Galápagos, by Kurt Vonnegut (1985) E

Date read: 4.29.08
Read from: Personal collection
Reviewer: Emera

As the world economy crashes and the majority of the human race begins to plunge to its end, half a dozen oblivious individuals  make their way aboard a luxury cruise liner. The ship will indeed reach its ultimate destination – the Galápagos Islands – but rather than enjoying the “Nature Cruise of the Century,” its passengers will instead become the progenitors of a new humanity.

I felt a little foolish reading Galápagos since it’s heavily interwoven with references to other works in Vonnegut’s canon, in particular referencing Slaughterhouse-5 stylistically, when the only other Vonnegut novel I’ve read to date is Cat’s Cradle. Nonetheless, I thoroughly enjoyed the novel, which, in typical Vonnegut style, is a loopy, frightening, and brilliant satire that manages to be utterly compelling sci-fi without necessarily hewing all that closely to little things like scientific reality.

The narrative is executed with almost dizzying meta-playfulness (the meta aspect actually being explained by events later in the book), jumping from character to character while variously concealing, foreshadowing, and fragmenting the events of the plot. And though I sometimes find it hard to actually care about the characters in satires, I found the brittle, desperate cast of Galápagos strangely lovable. Much of this is thanks to Vonnegut’s tone, which is sad, funny, bitter, and loving in a way that makes you suspect he half-regrets loving anyone in the first place, but he can’t help himself, either.

Both novels of Vonnegut’s that I’ve read have a unique perspective on the absurdity of human life – both times, I’ve gotten a sense of actions that are simultaneously tiny and monumental, meaningless and all-important, cascading across a vastly bleak landscape. Here, Vonnegut asks the question of whether humanity will survive once we’ve done our best (unintentionally or otherwise) to destroy it – and if so, in what shape. And would the planet be losing anything anyway, if humanity as we see it now were to disappear? Vonnegut doesn’t quite say yes or no, which is one of the aspects of Galápagos that most make it worth reading.

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Kurt Vonnegut

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