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By Kurt Vonnegut
New York: The Dial Press, A Division of Random House, Inc., 2014
ISBN: 13-978-0=385-33348-1 287 pages

Bob Corbett
May 2016

The unnamed narrator of this story turns up at the home of the former Dr. Felix Hoenikker. He was one of the key figures in the invention of the atomic bombs which were dropped on Japan to end WWII. The narrator is trying to understand more about the man who was seemingly THE key figure in making this bomb.

Hoenikker has three living children and the narrator convinces them to let him interview them to help him learn more about their father and what he was like and what drove him to create such a frightful weapon

The narrator turns out to be a member of a strange religion called Bokononism and founded by someone name Bokonon. Within the religion there are groups, each called a Karras which is a team of people “doing God’s Will without ever discovering what they are doing.”

Dr. Felix Hoenikker is dead, however, thoughout the novel we learn a bit about him. He was, indeed, a very strange figure who had not only a great passion for science, but an enormous talent at it. He is credited with being the key figure in having created the science which allowed the atomic bomb to be built. Yet he is pictured as sort of comic character of the weird scientist who has little to no connection with the external work, but just lives in this private world of his mind and his mind’s attempts to figure out the nature of various phenomenon of the world and his specialty is the atom. However, otherwise he is sort of a character who is out of touch with the world and even, at times, obsessed with making a “cat’s cradle,” a sort of child’s play game.

Before the period of the novel begins, both the Hoenikker mother and famous father have died. However, before he died, Dr. Hoenikker had invented yet another extremely dangerous substance – something called Ice-9 which can make anything it touches turn to ice and even to spread almost instantaneous to other things it touches. He was actually working with this Ice-9 when he died, and his children knew something of what it was and what it would do. Each of them salvaged a bit of it into three sealed tubes of Ice-9 which each held and kept a total secret from the world.

The oldest child is Angela, who was 22 at the time of the A-bomb on Japan. She was 34 at the time of this story when the narrator/investigator contacts the children.

The second oldest child, Frank, was 12 at time of bomb, and he was just 24 at the time of the novel.

The third child is Newt who was only 6 at the time of the use of the A-bomb on Japan and is now in college. He is a midget. He had earlier married Zinka, a beautiful Ukrainian, who was also a midget, but much older than Newt. Their marriage was quite short and she simply disappeared.

The unnamed narrated is quite a strange fellow himself, mainly because of his religion, Bokonomism. As the novel progresses the reader learns little bits and pieces of what Bokonomism is, but it is never very clear even in the end! However, inspired by his religion he has a lead idea which is driving his seeking out the “children” and trying to interview them: He wants to know more about ice-9, about which very little seems to be really known.

Angela and Newt seem to know little about their brother, even not being too sure if he is alive or not. However, it turns out that not only is he alive but is living on some tiny virtually unknown Caribbean island. In the news story which the author and other two children read, Frank is not only alive, but about to marry the stunningly beautiful Mona, daughter of the current ruler. The narrator, seeing Mona’s photo falls desperately in love with her and also by pure accident ? he is given an assignment to interview a crazy American fellow who is going to make some investment on this tiny island.

It turns out that the island’s ruler and dictator is the father of this beautiful girl. And the narrator and Angela and Newt are shocked to read that Frank is not only alive but is the Minister of Science and Progress of the island. This is a small island with just 400,000 people. Frank was the architect of the “master plan” for the successful island. He washed up ashore with a bit of the ice-nine he had. Papa Monzano, the ruler and father of the beautiful Mona asks Frank if he’s related to his the famous scientist and when he explains who he is he was then fully welcomed.

The narrator was assigned (no connection to his past) to do a story on John Castle, and American super millionaire who founded a hospital on the island. So the narrator has to go to the island for this interview.

At this point the story becomes some sort of a mix between crazy science fiction and the Keystone Kops of old movies. The quest and use of ice-9 is the central focus and the end of the world is at hand.

This is a very madcap, insane story, but lots of fun. Vonnegut has created a very complex comedy as a satire on the world’s constant creation of earth-destroying technologies and the madness of war and perhaps much more important, the madness of the human species and its treatment of its own planet.

The novel is crazy, very funny, extremely creative and wildly imaginative. I simply loved it and share very much of the same idea of the human species that Vonnegut puts forward in this dystopia of science and scientists gone mad.

Bob Corbett


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Bob Corbett