Science fiction and modern literature owes a huge debt to Kurt Vonnegut. I have written about one of his works earlier, “so The Sirens of Titan”. “Cat’s Cradle” was actually his master’s thesis at the University of Chicago. If anyone would be interested in finding out more about the legacy of the strangeness of the students at that school, read this work and keep in mind that Vonnegut earned his master’s in anthropology, not creative writing.
For this work, I actually sat down in a bookstore with a dozen or so Vonnegut books that I had not read before. One of the reasons I was attracted to this book was that it was his master’s thesis. Having gone through the process of writing a thesis, I felt somewhat compelled to see what Vonnegut had made of the process. Obviously, Vonnegut’s work was rather more brilliant than my own feeble attempt to write a thesis. Nevertheless, Vonnegut’s work is a wickedly satirical work that will leave you thoughtful. The novel is basically about the inventor of the atomic bomb, the fictional inventor anyway.
The protagonist is trying to write a fictional biography of the brilliant Felix Hoenikker, a rather strange man who was obsessed with working on whatever was in front of him at the time. He neglected his family, his friends, his work associates, all for the sake of research. Newt, Felix’s son, related the story that once Felix stopped working on the atomic bomb to study turtles. He wanted to know what their spines did when they withdrew their head into their shell. Clearly, this man is brilliant and curious, but lacks any ability to prioritize. The daughter, Angela, takes care of the family and does everything to keep the house running because Felix’s wife died while giving birth to Newt. We do not know if Felix even really noticed the death of his wife.
Anyway, our narrator, John or Jonah, represents humanity and goes on a quest to find out what happened on the day the bomb dropped on Hiroshima.
First, this search leads him to New York, where Jonah interviews some of the locals who knew Felix and Felix’s coworkers. In New York, Jonah is told a story that Felix is working on a compound known as ice-9, which would turn any liquid to ice, instantly. The problem is that it will keep on freezing liquids forever. So, one crystal of ice-9 dropped in the ocean will freeze all water on earth. Jonah is told this as a hypothetical to demonstrate the brilliance of Felix. Unbeknownst to Felix’s old supervisor, Felix did create ice-9 and distribute it to his children before he died.
Jonah then ends up in San Lorenzo, a fictional Caribbean island that is absolutely worthless. He travels there to interview Frank, another of Felix’s sons, who has become an adviser to the President of San Lorenzo. After some misadventures in the Republic of San Lorenzo, Jonah becomes acquaintances with the President of San Lorenzo, who is holding a terrible secret, a vial of ice-9. Of course, ice-9 is so horrifying because it has the capability of freezing all water on Earth. Further, ice-9 is deadly by itself. One small crystal on your lips and all the water in your body will freeze. Obviously, this compound must not be released.
But, this being a Vonnegut novel, through a seemingly random series of events the ice-9 is released. I leave the aftermath for the curious reader. Vonnegut is fascinating for his use of satire, wicked humor, and his exposition of human nature. Sometimes I feel that Vonnegut knows us better than we know ourselves. He is dangerous to read. We could very easily begin to doubt ourselves and our wisdom, Vonnegut sees right through all of our supposed intellect and safeguards and cuts right through to the heart of the matter. This is one of the reasons to read Vonnegut. We are his characters or at least we know some of his characters in our life. You will be pleased after reading Vonnegut. The reasons for your pleasure may be entirely different than someone else though. Enjoy it. These types of books are rare.