The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Cat’s Cradle has a convoluted plot that develops with all the apparent chaos of a crazy quilt. The main character of the novel is its narrator, John, whose last name is not known; the novel, however, centers not on him but on ice-nine, the invention of a genius named Dr. Felix Hoenikker. Even in infinitesimal quantities, ice-nine freezes and transforms to ice-nine any liquid it contacts. The novel recounts how the world ends in an ice-nine chain reaction.

At the novel’s opening, Dr. Hoenikker, a Nobel Prize-winning scientist and one of the creators of the atomic bomb, is already dead. The narrator, nominally involved in writing a book about the day the first bomb was dropped on Japan, conducts several interviews with Hoenikker’s associates and family. He inadvertently pieces together the facts about ice-nine. After Hoenikker’s death, his three offspring had divided up the small sample of ice-nine their father had developed as a means of solving the problems that mud posed for the military. Hoenikker’s children prove to be poor guardians of the substance. Newt Hoenikker, a midget, gives his ice-nine to his lover, Zinka, a Ukrainian midget and dancer who married Newt only to get his ice-nine for the Soviet Union. His ugly sister, Angela, is bilked out of hers by her handsome, philandering husband, Harrison C. Conners. Franklin Hoenikker intimates that Conners married Angela only to gain possession of her ice-nine for the U.S. government....

(The entire section is 506 words.)