“Cat’s Cradle” by: Kurt Vonnegut
“See the cat? See the cradle?”
The Setup: Written in 1963, “Cat’s Cradle” is a classic piece of writing, full of creative ideas from the master himself: Kurt Vonnegut. The story focuses on John Hoosier, a writer who, at the beginning of the novel, is working on an account of what people of importance were doing the day the Atomic Bomb was dropped. Over the course of his research, Hoosier comes into contact with a large number of exotic people, including a midget, a dictator, and, quite possibly the most beautiful woman in the world (in his eyes, anyway). Along the way, Hoosier also learns about many things, such as the cataclysmic Ice-Nine.
Why I Liked It: As I mentioned earlier, I love Vonnegut’s creativity. His use of language is very engaging, and while some may say the repetition of phrases is childish, Kurt Vonnegut’s execution keeps the story connected. It almost has a poetic feel to it. Additionally, Vonnegut’s tale is event driven, rather than character driven, which is different from most first-person books. He uses his characters almost as simple models to explain a concept. This is not to say that the characters are bland; some have very vibrant personalities, and those that do not aren’t supposed to.
Overall, “Cat’s Cradle” is a great read for people who enjoy apocalyptic and almost-but-not-quite-sci-fi stories. Parts of the beginning are slow, but after the first few chapters, chances are that you’ll fly through the rest of the book.
“Special Topics in Calamity Physics” by: Marisha Pessl
“Always live your life with your biography in mind.”
The Setup: Blue Van Meer has lived alone with her eccentric father, Gareth, since her mother died when she was little. Blue has never had any friends due to her outlandish intelligence and constant moving—her father does not stay in one place for long. However, for her final year of high school, Gareth Van Meer gives in and decides that they will stay in the same town for the duration of the school year. Blue is thrown headfirst into a new world full of social norms and new expectations, a.k.a. St. Gallaway’s School. Over time, Blue is taken under the wing of the exclusive group of students, known as the Bluebloods, led by Hannah Schneider, an enthusiastic young teacher. Everything is going well for Blue Van Meer… too well, in fact. Just as Blue is getting comfortable with her new friends, a cataclysmic event shakes up the lives of her and the other Bluebloods. Left with only her wit and quick perception, will Blue be able to solve the mystery left behind by Hannah Schneider? Written in 2006, Marisha Pessl’s debut novel is sure to leave you wanting to know more.
Why I Liked It: Having scanned through book review websites and talked to other people who have read the book, there seems to be a stark love/hate divide between readers. Without a doubt, I fall into the “love” category. Marisha Pessl weaves an inventive, honest, and at times, slightly disturbing read. Her characters are intriguing and make you want to read more about them.
I would recommend “Special Topics in Calamity Physics” to people who devour tales about peculiar people and macabre mysteries. Just make sure you pay attention to all the little details, because what you don’t notice at first may turn out to be vital to the story’s conclusion.
“The Chrysalids” by: John Wyndham
“This isn’t a cozy world for anyone – especially not for anyone that’s different.”
The Setup: Imagine our world in the future: a future following a worldwide nuclear war, a future where the chances of reproducing a “proper” human are slim, and any divergent births are shunned and exiled or slaughtered. This is the world David Storm has grown up in. Fueled by a religious hatred for Offences (plants and animals) and Blasphemies (people), David’s rural farm community firmly believes in the new values set up after the Old People vanished. These beliefs state that any organism that does not look precisely like its specimens is freakish and evil.
As a child, David meets Sophie, a young girl who is almost normal except for a small, but obvious feature that makes her a Blasphemy. Meeting Sophie changes David’s perception of abnormalities. Soon enough, David and several other children in the community realize that they too possess a trait that makes them Blasphemies. This discovery is a fork in the road of David’s life’s path: he and his friends can either stay in their rigid community and risk death, or like so many other Blasphemies, they can seek freedom in the one place any “decent” human refuses to go… The Fringes.
Why I Liked It: “The Chrysalids” is a bizarre, twisted apocalyptic tale, originally published in 1955. It is one of the earlier books commonly acknowledged as science fiction, but don’t let the label turn you off. There is actually very little imagination involved in making the story come to life, which was one of the things I loved about it. Aside from accepting the ideas of a nuclear holocaust and the noticeable mental or physical oddities of many of the characters, “The Chrysalids” is very believable. I also enjoyed the fact that Wyndham wastes little time explaining why David’s world is the way it is. You are given a bit of information here and there, and it’s up to you, the reader, to piece together what happened on Earth to transform it from our world to David’s.
“The Chrysalids” is almost a failsafe read for fans of dystopian stories and early science fiction. If you enjoyed “1984” or “Fahrenheit 451”, you will probably get a lot out of this book. I’ve read many books over the years, and “The Chrysalids” sticks in my mind as one of my all-time favourites. Happy reading!