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  1. #1
    Lemurs!!! Moderator Erfael's Avatar
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    April 2011 SF BoTM: Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

    I don't have Hobbit's fancy cover-posting skills, so I'll just open the discussion with: Welcome to the SFFWorld April 2011 SF discussion on Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. I look forward to hearing what everyone has to say.

    Discuss!

  2. #2
    We Read for Light Window Bar's Avatar
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    Cat's Cradle

    I read this book in the early 70's. Loved it. The concept of the "granfalloon" has stayed with me ever since--at least as I interpreted it when I was very, very young. Granfalloons are the meaningless connections and groups ("We're all Hoosiers here!") that humans invariably invent. Religions, patriotic groups, alumni clubs... granfalloons all.

    In Vonnegut's words (sing this to a calypso beat), "If you want to see granfalloon, take the skin off a toy balloon."

    Time to read it again... then I can join--better yet lead--a study/discussion group on Cat's Cradle, and those of us who are proper initiates can have potluck dinners, state hypotheses, reach conclusions, and perhaps lobby for the worthy goal of declaring November 11 (Vonnegut's birthday) International Granfalloon Day.

    --WB

  3. #3
    Member of the Month™ Ropie's Avatar
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    I just finished this. A few thoughts:

    I enjoyed reading it but I didn't love it - it's too bleak and cold (fittingly) to inspire much more in me. Was this meant to be a receptacle for Vonnegut's epithets on the futility of the human condition? The story seemed to move from one Bokonian rhyme to the next very quickly; each miniature chapter contained a chunk of story and invariably a message from these writings. I couldn't quite decide if Vonnegut was making fun of religious dogma or using it to construct a message (like The Fosterites in Heinlein's SIASL) - probably both.

    I have read two other books by Vonnegut: Slaughterhouse 5 and God Bless You, Mr Rosewater - Cat's Cradle was much closer in tone to the former, being disjointed and almost superficial in description (there is no sense of place). I do enjoy this sort of easy string of events though that Vonnegut is able to put together and it reminds me a lot of the way Stanislaw Lem writes. The characters are basic but all fulfil a purpose, the backdrops are thin but only revealed as necessary and the science is plausible but fantastical.
    Last edited by Ropie; April 4th, 2011 at 02:37 PM.

  4. #4
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    I read Cat's Cradle early last summer. It was the third book by Vonnegut I have read with The Slaughterhouse Five and Breakfast of Champions being the others.

    I don't quite think Cat's Cradle reaches the level of The Slaughterhouse Five which to me was absolutely brilliant, but Cat's Cradle is both an entertaining and poignant read. I really loved the idea of Bokononism and how the narrator (John/Jonah) tied everything that happened throughout the book to the various teachings of Bokononism. I thought it was very telling that the destruction that comes in this book did not come from evil or maliciousness, but from reckless indifference and reckless self action. For the most part the characters responsible were people you could like. The creator of Ice-Nine in fact had that kind of thirst for knowledge that we very much admire, though his thirst was ultimately very focused on the learning without concern for implications. This book had many very comical moments, something Vonnegut always manages in his work and yet the central themes strike you in a very real way. All in all I would say another very good work from Vonnegut.

  5. #5
    Member of the Month™ Ropie's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by bearcatmark View Post
    I thought it was very telling that the destruction that comes in this book did not come from evil or maliciousness, but from reckless indifference and reckless self action.
    I thought this, and also how the humour also extended very much to the dramatic denouement
    Spoiler:
    where the deadly frozen body is accidentally catapulted out of the ruins of the palace into the sea!


    This is a book that seems to be making light of the end of the world - does Douglas Adams take his cue from Vonnegut for the Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy?
    Last edited by Ropie; April 8th, 2011 at 03:10 AM.

  6. #6
    I'm not going to reread it now but wanted to chime in. I read several of his novels in high school (quite a while ago). They were perfect for where I was at that time and Cats Cradle was, IMO, the best of the bunch. As I said it was a long time ago but it still ranks on any top books read list I would make.

  7. #7
    We Read for Light Window Bar's Avatar
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    In the years immediately after WWII (I believe it was then), Hannah Arendt coined the phrase "The Banality of Evil" to describe how easily a seemingly civilized human or human society can slip into cruelty beyond his/her/their own consciences and beliefs.

    The scientist in Cat's Cradle (sorry, I've forgotten his name) who, on a dare, invents "Ice Nine" -- which has the capacity to end all life on earth -- then allows it to escape the laboratory, is Vonnegut's symbol of how each of us, via our careers and everyday living, can greatly add to the load of grief and horror carried by the world.

    No, my next jet trip to Hawaii will not be equivalent to the invention and distribution of a life-destroying substance like Ice Nine -- but when considered in concert with all of the other non-ecological activities of humankind, it might be enough to destroy the earth as we know it.

    A wonderfully comic novel, and an eloquent indictment of the banality of evil. Vonnegut's genius was to teach us to laugh at ourselves... and maybe, just maybe, improve ourselves.

  8. #8
    Cat's Cradle is one of my all time favorite books.

    One thing that must be noted about Cat's Cradle, even if it is somewhat superficial, is that with its short chapters and eccentric story elements it possesses an oddly addictive quality. You're never discouraged to read on, and I often find myself getting sucked into chapter after chapter from simply having read the first line of each. In relation to Vonnegut's other big works, such as The Sirens of Titan, Slaughterhouse-Five, Mother Night, etc., it stands somewhat alone in this regard. I'm surprised it's not more popular than it is. It sucks you in in a very non-cheesy, non-gimmicky sort of way.

    The story itself is grand and beautiful and sad and hilarious, in some ways a lot like The Sirens of Titan. And even with its eccentric tone and style, the science fiction elements manage to be more tangible and real than most any other science fiction books I've read. For anyone who's ever studied atom-related science in high school, the image of bowling balls stacked in rows elicits a remarkable realistic and believable quality to how the concept of freezing matter with Ice-Nine is purported to work. To be honest, most of the metaphors and explanations given in science classes tend to be far more silly and far less vivid than the elements found in Cat's Cradle. Even Arthur C. Clarke's hardest science fiction comes off a tinge cartoonish in comparison.

    Another thing to note about the story: the religion of Bokonon, so openly founded on the principle of willing self-delusion. The book opens with:

    "Live by the foma* that make you brave and kind and healthy and happy."

    * Harmless untruths

    What could better describe the nature of religion relative to its role in society? What could be more innocuous and intimate than two people pressing the soles of their feet together? What could be more hilarious than an establishment that feels threatened by people pressing the soles of their feet together?

    Damn, I love Vonnegut X)

  9. #9
    4/25/11 published!!!! expatrie's Avatar
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    Cat' Cradle.

    I didn't read it again this month, but when I did read this book (was I in grad school? I know I got it for "half-price" which was $0.75 and worth every precious penny of a book that's nearly torn the cover off and is in very bad condition, but it's a native copy, one of the old paperbacks from way back) I really liked it.

    I've read a lot of Vonnegutia and still have five or six books to go (thankfully!).

    Cat's Cradle is short, sweet, and packs a punch.

    One thing I like about Kurt is that while he's not religious, per se, I never get the feeling he's spitting on those who happen to be religious. While Cat's Cradle is satire, it doesn't feel mean-spirited, at times it seems wistful tinged with envy, how he wishes he could make that leap of faith but is somehow unable.... Maybe that's what I'm trying to say, and I have to say I'm sympatico with the ideals expressed here. Your views and my views do not have to be "aligned" and one of us does not have to prove the other wrong. We can coexist.

    Kurt seems more hostile to Ice-nine and what we've come to call the global military-industrial complex than anything to do with religion. Science just seems to be the means to which the institution is hoisted by it's own petard. Truth is, (perhaps) religion is helpful in getting us "through" this life. Once you're dead, you can relax and enjoy your avocation. Or at least you'll know what you have to do next.

    And I dig all the terms, the touching feet thing, and the book in general. I keep trying to find my way "out" of the science as it is explained. Obviously Ice-nine is a crystal, it has a melting point, and if we could melt things, we could have enough to live on, albeit in an extremely water-tight world.

    A ten, a favorite.

    I have to speculate that ice-nine is an allegory for nuclear weapons. What else leaves Earth such an absolute prison?

    --Brian.

    Does anyone know when Cat's Cradle came out versus Ballard's The Crystal World?

  10. #10
    It never entered my mind algernoninc's Avatar
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    I couldn't manage to fit this in time for the April discussion, but I'm glad I still got to it. Here's what I posted on Goodreads, as I'm too lazy to write another review for here:

    [9/10] an impressive achievement. I came to the story with a fresh mind, having intentionally avoided discussions and spoilers and with little previous experience of Vonnegut opus (I think I have only read The Sirens of Titan long before this, and thought it was OK in a Golden Age of SF way)

    I find it incredible how modern and connected to 2011 issues the story feels. For most of the first half of the book I wondered why this is considered SF, as it dealt mostly with social commentary and character sketches. It became clear later on, once ice-nine gets a part in the story.

    I must say I find Vonnegut style of short sketches very appealing - I don't know why but I imagine him like a George Carlin type of entertainer : apparently a cynic, but one who cares deeply for his fellow humans and so he screams at them his tough love and denunciations [sp], and he offers laughs to keep from crying. He democratically attacks all "grandfalloonas" from politics, nationalism, religion, atheism, communism, military thinking, authoritarianism - I could go on with all the "-ism"s on the books. But I also see Vonnegut as the ultimate humanist - by creating his wacky religion he appeals at us to be human, to be kind and express ourselves through love (or "boko-maru" according to the prophet Bokonon)

    Is this the solution? I'm trying not to spoil the ending, but what I got out of the book is a wake up call and another eye-opener, if we really needed one, to the path we are engaged on due to the stupidity and complacency of humans as a race.

    One aspect of the book that I want to make note here is the quotable value of the text: I started with a line here and there, with a Bokonianism definition, and by the end of the book I wanted to write down whole chapters. Here are some examples:

    "Hello, fellow anthropoids and lily pads and paddlewheels!"
    ---------------
    "Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God."
    ---------------
    "The highest possible form of treason," said Minton, "is to say that Americans aren't loved wherever they go, whatever they do."
    ---------------
    "Pay no attention to Caesar. Caesar doesn't have the slightest idea what's really going on."
    --------------
    "A pissant is somebody who thinks he's so damn smart, he never can keep his mouth shut. No matter what anybody says, he's got to argue with it. You say you like something, and, by God, he'll tell you why you're wrong to like it. A pissant does his best to make you feel like a boob all the time. No matter what you say, he knows better." [note: this is the best definition of an internet troll that I have come across]


    best moment in the book for me was a discourse by the American Ambassador on the subject of honoring the dead soldiers of past wars:
    "Perhaps, when we remember wars, we should take off our clothes and paint ourselves blue and go on all fours all day long and grunt like pigs. That would surely be more appropriate than noble oratory and shows of flags and well-oiled guns."

    it would also be interesting to compare similarities and differences between Bokonon and other SF authors tampering with the concept of profets and establishing new religions, from Heinlein's Stranger in A Strange Land to Frank Herbert's Muad'Dib or Orson Scott Card's Ender.

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