Genre: Fantasy, Dystopia
Narrative Style: first person
Synopsis: Dr. Hoenikker has created a deadly weapon which, if deployed, will freeze all of earth’s water. John, the narrator is writing a book about the day of the bombing of Hiroshima which brings him into contact with Hoenikker’s children and then his supervisor, where he learns of Ice-Nine, the deadly substance that Hoenikker has invented. Later, he ends up on the same Caribbean island as the Hoenikker children. the island is ruled by dictator Papa Monzano and is in thrall to banned religion Bokononism. Will John discover the Ice-nine in time to stop the end of the world?
That was one of the hardest synopses to write. It is extremely difficult to explain exactly what this novel is about. Of course, Vonnegut’s novels are always a little crazy but even by that standard, this was off the wall.
It is probably easier to say what it satirises. First of all, there is Bokononism which is based on foma which are harmless untruths. Vonnegut has any number of stabs at the concept of religion. Bokononism is absurd and ridiculous but no more than most real religions seem when viewed from the outside. For me, this was the most successful part of the book which made me laugh a number of times.
Ice-nine is a frighteningly simple concept, even more dangerous than the nuclear weapons actually being developed at the time of writing. The book is filled with the fear of the end of the world. I think I’d have enjoyed this book more if it had been more about ice-nine and less about the flight to San Lorenzo and the many eccentrics that John meets on the way there. The beginning, where he discovers its existence and at the end, when it has been deployed are successfully sinister but the middle of the book didn’t really go anywhere or further the story very much.
All in all, I didn’t like this book as much as other Vonnegut I have read but there were still some excellent moments of satire and humour that could only have come from him. A mixed read but I would certainly read more of his novels.