Starting On The Wrong Foot

Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut

Continuing my lighthearted illustration streak, I decided to booksketch from one of the nine or so Vonnegut books that I have read. Going through my library, Cat's Cradle was the first one I happened upon, so here you go.

To be honest, I remember liking it, but couldn't recall anything but the ending. So, flipping through the book helped refresh my memory. Like how the story is narrated by a fellow who wants to write a book about the direct kin of the man who (fictionally) helped invent the atomic bomb. Through investigation, he learns that this scientist had also invented a deadly substance called "ice-nine," which turns all water it touches into solid form at room temperature, by means of a molecular chain reaction. As you can imagine, this would be bad news if it were real. Well, in the novel, it is real. Deal with it, Earth!

Trying to track down more information on the substance, and ice-nine itself, our narrator is lead to a third-worldish island that is run by a dictator. This dictator wields a hook. Which was my initial booksketch thought. But the island isn't ALL dictator-centric.

On the island is an interesting religion called Bokononism. It focuses on people working together as a group (karass) to do God's will. And to spread love in general.

And finally coming to the illustration:

One way the Bokononians spread love is an intimate ritual that involves rubbing the naked souls of the feet together.

I know, right? The narrator participates in this ritual, boku-maru, with a rather captivatingly beautiful woman (who happens to be the daughter of the island's dictator, I believe). She was offered to him as a wife, should he wish. But because of culture clash, he instantly demands she cease foot-loving anyone else and only share her love with him. This, of course, goes against her religion and hurts her.

Kind of a jerk thing to do to a potential wife, eh?

Anyway, I thought it'd be kind of humorous to just draw the woman in an alluring foot-love pose, and just allude to a male's presence. Maybe he's shy. Or has his doubts. Or maybe he's already done!

Well, whatever you pull from the sketch, I think it stands on its own feet.

This illustration was done using a Micron pen and Copic markers.

A Chirp in Time

Einstein's Dreams by Alan Lightman

After posting my first illustration from Einstein's Dreams, the wonderfully well-read Alison Moon mentioned that she'd like to see a drawing from the chapter that features a world where Time is embodied in the form of nightingales. I hadn't yet gotten to that part, but anxiously awaited it. Of course, it turned out to be the final chapter (except for the short epilogue, of course)!

So, picture a world where people are able to pause any moment in their life. How do they do this? Well, they trap nightingales under a bell jar. Nightingales in this world are the embodiment of Time, and if one catches one, Time is caught as well. This freezes the moment, and the trapper can essentially live out one happy moment for a good while.

In an interesting note, elderly people can't catch the nightingales because they are just too slow. Which is rather unfortunate, since the elderly are the group that most desires to hold onto moments. Children really have the best chance of trapping the time-birds, but they don't really have a will for it. What need do they have of pausing Time? They just want to play and such.

There is one more important point to the chapter, but I will not go into it. I'd rather not spoil the entire world for you, right?

Additional Thoughts

This book was a brain-massage. It makes you think about all of these short little "what if" universes, but doesn't require you to analyze much or dive into research or theory. Lightman just flows the ideas over you, and you can wade in them if you'd like.

I'd like to add a little time-world theory of my own for you. Well, I guess mostly for Alison, since she suggested this book to me, haha.

Imagine a world in which Time moves like the turning of a page.

In this world, people live their life in sections, much like a page spread in a book. While your life is open to a certain page, you can view everything that has happened on the two pages facing you. You can skip around and revisit anything on those two pages for as long as they are visible. You can reread parts over and over, or skip whole paragraphs if you'd like.

Time moves in brief spurts, so you are free to "reread" parts from your life that are open. Re-experience graduation, or getting a raise, or spending the night with someone you love. Experience everything you've felt when your son scored three goals in his soccer state final, or how good you felt when someone you've had your eye on complimented your sense of humor.

Gloss over any parts you wish, as well. Who would want to experience a nasty bout of food poisoning again? Getting rejected while asking a crush to a high school dance is no fun (at least I assume... I never asked anyone). When your long-time pet passed away, just leaving you with a few pictures and a memory.

But eventually the page would be flipped. You would not be able to revisit anything from the previous page of Time, because Time decided it was time to have another spurt. Now a new spread is open for you. You can look ahead and see what will happen a few sentences down. You can begin to read through, or even reread passages once again. Don't be afraid to try new things! If they turn out well, you'll be able to experience them often. If you fail at something, you'll be able to pass over it in memory.

This world would make passionate readers of us all.

Get Off Your High House

Einstein's Dreams by Alan Lightman

I don't know if you're a fan of science fiction (or science in general). I am, but then again, I own a Star Wars belt. You don't really have to love sci-fi to really enjoy this book, since it is really more about thinking than testing laws of physics and whatnot.

Actually, I haven't finished the book yet. Immediately after soaking up the chapter that inspired this booksketch, I broke out the inks. Einstein's Dreams is a delightful collection of short chapters where the author kind of just bounces these neat ideas off of you. What if time in our universe was just one big loop, and we'll forever repeat our joys and sorrows? What if there were two sorts of "time?" What if there was a city that worshipped the flow of time?

One chapter mentioned how scientists measured that time actually is ever-so-slightly slower at high elevations, and quicker nearer the Earth's core. The author poked my brain when he suggested that in an alternate universe, people took this idea and ran with it (or climbed, rather). They began to migrate to the mountains and build their houses on tall stilts as to prolong their lives. Height becomes a status symbol. People hate lowering themselves to the Earth's surface to run errands. So when they have to do that, they really RUN errands. As fast as they can.

Height matters, I guess!

Invisible Ink

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

This novel kicks off with a surreal bang, with our "invisible" narrator going around and busting heads because his invisibility grants him freedom from being held accountable. He wants to explain how he became this way, and the majority of the rest of the novel is his story.

Starting out as a young and exceptionally talented speechmaker at a southern university, the narrator relates to us the trouble he gets into as a young black man dealing with racial issues, catch-22s, and tradition. After a particularly disastrous incident involving one of the rich white university trustees, our narrator is first admonished for fouling up the reputation of the university and then sent out to New York to work.

Having always looked up to Dr. Bledsoe, the university administrator (and also one of the few black men that the narrator has seen in a position of power), our narrator is crushed to find out that he was actually expelled and exiled from the school. Facing his anguish and anger, he decides to strike out into New York by enlisting in a paint-making factory.

After another incident, this time involving an insecure mentor figure at the factory and pressurized machines, our narrator ends up at a hospital. His mind and identity gets erased due to an experimental treatment by white scientists.

Let loose upon the streets, he is taken in by a wonderfully kind older black woman named Mary. She tends to him and won't hear anything about taking rent money until he can find a job.

Well, he does find one, eventually. After making a potent speech at the site of a rather public eviction, a man approaches him and asks our narrator to join up with a Brotherhood, which fights for the unity of all people, regardless of race. The rest of the novel tells about the narrator's struggle up the ladder, his success, ideas and thoughts, cautions, betrayals, and much more. Dark humor, provoking thoughts and actions, and excellent plots abound.

So, only at the very end does he explain what it took to make him realize he could be invisible, and what that means for him and society.

This sketch is of the character Ras the Destroyer, an powerful speaker who embraces his African heritage and spurns oppression. At the end of the novel, he changes his name from Ras the Exhorter to Ras the Destroyer because he's done preaching his words and starts tearing down society as he sees fit. Throughout the book, Ras has opposed the Brotherhood that our narrator has championed. He staunchly believes that since the Brotherhood was started by white people, it was only a sham and affront to black people everywhere. In his eyes, the only way to help his race was to fight those that always brought the boot down upon them.

Amid an all out race-riot, Ras leads an army while mounted upon a great black steed, brandishing a shield, spear, spurs, and pistol. Very visual, isn't it?

Other issues that are explored:
- Women's sexuality as a tool/danger
- Manipulation and deceit under the guise of "good"
- Using emotions and ideas to unite people
- The creative and destructive power of organizations
- Destiny in relation to class/race
- How different societies see thing in variation
- Trust and Betrayal
- Action as opposed to religion

On a side note, the majority of the book takes place in New York city, which is where I read the last third of the book! I just happened to be on vacation and visiting friends up there, and I got to walk on some of the same streets the narrator walked on! Haha!