Kurt Vonnegut’s inimitable style hinted towards apocalyptic plots on numerous occasions – a sci-fi writer at heart, he dabbled in themes of crazy invention, alternative time-lines and space travel, against otherwise contemporary stories. Cat’s Cradle actually reaches a kind of full destruction (which is, I’m afraid, something of a spoiler), and is a great example of one simple experiment can bring about global destruction. The book itself uses this theme as an overall allegory for human stupidity, with the result that’s it’s as affecting as it is enjoyable.
What’s Cat Cradle all about?
The rather hapless narrator, John, is conducting research into what famous people were doing on the day of the Hiroshima bombing. This leads him to looking into a scientist called Felix Hoenikker, who helped design the atomic bomb, and takes John on an eventual journey to the fictional tropical island of San Lorenzo. On the way, and whilst there, John meets the Hoenikker children and gradually learns about a substance called Ice 9. Something that turns any body of water it touches instantly to ice, at any temperature.
Why you should read it
Vonnegut was one of America’s great 20th Century writers because his style was at once unique and incredibly readable. He brilliantly combines satirical humour that harks back to the irreverence of Mark Twain with exciting sci-fi and adventure themes. Those themes often go nowhere, compounding the satire of his writing, but in this case they reach an apt apocalyptic conclusion, that is more or less brushed off as an ‘Oh well.’ moment. It’s a light look at the disasters mankind can cause without even meaning to, and a fine addition to any library, apocalyptic or not.