The Sirens of Titan
By Kurt Vonnegut
Douglas Adams was a big admirer of this book, and in its explanation (or justification) of all of Earth’s history as the fulfilment of some banal and mechanical alien purpose he probably also took some inspiration.
Of course Vonnegut and Adams were both comic authors, but comic in a deeper sense than the word is often used. The Sirens of Titan makes peace with an absurd universe. Characters are dust, mere playthings in the hands of an indifferent God, aliens, or the author. Human agency is little more than the ability to press the big red ON button that starts one’s spaceship. People experience love and death, aging, loss, and loneliness, but it’s all part of the cosmic joke. We take such matters seriously because we have to, but we know they’re accidental.
The peripatetic plot, with Malachi Constant wandering about our solar system, underlines this sense of randomness, while at the same time insisting on the importance of the connections we make. The sirens that draw Malachi to Titan are fake, even tacky, pool ornaments, but like everything else in the junkyard of the universe they are not without meaning and consequence.