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Cat's Cradle, Kurt Vonnegut, Holt Reinhart and Winston, 1963, 192 pp
Summary from Goodreads:
Dr Felix Hoenikker, one of the founding 'fathers' of the atomic bomb, has left a deadly legacy to the world. For he's 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 humankind brings about the end, that for all of us, is nigh...
This is the fourth Vonnegut I've read and his fourth novel published. According to Wikipedia, "After turning down his original thesis in 1947, the University of Chicago awarded his master's degree in anthropology in 1971 for Cat's Cradle." I don't quite know what to make of this except that Vonnegut was 25 when he first wrote the story, that it is hard to imagine him in college, and that a writer's life is usually less than smooth.
In any case, I think this is my favorite novel of his so far. It made me laugh on a day when I needed to laugh. One of the main characters, Newton Hoenikker, is a son of the fictional co-inventor of the atom bomb, so that fit nicely with my recent reading of J Robert Oppenheimer's biography and helped dispel some of my atomic gloom.
Except it didn't really because this is an apocalypse tale, the world almost ends due to the mysterious substance ice-nine, and the underlying tone is gloom and hopelessness. These days people seem to be getting weary of apocalyptic novels but they have been around for decades. As a matter of fact, we and the planet are still here. Chicken Little? Or is it just taking longer to destroy the planet than was originally predicted?
(Cat's Cradle is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)