Cat's Cradle is my first foray into the world of Kurt Vonnegut, I have heard his name mentioned over the years but for one reason or another I have never actually picked up one of his novels. My youngest brother recommended his works (specifically siting Slaughterhouse five) and I have been picking up a few of his novels since. As Cat's Cradle is part of the SF Masterworks list (I have a sort of self imposed desire to read all the works in the list) I decided to start my Vonnegut journey there.
The story is essentially about one of the (fictional) founding fathers of the atomic bomb Dr Felix Hoenikker who has left an even deadlier legacy to the world in the form of "ice-nine" - a highly lethal chemical that is capable of freezing the entire planet.
I love the subtle, dry humour and bitter irony that colours the narrative, joined with a relaxed, unhurried pace and very down to earth style - told from the viewpoint of everyday characters. The novel follows the trail of this brilliant scientist, the protagonist of John is tracing his career and achievements through his surviving children in order to write an article to be published on the anniversary of Hiroshima but then stumbles across this much bigger story of "ice nine" and his journey becomes an attempt to track down this deadly agent.
Along the way we meet many colourful characters and learn about one of the novels central themes "Bokononism" - which is a fictional religion, a satire used as a vehicle to explore the idioms and cynicism of various religions.
The other major theme is the abnegation and often exuberant fatuousness of science, which reminds me of the line by Ian Malcom in Jurrasic Park:
"... your scientists were so preoccupied with whether they could that they didn't stop to think if they should"
- which is seen so often in science (you only have to see an episode of Dragon's Den or read about the latest "scientific study" to know what I mean). These two antipodean viewpoints manage to offset each other quite brilliantly and combine with a number of other messages within the book very effectively.
Cat's Cradle is a short book unhindered by lengthy exposition or world building, there is no wasted space at all and the rich, intelligent dialogue combined with brief chapters means that many people could read this in one or two sittings.
I love the author's voice that clearly projects itself, a natural misandry and dead pan humour combine with a unique intelligence and no nonsense approach, I highly recommend that you read this book at least once.
Written on Wednesday 25th January 2012 by Antony Jones.
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