Growing up I held the belief that there were certain individuals in the world that were by definition nerds and others who were not. I believe now, however, that everyone is a nerd about something. You have, of course, your space nerds and your Lord of the Rings’ nerds who often get most of the flack for being such. It should be noted that whether your hobby is gardening, sports, fishing, etc. you are a nerd so long as you have a somewhat unhealthy desire for that which you do. That is my definition of a nerd. (Sports nerds, in my opinion, are some of the worst. I still belong to this group, but I am striving to leave it as best I can—a very hard thing to do in March.)
And so, when I chose this week to engage in a book that was by most people’s standards nerdy, I merely crossed a very fine line. For me, reading about dwarves and goblins is not nerdy, it is fantastic. However, for most people that is incredibly nerdy, maybe even lame. This week, I did what felt nerdy and read a sci-fi book by Kurt Vonnegut titled The Sirens of Titan.
Not only is this book a sci-fi book about space travel, but it is also contemporary American fiction, a genre I generally do not read. Due to this, it was a fast-paced novel that kept the reader engaged throughout, thus making it a pretty fast read. The plot focuses around Malachi Constant, the richest and most depraved man on earth who is informed that he will go on a trip across space to mars, mercury, back to earth, and finally to Titan, a moon of Saturn. The overarching theme of the novel seems to be hinging on the question, what is the meaning of life? Or why are we here?
SPOILER ALERT COMING
Winston Niles Rumfoord is the man who prophecies about Constant’s trip around the solar system, and the book builds up the reader to believe that Rumfoord is controling certain characters to further the plot. I got the feeling that the reader never understands fully Rumfoord’s possible motives, but in any case the reader finds out that it is actually Rumfoord who is being controlled by another character, who in turn is simply a machine from a planet from a different galaxy altogether.
This was somewhat frustrating to me, but nevertheless, the reader is posed with the question that continues to be an issue even today: is an outside force “controlling” events? The outside force most argued for in America today is obviously God. Is there a God and is he divinely manipulating events in our universe for his own special purposes? The book poses this question (albeit without the direct mention of God, but the idea that a force of some sort controlling us is still there) and answers in a surprising way.
“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.” This quote is from Constant who finally decides that love is the final answer. This same man had much trouble loving others at the beginning of the novel.
Though I would disagree that loving others is the end of our purpose in life (for loving and receiving love but points us to the source of that love), I was pleased with this conclusion. It gives the reader a different perspective on the idea of humanity and free will—whether we have it or not, and whether that is ultimately good. I would agree with Constant in the end. Whether we are being controlled or not is not really up to us, for “who are you, O man, to answer back to God?” Instead, love should be the core of what we do, and hopefully that will point us to its source.
Naturally, there are so many other points of reference I could have spoken about concerning this book. Constant’s wealth coming from the Bible seems to obviously be commentary on religion being used for capital gain (an issue no doubt). The “Indifferent God” that was created was also commentary of some sort, perhaps satire on most “believers” in America. All things considered, I found it refreshing to leave my own nerdery of nineteenth-century England and the shire and enter into a completely different world. In the end, I am glad to be back home in the comforts of the make believe world inside my head. I can already see Gandalf and Frodo smoking their pipes with Pickwick and Falstaff watching the KU game and discussing philosophy with Aslan over five very large and frothy mugs of ale.