Science fiction and fantasy                                            

Cat's Cradle

by Kurt Vonnegut


Cat's Cradle was written in 1963, during the Cold War. Although it's clearly a product of its era, this novel has not aged badly at all.

The story follows John Hoosier, a writer who is researching the life of Dr Felix Hoenikker. Hoenikker was, in this story, one of the scientists who invented the atom bomb.

The Nobel winner was an archetypal geek, entirely dedicated to science and barely able to interact with people at all, including his own family. Following his death Hoosier sets out to gather insights about the man from his family and acquaintances.

John's account is told through the perspective of the fictional religion of Bokononism. It's a cult that is openly based on lies, cynicism and despair. It's a point of view that captures perfectly the tone of Cat's Cradle, full of irony and dry wit.

One of Hoenikker's colleagues lets slip that he was working on something called ice-nine before he died. Ice-nine is a lethal chemical that changes the way water freezes. One tiny chip of it is all it takes to set off a chain reaction and freeze the entire planet. The search is on for Hoenikker's three children, and the whereabouts of any ice-nine that remains.

This search leads to San Lorenzo, a fictional island state in the Caribbean. San Lorenzo is ruled by a ruthless dictator. The impoverished natives are terrified of the Hook, a brutal method of execution which is administered for crimes ranging from stealing and murder to practising Bokononism.

Cat's Cradle seems to take a while to get to its point. The novel proceeds at a relatively leisurely pace as we get to know a lot about the characters involved. We learn about their lives, their loves, their insecurities and even their hobbies in intimate detail, and this makes them come alive and seem real. The reason for all of this doesn't become apparent until the end, when all the trivia comes together to form a complete picture.

This novel is a satirical commentary on our careless attitude to nuclear technology and the pursuit of scientific discovery without heed to the consequences. Vonnegut is an excellent observer of human nature. His depictions of human folly are subtle, intelligent, and never dull. That's why a book like this will never go out of date.

Book Details

Decade: 1960s

Categories: Books

  Science fiction

  Male Protagonist  

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4 star rating

Review © Ros Jackson

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