, by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
was written in 1985
. It is much like his other novels in that it deals with the peculiarities of human behavior
, with a dark twist. The basic idea behind this novel is that the human race is by no means perfect, and is in fact riddled with problems. However, in Galapagos
, Vonnegut explores the idea of future human evolution
s in which the human race becomes better than it is now, and includes a hypothetical means for humans to arrive at such an evolutionary destination.
This novel starts out by informing the reader of the current time period. The year is 1,001,986 (one million years after 1986). Most of the book takes place in Guayaquil, Ecuador. The basic premise behind the book is that there is a cruise liner called the Bahia de Darwin that is supposed to transport a group of people to the Galapagos Islands to interact and learn about the unique ecosystem. The main characters are all members of this luxurious cruise expedition. Among the passengers of the cruise liner is a schoolteacher, a Japanese computer genius and his wife, a con artist, the captain of the ship, three native Ecuadorian girls, a wealthy American businessman, his blind daughter, her dog, and a handheld computer named Mandrax.
While each character has their own back-story and agenda, the main focus of the book is the idea that these ten characters (not counting the dog or the computer) will one day repopulate the world, and shape the future human race. This all starts when Ecuador is attacked by Peru, and the Bahia de Darwin is forced to depart early, in an effort to save the passengers from getting involved in the conflict. However, due to an incompetent captain, and the lack of navigational tools, the ship does not end up at its desired destination, but rather an uninhabited island, where the passengers must learn to survive and flourish as a group.
Vonnegut cleverly used this basic story to convey a couple very interesting, evolutionary related ideas. Probably the most prominent being the idea that today, or at least around 1986, people’s brains were too big for their own good. They simply thought too much about what they did, or how to do something, which often resulted in illogical behavior. The narrator of the book, who was actually the son of science fiction writer Kilgore Trout, gave a perfect example of this idea:
"When I was alive, I often received advice from my own big brain which, in terms of my own survival, or the survival of the human race, for that matter, can be charitably described as questionable. Example: It had me join the United States Marines and go fight in Vietnam. Thanks a lot, big brain."
On the isolated island, the shapers of the human race, solved this problem of big brains, albeit unintentionally. For without the abundance of technology and other everyday luxuries that we have all grown accustomed to, human brains were allowed to “shrink” to a size that only made us think about relevant things, without needless semantics.
An example of natural selection within the book involves the daughter of the wife of the Japanese computer genius. For it so happens that due to a random mutation, their daughter was born with a layer of soft fur. This natural fur coat protected her from the violent rays of the sun. So, since this fur trait was advantageous, it was passed down to further generations, so that, as of 1,001,986, all existing humans had a layer of protective fur. However, while sound in theory, this idea is not entirely practical, for such an evolutionary change would most likely take more than a million years. Despite that minor detail, the basic idea behind the example is relatively sound.
In addition to all of this, Vonnegut included many famous quotes to supplement certain situations or scenes in Galapagos. Ranging in quotes from Benjamin Franklin to Robert Frost, Vonnegut effectively uses them to emphasize his message. One in particular is the quote from the beginning of A Tale of Two Cities ("It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..."). By using that quote, the contrast between the destructive force of an invading Parisian naval ship to the gentle Bahia de Darwin was clearly and almost poetically illustrated.
On top of all that, Vonnegut managed to highlight his dark sense of humor by including markers to let the reader know which characters were going to die. He did this by marking the name of a person with a star every time he wrote their name. For example, if Siegfried von Kleist was going to die, then Vonnegut wrote his name as “ * Siegfried von Kleist.” Overall, I thought that this method was an interesting change from normal novels, and that it didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the book, but rather added to the suspense of when and how a character was going to die.
If you’ve ever read a book by Kurt Vonnegut, then you will no doubt enjoy Galapagos. For while this novel was written after his attempted suicide, many recurring ideas, or motifs present in his earlier work can be seen in it. However, any who have not read any of Vonnegut’s previous works may be a little surprised or slightly disturbed by the decisively dark humor and mood. Nonetheless, Galapagos is an interesting and thought-provoking novel that encourages the reader to think outside of his/her comfort zone.
Personally, having read some of Vonnegut’s previous work, I found it rather easy to get into this novel. Moreover, I found the ideas pertaining to evolution to be particularly interesting. So, if you enjoy being presented with new ways of thinking about subjects that you think you feel comfortable with, then, like any other book by Kurt Vonnegut, I highly recommend Galapagos.
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