Cat's Cradle

From Academic Kids

Cat's Cradle (ISBN 038533348X) is a 1963 science fiction novel by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. Published as 'Ice Nine' in some territories, it explores issues of science, technology and religion, satirizing many targets along the way.

At the opening of the book, the narrator is planning to write a book describing what important people were doing when Hiroshima was bombed. While researching this topic, the narrator becomes involved with the children of Felix Hoenikker, the fictional Nobel laureate physicist who helped develop the atomic bomb. As the novel progresses, the narrator learns of a substance called ice-nine, created by the late Hoenikker and now in the possession of his children. Ice-nine is an alternative structure of water that is solid at room temperature. When ice-nine is brought into contact with liquid water, it arranges the molecules of the liquid water into the solid form, ice-nine. The process is not easily reversible, as the melting point of ice-nine is 114.4 degrees Fahrenheit.

Note: Vonnegut's fictional ice-nine is not to be confused with the real substance Ice IX (also pronounced "ice-nine"), which does not have the properties of Vonnegut's fictional ice-nine. See the article on ice for more details.

The narrator and the Hoenikker children eventually end up on the fictional Caribbean island of San Lorenzo, where a plane crash causes ice-nine to come into contact with the ocean, at which point all the water in the world's seas, rivers, and groundwater turns into ice-nine in a chain reaction, causing the extermination of almost all life on Earth.

The book also describes a fictional religion named Bokononism, encompassing concepts described with names unique to the novel such as:

  • karass - a group of people who, unknown to them, are working together to do God's will
  • granfalloon - a false karass, i.e. a group of people who imagine they have a connection that does not really exist
  • wampeter - the central point of a karass
  • foma - harmless untruths
  • busy, busy, busy - words Bokononists whisper when they see an example of how interconnected everything is

In Vonnegut's own words: (from Wampeters, Foma and Granfalloons)

Dear Reader: The title of this book is composed of three words from my novel Cat's Cradle. A wampeter is an object around which the lives of many otherwise unrelated people may revolve. The Holy Grail would be a case in point. Foma are harmless untruths, intended to comfort simple souls. An example: "Prosperity is just around the corner." A granfalloon is a proud and meaningless association of human beings. Taken together, the words form as good an umbrella as any for this collection of some of the reviews and essays I've written, a few of the speeches I made.

Perhaps tired of what other religions have to offer, a number of people have professed themselves to be Bokononists.

The title of the book derives from the string game "cat's cradle." Early in the book, we learn that Felix Hoenikker was playing cat's cradle when the atom bomb was dropped. The game is later referenced by Newt Hoenikker, Felix's midget son.

The nature of ice-nine inspired the phrase "Ice-9 Type Transition".

The book is currently being adapted into script form by Richard Kelly, the writer and director of Donnie Darko.

External links

fr:Le Berceau du chat


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