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Book Cover

book cover for the sirens of titan

This is the book cover for The Sirens of Titan

The Sirens of Titans (1959)


Vonnegut invented the fictional alien race of the Tralfamadorians who originated from the fictitious planet of Tralfamadore.
Here is a excerpt detailing their creation legend:

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 up the job in less time than it takes to say, “Tralfamadore.”

(p. 279-280)

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This passage is yet another piece of evidence of Vonnegut’s ability to quickly pierce to the core of matter; in this case the meaning (or lack thereof) of life!
I wonder why it is that humans have such a difficulty in accepting the simplicity of life?

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For me, it is hard to see the ever-increasing population, full of unique individuals, all special in their own way, yet create and live purposeless lives. Seems like an unsustainable mess. We excel at creating and eliminating life, but what Vonnegut is more interested in here, is society’s questionable reliance on technology.

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We have seen numerous times since the industrial age a longing for a non-technologically dependent society. For instance, currently there is a resurgence in the desire for local small-scale and chemical-free farming. People have found that mass-farming is unethical, unsafe, and wasteful in terms of the technology required to run such large-scale productions. However, that technology was developed to produce the maximum amount of meat and/or poultry in the shortest time possible, which it ultimately did. But the costs of such a practice are too ethically high for most humans to ethically agree to.

From my ramblings above, it may be apparent that I could go on and on about this issue of technology and the purpose of life. There may be moments of coherence and a lot of moments without any. The point is Vonnegut cuts and alludes to all of these issues and more in only 240 words. A true craftsman!

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