Busy, Busy, Busy

I am lost in the insanity and brilliance of Cat’s Cradle. Vonnegut is the Everyman that I would love to be. As Jonah (not his real name) stands in the background of an impossibly insane series of events, his drifting narrative ropes us into believing the impossible.

Jonah, like his biblical namesake, starts with a noble quest – to find out what one of the major creators of the atomic bomb was actually doing the day the bomb dropped and changed life and death as the world knew it. From an improbable letter from the inventor’s son, it seems that the creator of the atomic bomb, disconnected from humanity in his pursuit of pure science, was playing with a string, making “Cat’s Cradle” and frightening his height-challenged (read midget) son, Newt.

Where is the cat? Where is the cradle?

And how can one see it in the series of crisscrossed strings that resemble neither a cat nor a cradle?

Our hero discovers the existence of Ice-9, the genius’ final undocumented scientific breakthrough. It makes the destruction of the atomic bomb look like child’s play.

See the cat? See the cradle?

Jonah’s journey is indescribably brilliant, and it is entirely due to Vonnegut’s ability to remain current. This work was prompted by the Bay of Pigs crisis. It remains enormously relevant today, in these uncertain times, when governments tell us what we should or should not believe and spend obscene amounts of money to demonize any given target on any given day. Really, the conquerors of that tiny island where most of the action takes place had the right idea. They outlawed all religion and, therefore, everyone became a Bokononist. I’m considering it myself. I need a new granfallon.

We like to think that much has changed since 1963. But we are presented with our current fomas such as the acceptance of the thought that Americans are not highly regarded all over the world. Something has not changed a bit. Instead, we are presented with two concepts over and over: Science is not truth and neither is religion. However, the wholehearted pursuit of either one can lead to disaster. Sound familiar?

Where is the cat? Where is the cradle?

Vonnegut is the master of the ridiculous that touches on the eternal truth of the human condition. He invents vocabularies and religions and makes me want to know all the members of my karass, even though I know that I have none. His use of the Crosby’s and their ultimate granfallon – Hoosiers – demonstrates the lengths to which a human will go to belong to something. Or rather, to belong to anything.

There is no joy, really, in this novel, nor in any of Vonnegut’s work, although I did really like the Tralfamadorians in Slaughterhouse 5. He creates the seriously ridiculous or the ridiculously serious with the ease of a flower-bearer, scattering petals upon which his readers tread. I marvel at his ability to use the word “cantilevered” in a sentence without missing a beat – I dare any other writer to write “cantilevered” correctly in a paragraph.

His voice is unique. I always imagine it smoky with cigarettes and slightly slurred, as if he is taking a step away from the world after finding it sad, ridiculous, and utterly inexplicable.

And then he explains it. And I understand.

I am spellbound with wonder. I see the lights and tread on the blue-white terrain of certain death knowing that we are all in this together.

Maybe we are all Hoosiers.

9/10 hearts. Only because Boknonoism is not a viable religious option.

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Kipple and Bytes

A Nebula Award winner in 1969, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick became the very loose basis of the 1982 film noir Blade Runner. #theLIST led me to read this little pocket of somewhat obscure science fiction, largely because I needed to include science fiction and I have an irrational fondness for Rutger Hauer, who played Roy Baty in the movie.

That being said, I was not in a film noir but in a novelle noir – a dark, dry novel that leaves more questions than it answers. In a post-apocalyptic world after World War Terminus, life on earth is a death sentence. There are very few real animals left and ownership of a real animal is a symbol of status. Moods can be controlled with the aid of a machine and religion, in the form of Mercerism, is truly the opiate of the masses. Life on earth is dry, dead, and disjointed. Mercerism brings individuals into a collective consciousness. No one knows if it is real, just as no one knows how Buster and Friends can be on 48 hours per day – on the radio and on the television.

Rick Deckard’s world is decaying into kipple – the dry, crumbling remnants of a society that has fled to the Martian Colony to escape the fall out. The only ones left cannot pass either physical or mental tests. They, too, are crumbling into kipple, bit by bit. Do they really have a life? Are they truly alive? The androids escaping from Mars declare that life is not better there. And why should they be retired, when their cells cannot regenerate and they will crumble into kipple in four years? Deckard questions his motives, but after the first three retirements, he buys a real Nubian goat on a four-year installment plan. In the end, his desire for something that is truly alive drives him to commit the retirement of three highly evolved but soulless androids who would have died in less than two years anyway.

Life loves life. Androids intellectually covet life without the emotional component that goes into envy. And the worst murder of all involves an android and a goat.

There are no winners in this book. Every character has a gap in his or her life and soul. I rubbed my hands to brush off the dust and I am struck with the idea that all of my possessions may somehow deteriorate into kipple. The world feels like an episode of mass hoarders after the nuclear winter, where the possessions we have gathered together eventually fill the space abandoned by people. Soulless, mindless, and hopeless. The hopeless emptiness of an abandoned planet with nothing but a slow, dry death to anticipate is a concept that makes a four year life span appealing.

The next time I am frustrated with a person who seems really ruthless or unsympathetic, I will recall Rachel Rosen and her idea of vengeance. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? has me cherishing hope and optimism in my daily life again. The hopelessness that can be lifted by thinking one has found a real frog, long thought to be extinct, and crushed when one finds the control box makes even my dog’s snore a precious thing.

In the end, everyone is retired in this novel. The only question is how many years it will take to die.

7/10 hearts. It was short and sad, but the dry dustiness lingers in my soul.

Things That Go Bump In The Night

Pardon me if I seem a little jumpier than usual today. It is somewhat embarrassing to explain, but I just finished Stephen King’s The Shining last night and I have a little, teeny bit of post traumatic stress disorder. I know I am approximately 25 years late for this particular party, but I must congratulate myself for knowing my limits. This book sent me over the precipice of my imagination into the abyss of irrational fear.

I know it’s not real. I know this is a “fake face”. Nevertheless, I find myself turning on lights in dark rooms and looking over my shoulder at suspicious shadows. It’s real enough to me.

My familiarity with King’s work began with movies. Frankly, I thought I would die of horror at Cujo and I never, ever want to see a St. Bernard again. The Jack Nicholson version of Jack Torrence terrified me into never seeing another Stephen King movie again, unless it was The Shawshank Redemption. Guilt over never having read a Stephen King novel overwhelmed me and I chose this one. What was I thinking?

I got on the roller coaster of my own free will. I knew the major plot points. I went in with eyes wide shut (note the gratuitous Kubrick reference). What I did not know that was that King is a master story-teller and his portrait of the Torrence family, the Overlook Hotel, were believable, even when they should not have been.

And the red death held sway

It is difficult to review this book because I am utterly speechless. It is an emotional experience, not an exercise in intellect. While everything in this book is smart and well done, the overwhelming experience is emotional. I am now afraid of dark rooms and shadows and old hotels and I don’t know that I will ever get better. That’s how good this book is. I am gutted.

If you have 1) an active imagination; 2) a day or two; and 3) the overwhelming urge to be scared witless, read this book.

But never, ever read it after midnight when the wind is blowing. Just saying.

9.5/10 hearts – I knocked off 1/2 a heart for the sleepless night.