Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut (1963)
Fiction | Sci-Fi | ClassicBlurb:
“Told with deadpan humour and bitter irony, Kurt Vonnegut’s cult tale of global destruction preys on our deepest fears of witnessing Armageddon and, worse still, surviving it …
Dr Felix Hoenikker, one of the founding ‘fathers’ of the atomic bomb, has left a deadly legacy to the world. For he is the inventor of ‘ice-nine’, a lethal chemical capable of freezing the entire planet. The search for its whereabouts leads to Hoenikker’s three ecentric children, to a crazed dictator in the Caribbean, to madness. Felix Hoenikker’s Death Wish comes true when his last, fatal gift to mankind brings about the end, that for all of us, is nigh …”
pooled ink Review:
Just after the dedication page and before the table of contents the book decides to include the following declaration:
Nothing in this book is true.
“Live by the foma* that make you brave and kind and healthy and happy.”
The Book of Bokonon 1:5
Interesting. Very interesting indeed. Vonnegut’s story is a brief, abrupt, comical science-fiction tale as well as a dark, cynical, blunt declaration. Mostly it dances along the edge of two faces, one is the face shown in a mirror and the other is the confusing complexities that live underneath. It is either a bold statement or a ridiculous apocalyptic fiction. After finishing this book a word that comes to mind is “absurd.”
The whole book is rather absurd indeed! It’s an entertaining science-fiction story I agree, but it’s also simply odd. But I’ve grown up in the education system where they harass you with the question “Why?” and so some of my old school habits crept back into me. I had a pencil where I underlined words or phrases that struck me, I jotted down thoughts and notes, I even dog-eared a few pages that I wanted to remember. All in all, as absurd as this book may be, it made me think. For every joke there was a sharp jab, for every witty remark there was a shrewd observation, for every image there was a nonchalant guess, for every emotion there was a warning.
“I said to him,” said Knowles, “This here’s a re-search laboratory. Re-search means look again, don’t it? Means they’re looking for something they found once and it got away somehow, and now they got to re-search for it?…What is it they’re trying to find again?”
This book is broken into quite a lot of very short chapters, some not more than a page long. 127 chapters in just 287 pages! However it is interesting that these chapters are even more untraditional in that they do not mark different scenes within the story. Oh no, the story flows onward through the chapter titles so it would seem that the chapter headings in this case simply serve as a summary, a point, a topic. The dialogue, the action, the characters, they all go on uninterrupted while the “chapter titles” could really just be in parenthesis letting the reader know the point of the next few paragraphs in case they missed it or wished to know ahead of time so as to be sure not to miss it.
If you wish to study a granfalloon,
Just remove the skin of a toy balloon.
–Bokonon, pg. 92
Vonnegut’s writing style in Cat’s Cradle is quite witty, casual, blunt, intelligent, and real. No messing about with the fluff, the flowery, the fanciful. No, rather his prose reads like a conversation, it drives the reader along an off-kilter road of science-fiction, history, and possibility all spun together like a curious story being shared over coffee with an acquaintance whom is close enough to intrigue but distant enough to remain unpredictable. You sit there listening and thinking to yourself: My this narrator is an interesting fellow, he shares quite a curious tale. I do wonder why he chose to share my table today? I hardly know the man!
This book does indeed include a curious amount of Biblical references for a book on science, beginning on just page one where he declares his name to be Jonah, even though it’s not. Although it’s not like science and religion are opposites really, they actually compliment each other quite well. Actually as one reads on they will discover that it is not so odd after all for religion is as much a factor in life as it is a point in this book. Further on the topic of religion the narrator, John/Jonah, introduces himself as once a Christian but now a Bokononist – a fictitious religion that has an interesting belief system and view on God’s will and inescapable fate. Bokononism itself plays quite a substantial and interesting and contradicting role throughout.
My Bokononist warning is this:
Anyone unable to understand how a useful religion can be founded on lies will not understand this book either.
So be it.
–John/Jonah, pg. 5
I admit I was rather intimidated by this book at first. My Language Arts class in 8th grade was supposed to read it but the year before it got banned in my school because some parents made a complaint (parents can be so silly, can’t they?). My teacher was still pretty sour about it because she so much wished to explore Vonnegut’s book with us. Ever since then I’ve wanted to read it. I’ve checked it out of the library twice over the years but I felt too intimidated to read it. I know that sounds dumb but it’s such a famous book. So many people have read it, so many teach it, so many ban it, so many discuss it…it’s a book that indeed has a spot in the intellectual circle. I guess I was afraid I wouldn’t understand it and I didn’t want to feel like a fool who was missing what all the snooty people around me claimed to understand.
“See the cat?” asked Newt. “See the cradle?”
Well, I bought the book over a year ago on an impulse and I am now finally reading it and let me just tell you that there is nothing to be intimidated by. It’s a heavily discussed book because it’s full of strings to pull and talk about. It’s not encumbered with gigantic words or riddle-esque language, but even so it is far from simple. It’s rich with meanings, questions, ponderings, and curiosities. It’s a book with many levels but it’s up to you how deep and serious you want to take it. Is it just a fun satirical science fiction novel? Yes, it is. Is it a profound outlook on humanity, a darkly blunt view of life, an inquisitive taunting tango between religion and science, and a biting poignant uncomfortable confrontation of the world we live in and the future that is to come? Yes, that too.
The eggheads sit around trying to figure out new ways for everybody to be happy.
–H. Lowe Crosby, pg. 89
Basically, don’t be intimidated from reading whatever books you want. Don’t be intimidated by this book. It’s really a good book packed with very interesting ideas but you can simply enjoy it or if you so desire you can read and discuss its contents until you’re left with nothing but a lump of exhausted pulp. I do enjoy a good book discussion, however there is only so much I can take before I roll my eyes and yell at everyone to get on with it (“it” being life). I’d include something about English majors here but I’m sure you’re not all the same as those I’ve endured class with in college.
Fata Morgana was poetic crap, in short.
–John/Jonah, pg. 83
All in all I enjoyed this surprisingly quick read and if you’re hoping for some more Literature Class style insights then I suggest you join a literature class of some sort because frankly it’s quite late at night and I’d really quite like to go to bed. But I will include yet another quote that I rather liked as it struck me and made me pause:
“Americans,” he said, quoting his wife’s letter to the Times, “are forever searching for love in forms it never takes, in places it can never be. It must have something to do with the vanished frontier.”
–Horlick Minton, pg. 97
Kurt Vonnegut’s intriguing novel Cat’s Cradle is a poignant satire on modern man and the madness of them all. Humorous, sharp, and bursting with imagination, its pages contain words that have caused rivulets of contrasting reactions amongst readers since its publication in the twentieth century.
Purchase here: Cat’s Cradle
Meet Kurt Vonnegut!
Kurt Vonnegut, Junior was an American novelist, satirist, and most recently, graphic artist.
He was born in Indianapolis, later the setting for many of his novels. He attended Cornell University from 1941 to 1943, where he wrote a column for the student newspaper, the Cornell Daily Sun. Vonnegut trained as a chemist and worked as a journalist before joining the U.S. Army and serving in World War II.
The novelist is known for works blending satire, black comedy and science fiction, such as Slaughterhouse-Five (1969), Cat’s Cradle (1963), and Breakfast of Champions (1973)