Cat’s Cradle is a remarkably discursive book, full of loose ends, unexplained events, and characters who appear in focus for a moment only to vanish without apology. It does center, however, on one single object: the sliver of ice-nine created by Dr. Felix Hoenikker and divided after his death by his three children, only to bring about the end of the world almost simultaneously with the end of the book.
In Vonnegut’s theory, ice is only one of the many possible ways in which water can crystallize. If there were other ways, ice of different kinds would be created, including a kind which would melt not at 32 degrees Fahrenheit but at as high as one hundred degrees or 130 degrees—in the case of ice-nine, at 114.4 degrees. Furthermore a single seed of this ice, introduced to ordinary water in crystalline form, could act as a catalyst, instantly freezing the entire body of water with which it came in contact. The purpose of such an object (a Marine Corps general suggests) would be to eliminate mud, and allow the United States Marines to fight in relatively congenial circumstances. The side effects, however, would be that anyone who touched ice-nine would freeze solid instantly; while, furthermore, any crystal not scrupulously isolated could, in one single chain reaction, freeze solid all the oceans of Earth and bring life almost immediately to an end. The basic plot of Cat’s Cradle is that a journalist...
(The entire section is 450 words.)