o let’s not start by talking about this book as a story or a metaphor or anything. Let’s talk about it as a book. Been carrying this little paperback with me for 40 years or so. It was on my shelf in Drapers Meadows West in Blacksburg, it lingered in my huge shelves in my vault I lived in at York. And in the time between all these places, it sat in a book box waiting to be reread.
I can’t even say why I’d have bought it. I did read some Vonnegut at University for classes and found him funny. Maybe that’s why. Funny to look at a seventies art sci-fi cover, read the strange blurb on the back and wonder what drew me to it. Because, dammit, I still haven’t gotten around to reading the Lensmen yet, and I promised!
But as I read it again (and didn’t remember a thing) all these years later, I realized that time does take a toll on books. With a crack, the back split. Then big chunks began coming unglued. I actually held, not a book, but a collection of papers in my hand. I was just desperate to get to the end before the entire thing fell apart in a cloud of mummy dust (hey, the waitress at Juniors thought that was a funny comment – she laughed).
So, yes, Sirens.
Look, have you ever read Vonnegut? Have you ever read one of his stories that casually involk scifi just to make a point? It’s not about technology, or logic, or even belivability – its about a social statement.
So that’s this story. We start with Winston Niles Rumfoord, a rather domineering fellow who, with his dog, flew a spaceship into some sort of gravity crazy-thing between Earth and Mars and now exists in a strange state. He can see the future as easy as you can flip to the final page of a book (I didn’t dare, here. It was falling apart in my hands!). The trouble is, he exists in an energy state strung between Earth and Betelgeuse, appearing every eighty-odd days at his own mansion to frown at the crowds and be ignored by his wife.
See? Kinda weird but interesting, right?
So into this comes Malachi Constant, a playboy riding on his daddy’s estate, invited to meet the ghostly Rumfoord. And here he is delivered an odd prophesy, that he will birth a child with Rumfoord’s wife on Mars, journey to Mercury, then finally (after a short stop on Earth) fly all the way out to Saturn’s moon Titan where he will meet the three Sirens.
Yeah, so see?
That there is an army currently marshalling on Mars (under Rumfoord’s orders) to invade Earth, that there is an alien trapped on Titan with a message from another galaxy and a busted ship, that there are creatures who eat music, a game called German batball, that Mars is made of iron, Mercury crystals and Titan heated to balmy summer by its interior; well, that’s par for this book.
So yes, if you like your stories neat and tidy with heroic heroes and solid deeds and your basic Waldenbooks bullshit, this book will make you crazy. But if you like a story that hints at meanings, that moves sideways and doesn’t really come to a conclusion you would expect, try Sirens. I really loved it.
Even as it broke up in my hands.