My third Vonnegut book, and a strong contender for my favourite. Of the three, this is his most straight-forward book as far as the plot is concerned – straight-forward for Vonnegut at least.
The story begins with the narrator, John, setting off to write a book on what important Americans did the day the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. He focuses on Felix Hoenikker, a fictional physicist who developed the bomb, and while interviewing his co-workers and children, he learns that the scientist may have left behind a substance that could threaten life on earth.
Cat’s Cradle centres around the juxtaposition of science and religion, and as a well-known atheist he takes an interesting stance, both praising and pointing out faults in each.
He spends time pointing out what he feels is a lack of responsibility from scientists who seem focused only with gaining results and are unconcerned with how those results will be applied. It’s easy to see the book as anti-science, because in a way it is, but (and this is only based on random, possibly out of context, quotes I’ve read) this opinion seemed to only be focused on military science, science used to kill. This isn’t too much of a surprise considering how much of his work is based on criticising war. It’s technology being used against, rather than nurturing, life that I believe he apposed, his opinion seemingly being that truth alone isn’t a large enough reward if it can potentially hurt us in the end. I can see his point, but having spent my entire adult life connected in some way with the Internet, with it’s free sharing of information and knowledge, it’s an opinion I’d have a hard time getting behind. The truth is going to get out there eventually. All we can really do is try to keep our humanity in check.
In the book, a man has invented a religion called Bokononism. The first sentence in The Books of Bokonon is “all of the true things I am about to tell you are shameless lies.” Bokononism is used to show that a religion based on lies can still be useful to humanity, that religion isn’t useful for its truths but for the comfort of its lies. He puts forward that it’s human nature to want to understand that which can’t be understood, so for those who find that ignorance unbearable, inventing truths is an acceptable alternative. On the other side of that, he also presents religion as something that can be used to control people and keep them content with living in squalor.
While I do disagree with some of the views this book puts forward, mainly in regards to science, I really enjoyed it a lot. It makes you think, and it’s an interesting story full of humourous characters and poignant scenes.