Galapagos has a fascinating scifi premise that leads to a bizarre outcome. But the book is classified as satire.
Despite the plot – which does manage to reach its conclusion – the book is mainly a ramble through topics Vonnegut finds interesting, important, or ironic-funny: the mating dance of the blue-footed booby, Huntington’s disease, swindlers, evolution, pollution, fishing techniques of the flightless cormorant, economic disaster, the imaginary quality of money, war and PTSD, nature films shown by high school teachers, and 1980s celebrities. He may be talking about himself when one character’s scifi-author father is called a desperate scribbler.
Vonnegut’s explicit theme is that we’d be better off without our “big brains,”
which can’t be trusted, cause us a lot of trouble, and aren’t very smart after all. The real you is your “soul” which can tell when the “brain” leads it astray. Life is futile and absurd – a viewpoint also found in his early works. I’m too much of an optimist to embrace his philosophy.
Galapagos was originally copyrighted in 1985, apparently before current writing advice to “show” not “tell”
The story is told by a all-knowing narrator who speaks from a million years in the future about what happened to the world in the year he was killed – 1986 – and to humanity over the next million years.
The writing is as quirky as the premise
and, while I’ll avoid spoilers, Vonnegut doesn’t. He puts an asterisk next to the names of characters who will soon be killed, even telling in advance who will be shot, who will be eaten by a shark, and who will “literally lose my head.”
The narrator wanders back and forth across the action in 1986 and drops many hints of where mankind will be by the end of the story. If you’re anxious to follow the plot you’ll find the book frustrating. It’s best if you enjoy Vonnegut’s rambles.
What others say
There’s an ebook edition from 2011 available on Amazon which averages 4 out of 5 stars with 267 reviews. About a third of the reviewers were disappointed, finding the characters helplessly stupid or (worse!) boring, or the premise absurd.
- As Jeremiah Jobling says, “I’m not saying it wasn’t a good(ish) book, but I found it far from being his best.”
- A Customer complains “he clearly hasn’t bothered to learn much about the Galapagos Archipelago’s natural and human history.”
But keep in mind – 70% of reviewers loved it. As CV Rick says, for his fans, Vonnegut is “a master satirist with a rambling tone who seems to be going in wrong directions, but ties all threads together brilliantly.”
My own writing is straight science fiction and I’m more of an optimist than Vonnegut. All my books are available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Kobo, and other major online retailers. You’ll also find paperbacks at Create Space and all major digital formats at Smashwords. Books 1 and 2 of the On Mars series are available now with books 3 and 4 coming this fall. Catch up now.