Kurt Vonnegut, The Sirens of Titan: Page by Page, Chapter by Chapter Review: Chapter 3, United Hotcake Preferred

Summary of the Summary

Malachi Constant learns that his business is bankrupt, reads a letter from his deceased father written in case this should happen, and signs up to join the Martian Army, which has engineered this situation. The same Martian spies are with Beatrice Rumfoord disguised as business advisers when we see The Whale, rechristened the Rumfoord, take off.


  • Constant flies his helicopter, poorly, to the opulent 31 story headquarters of his business, Magnum Opus, where the manager, Ransom K. Fern, tells him that he has gone bankrupt.
  • Magnum Opus was created by Malachin’s father, Noel Constant, an eccentric speculator, who lived in Room 223 of the Wilburhampton Hotel, where he fathered Malachi with the chambermaid.
  • Ransom K. Fern sought Noel out because he was looking for someone lucky to follow; nobody but Malachi ever learned the secret, bible-based, method of Noel’s investment method.
  • Helmholtz and Wiley appear to be two retired teachers at a bar, however, they are disguised Martian spies preparing to recruit Constant, brainwash him, install a radio controlled mind device, and have him serve in the Martian army, along with 14,000 other Earthlings who have already been ‘recruited.’
  • After reading a letter left to him by his father to be read when things have gone bad, the Martians appear at the exact right time and persuade Constant to join their army.
  • On the East Coast, Beatrice Rumfoord watches the spaceship leave while sitting with her business team – which are the same characters, Helmholtz and Wiley, who recruited Constant. They point out a building on her property that looks like a flying saucer.

Page by Page, Chapter by Chapter Summary

“Nobody thinks or notices anything as long as his luck is good. Why should he?”

Noel Constant to his son Malachi via Letter – Page 89 of The Sirens of Titan

Page 62 – Begin

“While Magnum Opus owned the whole building, it used only the top three floors, renting out the rest to corporations it controlled.” Page 62

“Among the tenants were

  • Galactic Spacecraft
  • Moon-Mist Tobacco
  • Fandango Petroleum
  • Lennox Monorail
  • Fry-Kwik
  • Sani-Maid Pharmaceuticals
  • Lewis and Marvin Sulfur
  • Dupree Electronics
  • Universal Piezoelectric
  • Psychokinesis Unlimited
  • Ed Muir Associates
  • Max-Mor Machine Tools
  • Wilkinson Paint and Varnish
  • American Levitation
  • Flo-Fast
  • King O’Leisure Shirts, and
  • Life Assurance Company of California.”

Formatting added, Vonnegut did this all in paragraph form. Page 62 – 62.

***Chapter 3, Break 1 – Page 63 ***

“Fern waited for Constant on the thirty-first floor – a single, vast room that was Constant’s office.” Page 63

“The office was spookily furnished since none of the furniture had legs. Everything was suspended magnetically at the proper height.” Page 64

“Only adolescence and the age of sixty were represented.” Page 65, describing Ransom K Fern

“When you get right down to it, everybody’s having a perfectly lousy time of it, and I mean everybody. And the hell of it is, nothing seems to help much.” Page 66 Ransom K. Fern’s personal philosophy in life

“Malachi Constant had still to get it through his head that his luck was gone – every bit of it.” Ransom K Fern talking with Constant on Page 67.

“United Hotcake preferred was a favorite joke of his. Whenever people came to him begging for investment advice that would double their money in six weeks, he advised them gravely to invest in this fictitious stock.” Page 67

“For three months you have made nothing but wrong decisions, and you’ve done what I would have said was impossible.” Fern to Constant on the bankruptcy

***Chapter 3, Break 2 – Page 68 ***

“A history of Magnum Opus, Inc., is perhaps in order at this point.” Page 68

“He was thirty-nine at the time, single, physically and morally unattractive, and a business failure.” Page 69, a description of Noel Constant, Malachi’s father, at the time he decided to become a speculator.

“The materials with which Noel Constant built his fortune were hardly more nourishing in themselves than calendar dates and bedsprings.” Page 70, after the two paragraphs leading, “There is a riddle…., The answer is:”

“This was Noel Constant’s system:” Page 71, wherein Vonnegut describes how Noel used the words of the bible to find stock symbols, which were what he then purchased.

“Small as this exercise of authority was, it was significant, for it showed that Constant had at last become interested in something he owned.” Page 72, after Trowbridge Helicotper receives a note from Noel to change their name to Galactic Spacecraft, Inc.

“Then after two years, Noel Constant received his second visitor in Room 223.” The first was Florence Whitehill. Page 73, this second guest is Ransom K. Fern.

“I have to describe every company I owned in detail, or I can’t keep the money?” Page 74

“I had to find somebody who had luck in an astonishing degree – and so I have.” Page 75, Ransom K. Fern to Noel Constant.

“It was a marvelous engine for doing violence to the spirit of thousands of laws without actually running afoul of so much as a city ordinance.” Page 76,

“But just imagine how hard you would be to watch if you had a whole office building jammed to the rafters with industrial bureaucrats – men who lose things and use the wrong forms and create new forms and demand everything in quintuplicate, and who understands perhaps a third of what is said to them; who habitually give misleading answers in order to gain time in which to think, who make decisions only when forced to, and who then cover their tracks; who make perfectly honest mistakes in addition and subtraction, who call meetings whenever they feel lonely, who write memos whenever they feel unloved; men who never throw anything away unless they think it could get them fired.” Page 76 – 77 Ransom K. Fern

“A single industrial bureaucrat, if he is sufficiently vital and nervous, should be able to create a ton of meaningless papers a year for the Bureau of Internal Revenue to examine.” Page 77, Ransom K. Fern

“I’m not moving into it,” said Noel Constant. “I’m staying right here.”

***Chapter 3, Break 3 – Page 78 ***

“He asked her to please keep coming to see him once every ten days in Room 223 of the Wilburhampton Hotel, but not to bring the baby.” Page 78 – where we learn Noel Constant’s reaction to Florence Whitehill’s pregnancy: they marry, he gives her money and a mansion.

***Chapter 3, Break 4 – Page 83 ***

“The backbone of the roof had been broken intentionally, simulating great age.” Pages 83 – 84

“They had obviously discovered the consolations of alcohol and cynicism late in life.” Page 84, about the teacher pensioners at the Hear Ye Room.

“When they weren’t asking questions about the different things to drink, they were indistinguishable from millions of other American barflies on the first day of the New Age of Space.” Pages 84 – 85

“Helmholtz and Miss Wiley were behaving like pilot and co-pilot of an enormously pointless voyage through space that was expected to take forever.” Page 85 – the two pensioners, astronauts traveling on planet Earth. Page 85

“I see where the President has ordered a whole brand-new Age of Space to begin, to see if htat won’t help the unemployment picture some,” said the bartender. Page 86

“They were crack agents for the Army of Mars, the eyes and ears for a Martian press gang that hovered in a flying saucer two hundred miles overhead.” Page 86, where we learn that Helmholtz and Wiley aren’t teacher pensioners

***Chapter 3, Break 5 – Page 86 ***

“They had never used violence on anyone, and had still recruited fourteen thousand persons for Mars.” Page 86

“Their usual technique was to dress like civil engineers and offer not-quite-right men and women nine dollars an hour, tax free, plus food and shelter and transportation, to work on a secret Government project in a remote part of the world for three years. It was a joke between Helmholtz and Miss Wiley that they had never specific what government was organizing the project, and that no recruit had ever thought to ask.” Page 87 – Vonnegut uses the joke between the two as a joke for the reader.

“Their memories were cleaned out by mental-health experts, and Martian surgeons installed radio antennas in their skulls in order that the recruits might be radio-controlled.” Page 87

“Those lucky few were welcomed into the secret circle of those in command.” Page 87 – Helmholtz and Wiley are not mind controlled, they are at the inner circle.

***Chapter 3, Break 6 – Page 88 ***

“What I want you to try and find out is, is there anything special going on or is it all just as crazy as it looked to me?” Page 88 – Noel Constant via letter to his son, to be read when things have gone wrong. This is via epistolary.

From Noel Constant’s letter to Malachi, Page 89

  • “It looked as though somebody or something wanted me to own the whole planet even though I was as good as dead.”
  • “I kept my eyes open for some kind of signal that would tell me what it was all about but there wasn’t any signal.”
  • “… even a half-dead man hates to be alive and not be able to see any sense to it.”
  • “… nobody thinks or notices anything as long as his luck is good. Why should he?”
  • “… if you go broke and somebody comes along with a crazy proposition, my advice is to take it.”

“We are now prepared to offer you a direct lieutenant-colonelcy in the Army of Mars.” Helmholtz to Constant, page 90, having waited on the exact right timing once he had read the letter from his father. Noel Constant’s letter had primed his son to accept the offer.

***Chapter 3, Break 7, 8 – Page 91 ***

“It was as though Malachi Constant had walked forty feet, and had then dissolved into thin air.” Page 91

“On the following day…” is used as a repetitive intro by Vonnegut.

“She had proved that she was mistress of her own fate, could say no whenever she pleased – and make it stick.” Page 91

“It was a flawless shot.” Page 92, describing the launch of the renamed Rumfoord Space Ship, where Beatrice is sitting with Helmholtz and Wiley.

“You know what I said it was, don’t you?” said Miss Wiley. Page 94

Chapter End, Page 94

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