Cat’s Cradle was begun shortly after the publication of Player Piano because Kurt felt that there was still a story about GE to be told. It was published in 1963 and is much more a story “the scientist” as a concept, with Irving Langmuir used as its model. It is the story of the aftermath of a scientist named Felix Hoenikker, a man who worked on the atomic bomb, and the way which his amoral approach to science and life influenced both his children and the rest of the world. In a sense, Hoenikker represents the modern scientist, and is Vonnegut’s way of grappling with the removal of morals from science.  He creates a substance, known as ice-nine, which causes water to freeze at a higher temperature. There are different types of ices (1-8) which have different freezing temperature, ice-nine freezes at about 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Hoenikker’s indifference to the uses of his discoveries (he shows no concern for the use of the atomic bomb) spills over into an indifference to the moral education of his children, whom he neglects. Eventually, because of their ignorance of both a scientific and human understanding of the ramifications of the uses of ice-nine, it falls into the ocean, freezing all of the Earth’s water, and killing off humanity in the process.

In the mind of Kurt Vonnegut, Irving Langmuir was the epitome of the amoral scientist, a person who shows no regard for the consequences of science, a person who does science for the sake of doing science. On multiple occasions, Kurt discussed the ways which Felix is Langmuir. The humor and satire that arise from the obliviousness of the character Hoenikker, however, were not always made up. Some of the passages are true anecdotes of Langmuir, such as an incident where, on the morning of his Nobel prize win, he left a tip on the table for his wife after breakfast, showing how little regard he had for her.[1] The entire idea for the story in Cat’s Cradle surrounding ice-nine comes from Irving Langmuir. In the 1920s, much before Kurt and Bernard’s time at GE, H.G. Wells visited the industrial research lab, where he met Irving Langmuir. Langmuir proceeded to tell Wells an idea he had for a science fiction story, about a substance called ice-nine which raising the freezing temperature of water.[2].

Next week I will conclude by looking at the lasting legacy of GE and Irving Langmuir on the Vonnegut brothers.

[1] Tom McCartan. Kurt Vonnegut: The Last Interview and Other Conversations. (New York: Melville House, 2011): 37

[2] James Fleming. Fixing the Sky: The Checkered History of Weather and Climate Control. (New York: Columbia University Press, 2010, Kindle Edition): 46