The Bottom Line: I can't fill this out - I've just written a new worst review on Epinions
What is the meaning of life? It's a question that mankind has asked ever since the time philosophy itself was in infancy. We've wondered, speculated, and guessed for century after millennium after eon for eternity. We've made it the subject of revered works of art. Even Kurt Vonnegut wasn't averse to wondering just what the hell the whole point of it is. He finally gave the ultimate question a go himself in his second novel, The Sirens of Titan. While Vonnegut dares to give us the ultimate answer, he doesn't address it directly. He leaves us to figure it out, even though the answer is more than a little obvious and for more religious types, probably a little jarring.
The Sirens of Titan was never given the classic status college eggheads reserved for Slaughterhouse-Five and Cat's Cradle. It never sold as well as Breakfast of Champions. However, in The Sirens of Titan, we get a glimpse of Vonnegut in his full, pre-wigout glory. The Sirens of Titan introduced many themes and ideas and even characters who went on to become Vonnegut staples, and it's arguably the closest Vonnegut ever came to writing an outright sci-fi novel. It's the book that made America stand up and say whoa, this guy is pretty freaking cool!
The Sirens of Titan introduces us to one of Vonnegut's first recurring characters, Winston Niles Rumfoord, and his space dog, Kazak. Rumfoord's role in Sirens is that of a prophet, and the grand architect of a fate that leads us to why we're really here. He just appears out of thin air once every so often to get people to believe in miracles. He's the grandmaster of a whole religion. (You can draw a few parallels to Cat's Cradle here.) People who only know Vonnegut's later works know Runfoord is often portrayed as a power-hungry jerk who will use any means to accomplish his own ends. So they may be shocked to see that Rumfoord plays the wise, good man through most of Sirens, though he flashes his later personality toward the end.
One day, he sits down to chat with Malachi Constant, a billionaire by inheritence. Constant is the richest man in the world, but he is also very depraved. Constant has gotten through his life on the strength of his father's fortune and on copious amounts of dumb luck. He runs a stock owning empire which he maintained through inspired guesswork, as he has little personal charm and no business skills at all. Soon, Constant's luck runs out, and so does his fortune. He soon finds himself thrust automatically into this weird journey through space, which takes him to another planet and eventually to a moon. Malachi Constant is the main character of The Sirens of Titan, and we see him end up in a situation which is very alien to him. Constant undergoes three different monikers in Sirens. Through it all, he gropes aimlessly through the dark in a universe which has ceased to care about his existance; the religion built by Rumfoord, in fact, scorns him.
The Sirens of Titan introduces us to a handful of interesting concepts, and it's through these concepts through which a sci-fi influence can be noticed. There is a colony on Mars, and the people living there use special pills to breathe the air. The Martians play a game called German batball, similar to baseball but with a couple of significant twists. A religion is created - a church of an indifferent god, and the roots of Bokononism - the religion in Cat's Cradle - can be seen here. There are little beings called harmoniums which seem to respond to sound. The journey of Malachi Constant is very odd and comes with a lot of twists. One of the more interesting twists is an invasion. There's a great moment about a war between Earth and Mars.
The Sirens of Titan exists within a world of Vonnegut's own creation, even though a lot of it still takes place on Earth. Each chapter begins with a fictitious quote from one of the major players inside of this world. There are stocks in the book which don't exist in real life, and many of the odd little details of life on Earth seem to be there to expand the story or make a point. This isn't a bad thing though - it gives the book an added dimension and allows us to see more of Malachi Constant's character early in the book, what he was like before his journey.
The Sirens of Titan is softer sci-fi, so aside from the Martian battle, there isn't any alien shoot-em-up action. I'm not sure what is was that Vonnegut was trying to satirize in this book. I do know that of the Vonnegut books I've read, The Sirens of Titan is my personal favorite because of the sheer oddness of it.