Over the course of Kurt Vonnegut’s career, an unorthodox handling of time became one of many signature features in his fictional works (Allen 37). Despite The Sirens of Titan (1959) being only his second novel, this trademark is still prevalent. When delving into science fiction, it is often helpful to incorporate ideas from other works within the genre. This concept is exemplified by the “megatext,” an aspect of science fiction that involves the application of a reader’s own knowledge of the genre to a new encounter (Evans xiii). By working within the megatext, Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Dispossessed (1974) provides an insightful avenue in exploring the handling of time and its consequences in Vonnegut’s The Sirens of Titan.
This argument will be constructed, first, with an outline of Sirens’s plot, which is particularly necessary considering its sprawling nature. Following this overview, the connection between The Dispossessed and Sirens will be expounded upon regarding each novel’s handling of time. This chiefly involves a discussion of the Sequential and Simultaneous temporal perspectives detailed in The Dispossessed and their application to Sirens. Where the two works diverge is found within the reconciliation between those two perspectives. In The Dispossessed, the reconciliation lies more in the realm of mathematics and theory. In Sirens, the character Winston Niles Rumfoord serves as a more tangible manifestation of the relationship between Sequence and Simultaneity. How Rumfoord reconciles these two perspectives will be explored via his founding of the Church of God the Utterly Indifferent, his existential attitudes, and the parallels that can be drawn to other mythologies and traditions.
A lot goes on in The Sirens of Titan, to say the least. The novel focuses on Malachi Constant but also features Winston Niles Rumfoord. Rumfoord and his dog Kazak are unique in that they materialize and dematerialize across the universe, a result of traveling via chrono-synclastic infundibulum. Another side effect of this mode of travel is that Rumfoord is able to tell the future, a skill he makes use of in manipulating the course of events for not only Malachi but humanity in general.
Malachi Constant, an extremely rich but morally bankrupt playboy, is sent on a journey through the solar system after being invited to witness one of Rumfoord’s materializations. He is first taken to Mars to join an army set on invading Earth and has his memory wiped. On the way, he impregnates Rumfoord’s wife, Beatrice, who gives birth to a son named Chrono. During the invasion, Malachi, now known as Unk, and a companion named Boaz are diverted to Mercury since the invasion was actually a setup orchestrated by Rumfoord for the founding of a new religion, The Church of God the Utterly Indifferent.
Unk then returns to Earth to be received as the messiah-like Space Wanderer and later, when revealed to be Malachi Constant, as a devil-like figure antithetic to...