Just this morning, I wrapped up reading "Cat's Cradle" by the great Kurt Vonnegut. This is the second book of his that I have read, and man... what a trip!
The first thing you notice about the book is its table of contents. Who ever heard of a 287-page book with 127 chapters?! As it turns out, this is a first person narrative that does indeed have extremely short chapters, each one generally equivalent to a single scene in the story. However, toward the end, there are some scenes that actually span several chapters.
Cat's Cradle starts off as the story of an unnamed and unpublished writer, trying to gather biographical information about a book he wants to write called "The Day the World Ended." Actually, the book would be quite interesting, as it is supposed to be about what happened in the lives of the Manhattan Project scientists the day the atom bomb was dropped in Japan.
When the writer hears back from the son of the top scientist, and the real "Father of the Atom Bomb," the story truly gets a start. The writer decides to go and visit this son of the deceased genius to gather more information; while in the town, he meets other people who give him information about the scientist and his reclusive, strangely creative live. Here, we learn about another of the good doctor's blue-sky projects -- ice nine. Imagine the process of changing a liquid to a solid, how the molecules of H2O align during the freezing process. Imagine that it might be possible to align molecules in differing patterns, resulting in different processes of freezing -- different melting points, different matrix strengths, and so forth. Ice-nine is presented as the ninth arrangement of water molecules, giving the ice a melting point of over 100 degrees and strength like iron. The head of the research department that employed the father of the atom bomb doesn't believe it's possible, but the man's children have some small samples that had been owned by their Dad.
The story then veers away from the home of the two children that the writer interviews as they go in search of the third child. He happens to have become a Major General in the government of a tiny Caribbean island nation, home to a religious recluse and calypso singer named Bokonon. The rest of the story is set on the tiny island and the way it is involved in ending the world.
The reason I found this book so interesting is not only the strange quality of the characters, but the insights that Vonnegut integrates seamlessly into the story on politics, religion and history. You never actually see Bokonon appear in any scene until the last page, yet you feel as if you know him intimately through the snippets of his religious writings. The ending of the story is one of the most over-the-top apocalypses I have ever read... and one of the most stimulating.
I definitely recommend this book to anyone who likes to read.