy and neglected in appearance.

[57] Vocabulary:

Through a thin veil of noblesse oblige, Rumfoord let Salo know that to be a machine was to be insensitive.



A French phrase literally meaning “nobility obliges.” It is the concept that nobility extends beyond mere entitlements and requires the person with such status to fulfill social responsibilities, particularly in leadership roles.


Rumfoord let the empty choke chain slip from his fingers. The chain expressed deadness, made a formless sound and a formless heap, was a soulless slave of gravity, born with a broken spine.


[59] Vocabulary:

“Hello, Beatrice – wife,” he said sepulchrally.




adjective – of or relating to a tomb or interment.


He groaned. It was a tiny groan – and so sad.

The sweet, mild air of Titan carried the tiny groan away.


[61] Vocabulary:

Constant had many hobbies that helped him to pass the balmy time in the salubrious clime of Titan.



adjective – health-giving; healthy


Constant never found out whether Chrono knew who tidied up the shrines. Chrono may have thought his god or gods were doing it.

It was all so sad. But it was all so beautiful, too.


[63] Vocabulary:

At unpredictable intervals, Chrono would swim out to the palace (…) and spend the day in indolent, sullen, reasonably civilized discourse.



adjective – wanting to avoid activity or exertion; lazy

[64] And this is where Beatrice thanks Constant for that earlier rape.

“The worst thing that could possibly happen to anybody,” she said, “would be not to be used for anything by anybody (…) Thank you for using me,” she said to Constant, “even though I didn’t want to be used by anybody.”


I love you, Vonnegut, but what an awful sentiment. This is the climax of Beatrice’s character arc – this is her moment – but you’ve done a forehead-smackingly bad job of it.


“Sorry,” said Salo. “I would say, ‘Is there anything I can do?’ – but Skip once told me that that was the most hateful and stupid expression in the English language.”


[66] After three hundred pages of sarcasm and satire, the end hits a deep emotional chord. The best of Vonnegut’s fiction manages to do this. It’s similar to how scares in a horror movie can be more effective after a couple of laughs. Look at the amount of bittersweet sadness and mortality wrapped up in this one line (or, look away if you haven’t read the book):

Salo had hypnotized him so that he would imagine, as he died, that he saw his best and only friend, Stony Stevenson.


If you like Vonnegut but haven’t read Sirens of Titan, give it a chance. If you’re interested in Vonnegut and not sure where to start, this is a great entry point. It reads very fast, has a concrete plot (some of his other books are heavy on the vignettes and a bit scattershot) and will give you a feel for his style and voice. Also, like I said before, fans of Hitchhikers Guide or even the Discworld series might find some things to love about it.

Over three reads spread out over eighteen years, it’s still one of my favorite books.

Next week, we’ll welcome Don DeLillo to the party with Running Dog.


2 thoughts on ““The Sirens of Titan” (Post 3/3)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s