The Sirens of Titan
Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut

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The Sirens of Titan


science fiction

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The Sirens of Titan

Copyright © by Kurt Vonnegut

chapter one

Between Timid and Timbuktu

Constant smiled at that—the warning to be punctual. To be punctual meant to exist as a point, meant that as well as to arrive somewhere on time. Constant existed as a point—could not imagine what it would be like to exist in any other way.

That was one of the things he was going to find out—what it was like to exist in any other way.

Almost any brief explanation of chrono-synclastic infundibula is certain to be offensive to specialists in the field.



The motto under the coat of arms that Constant had designed for himself said simply, The Messenger Awaits.

What Constant had in mind, presumably, was a first-class message from God to someone equally distinguished.

The Rumfoord mansion was an hilariously impressive example of the concept: People of substance. It was surely one of the greatest essays on density since the Great Pyramid of Khufu. In a way it was a better essay on permanence than the Great Pyramid, since the Great Pyramid tapered to nothingness as it approached heaven. Nothing about the Rumfoord mansion diminished as it approached heaven. Turned upside down, it would have looked exactly the same.



“I tell you, Mr. Constant,” he said genially, “it’s a thankless job, telling people it’s a hard, hard Universe they’re in.”

Winston Niles Rumfoord was a member of the one true American class. The class was a true one because its limits had been clearly defined for at least two centuries—clearly defined for anyone with an eye for definitions. From Rumfoord’s small class had come a tenth of America’s presidents, a quarter of its explorers, a third of its Eastern Seaboard governors, a half of its full-time ornithologists, three-quarters of its great yachtsmen, and virtually all of its underwriters of the deficits of grand opera. It was a class singularly free of quacks, with the notable exception of political quacks. The political quackery was a means of gaining office—and was never carried into private life. Once in office, members of the class became, almost without exception, magnificently responsible.

If Rumfoord accused the Martians of breeding people as though people were no better than farm animals, he was accusing the Martians of doing no more than his own class had done.

Everything Rumfoord did he did with style, making all mankind look good.

Everything Constant did he did in style—aggressively, loudly, childishly, wastefully—making himself and mankind look bad.



“It’s chaos, and no mistake, for the Universe is just being born. It’s the great becoming that makes the light and the heat and the motion, and bangs you from hither to yon.”
Her face, like the face of Malachi Constant, was a one-of-a-kind, a surprising variation on a familiar theme—a variation that made observers think, Yes—that would be another very nice way for people to look. What Beatrice had done with her face, actually, was what any plain girl could do. She had overlaid it with dignity, suffering, intelligence, and a piquant dash of bitchiness.

“We’ve got a right to know what’s going on!” she cried.

The riot, then, was an exercise in science and theology—a seeking after clues by the living as to what life was all about.

chapter two

Cheers in the Warehouse
“Sometimes I think it is a great mistake to have matter that can think and feel. It complains so. By the same token, though, I suppose that boulders and mountains and moons could be accused of being a little too phlegmatic.”

—Winston Niles Rumfoord



“What an optimistic animal man is!” said Rumfoord rosily. “Imagine expecting the species to last for ten million more years—as though people were as well designed as turtles!”



chapter three

United Hotcake Preferred
[...] Fern showed him an organizational plan that had the name Magnum Opus, Incorporated. It was a marvelous engine for doing violence to the spirit of thousands of laws without actually running afoul of so much as a city ordinance.

“Mr. Constant,” he said, “right now you’re as easy for the Bureau of Internal Revenue to watch as a man on a street corner selling apples and pears. But just imagine how hard you would be to watch if you had a whole office building jammed to the rafters with industrial bureaucrats—men who lose things and use the wrong forms and create new forms and demand everything in quintuplicate, and who understand perhaps a third of what is said to them; who habitually give misleading answers in order to gain time in which to think, who make decisions only when forced to, and who then cover their tracks; who make perfectly honest mistakes in addition and subtraction, who call meetings whenever they feel lonely, who write memos whenever they feel unloved; men who never throw anything away unless they think it could get them fired. A single industrial bureaucrat, if he is sufficiently vital and nervous, should be able to create a ton of meaningless papers a year for the Bureau of Internal Revenue to examine.”



chapter five

Letter from an Unknown Hero
It is a freak of military custom that the lowliest private can command his equals and noncommissioned superiors to attention, if he is the first to detect the presence of a commissioned officer in any roofed-over structure not in a combat area.

And he was too good a soldier to go around asking questions, trying to round out his knowledge.

A soldier’s knowledge wasn’t supposed to be round.



The writer was fearless. The writer was such a lover of truth that he would expose himself to any amount of pain in order to add to his store of truth. He was superior to Unk and Stony. He watched and recorded their subversive activities with love, amusement, and detachment.

Unk imagined the writer as being a marvelous old man with a white beard and the build of a blacksmith.

Unk turned the page and read the signature.

I remain faithfully yours—was the sentiment expressed above the signature.

The signature itself filled almost the whole page. It was three block letters, six inches high and two inches wide. The letters were executed clumsily, with a smeary black kindergarten exuberance.

This was the signature:


Everyone was sharpening a blade.

And everywhere were sheepish smiles of a peculiar sort. The smiles spoke of sheep who, under proper conditions, could commit murder gladly.

chapter six

A Deserter in Time of War

His ship was powered, and the Martian war effort was powered, by a phenomenon known as UWTB, or the Universal Will to Become. UWTB is what makes universes out of nothingness—that makes nothingness insist on becoming somethingness.

Many Earthlings are glad that Earth does not have UWTB.

It was a big hit on Earth—a trio composed for a boy, a girl, and cathedral bells. It was called “God Is Our Interior Decorator.” The boy and girl sang alternate lines of the verses, and joined in close harmony on the choruses.

The cathedral bells whanged and clanged whenever anything of a religious nature was mentioned.



“He had volunteered for the Army of Mars, and already wore the dashing uniform of a lieutenant-colonel in the Assault Infantry of that service. He felt elegant, indeed, having been rather underprivileged spiritually on Earth, and assumed, as spiritually underprivileged persons will, that the uniform said lovely things about him.”

“The lieutenant-colonel realized for the first time what most people never realize about themselves—that he was not only a victim of outrageous fortune, but one of outrageous fortune’s cruelest agents as well.”



chapter seven


As he says in his Pocket History of Mars: “Any man who would change the World in a significant way must have showmanship, a genial willingness to shed other people’s blood, and a plausible new religion to introduce during the brief period of repentance and horror that usually follows bloodshed.

“Every failure of Earthling leadership has been traceable to a lack on the part of the leader,” says Rumfoord, “of at least one of these three things.”

“National borders,” said Rumfoord, “will disappear.

“The lust for war,” said Rumfoord, “will die.

“All envy, all fear, all hate will die,” said Rumfoord.

“The name of the new religion,” said Rumfoord, “is The Church of God the Utterly Indifferent.

“The flag of that church will be blue and gold,” said Rumfoord. “These words will be written on that flag in gold letters on a blue field: Take Care of the People, and God Almighty Will Take Care of Himself.

“The two chief teachings of this religion are these,” said Rumfoord: “Puny man can do nothing at all to help or please God Almighty, and Luck is not the hand of God.”



But Boaz had decided that he needed a buddy far more than he needed a means of making people do exactly what he wanted them to. During the night, he had become very unsure of what he wanted people to do, anyway.

Not to be lonely, not to be scared—Boaz had decided that those were the important things in life.



chapter nine

A Puzzle Solved

Unk was at war with his environment. He had come to regard his environment as being either malevolent or cruelly mismanaged. His response was to fight it with the only weapons at hand—passive resistance and open displays of contempt.

chapter ten

An Age of Miracles

“O Lord Most High, Creator of the Cosmos, Spinner of Galaxies, Soul of Electromagnetic Waves, Inhaler and Exhaler of Inconceivable Volumes of Vacuum, Spitter of Fire and Rock, Trifler with Millennia—what could we do for Thee that Thou couldst not do for Thyself one octillion times better? Nothing. What could we do or say that could possibly interest Thee? Nothing. Oh, Mankind, rejoice in the apathy of our Creator, for it makes us free and truthful and dignified at last. No longer can a fool like Malachi Constant point to a ridiculous accident of good luck and say, ‘Somebody up there likes me.’ And no longer can a tyrant say, ‘God wants this or that to happen, and anybody who doesn’t help this or that to happen is against God.’ O Lord Most High, what a glorious weapon is Thy Apathy, for we have unsheathed it, have thrust and slashed mightily with it, and the claptrap that has so often enslaved us or driven us into the madhouse lies slain!”

—The Reverend C. Horner Redwine



chapter ten

An Age of Miracles

“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—”

chapter eleven

We Hate Malachi Constant Because...

“Luck, good or bad,” said Rumfoord up in his treetop, “is not the hand of God.

“Luck,” said Rumfoord up in his treetop, “is the way the wind swirls and the dust settles eons after God has passed by.”


Reunion with Stony
Salo’s dash panel offered Constant two hundred and seventy-three knobs, switches, and buttons, each with a Tralfamadorian inscription or calibration. The controls were anything but a hunch-player’s delight in a Universe composed of one-trillionth part matter to one decillion parts black velvet futility.

“The worst thing that could possibly happen to anybody,” she said, “would be to not be used for anything by anybody.”

“Anybody who has traveled this far on a fool’s errand,” said Salo, “has no choice but to uphold the honor of fools by completing the errand.”

“I miss her,” he said.

“You finally fell in love, I see,” said Salo.

“Only an Earthling year ago,” said Constant. “It took us that long to realize that a purpose of human life, no matter who is controlling it, is to love whoever is around to be loved.”



“Indianapolis, Indiana,” said Constant, “is the first place in the United States of America where a white man was hanged for the murder of an Indian. The kind of people who’ll hang a white man for murdering an Indian—” said Constant, “that’s the kind of people for me.”

text checked (see note) Aug 2009

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