on April 11, 2005
If the aim of a writer is to forge a unique tone, a unique stance from which to view the human condition, then Vonnegut is a success. The problem is that his ideas often transcend his abilities as a novelist. "Galapagos'" back flap is one of the best I've ever read, but when I finished the actual book I felt as though I was skid over the rich foundation of ideas he wanted to build on. Yes, he's witty. Yes, he has some acute points to make about human hypocrisy. Yes, he's had some of the most original ideas of his generation. In fact, Vonnegut's one of the few who's been able to successfully create a hybrid genre between Sci-Fi and fiction/lit. But lost in his witticisms, innovations (as a writer and a thinker), far-reaching analogues, and hollow dialogue, is the perspective of the ultimate goal of the book: we never take the journey we've been so excited to take. We only anticipate it, and then realize at the end it's passed us by.
on July 17, 2015
I'm a huge Vonnegut fan. In fact, one weekend I bought probably close to a dozen of his bizarre satirical novels on Amazon, one of which was Galapagos.
I chose to read this one because, as a student of anthropology and biology, I am very fascinated with the Galapagos islands myself. This book was not exactly what I expected, but of all the Vonnegut books I've read, I've retained more of the plot of Galapagos than almost any other Vonnegut book (besides Slaughterhouse-Five). What I love about Vonnegut's books is that he uses absurd, farfetched storytelling to illustrate fallacies of American culture and consumerism. Being very satirical and almost lewd at time, it's also very thoughtful and poignant. For this reason, when I read a Vonnegut novel I keep a pencil in handle to underline or circle certain selections that are especially observant.
Because I feel Slaughterhouse-Five is a stronger book—even if only just—I'm rating Galapagos as four stars despite my desire to give it all five. Perhaps my biggest justification for subtracting a star so as to keep it markedly below Slaughterhouse is due to the occasionally glacial pacing of the book. In short, the book is about a group of strangers who board a cruise ship that's destined to take them on nature cruise to the Galapagos; however, the ship doesn't even depart until almost three-quarters through the book because of all the backstory for each character and their interactions as they meet. In Vonnegut's defense, most interactions have a greater purpose, either contributing to the overall story or as a way to illustrate some satirical point Vonnegut is trying to make about American culture. While I can appreciate the deliberacy of his pacing, it doesn't make Galapagos the most exciting read. However, the latter part of the book somewhat redeems the slow start by containing some of Vonnegut's trademark surreal and bizarre storytelling. I won't give anything away, but that's mostly because you really need to read the book to appreciate the strangeness.
Of all Kurt Vonnegut's novels, Galapagos is definitely one of my favorites, up there with Slaughterhouse-Five, Sirens of Titan, and Breakfast of Champions. As always, it's full of Vonnegut's impeccable humor as well as both his subtle and not-so-subtle wit. Highly recommended.
on October 6, 2000
Many Vonnegut fans have a strong aversion to Galapagos. Okay, let's not mince words - they hate it. Contrary to their beliefs, though, I think that Galapagos is one of Vonnegut's very best, and certianly far superior to his most famous work, Slaughterhouse-5.
Galapagos shares something very much in common with my other favorite Vonnegut book, Slapstick. Its plot is coherent. This stands in marked contrast to some of Vonnegut's more famous works. Galapagos, in examining what would happen if humanity experienced a spurt of evolution over a million years, is extraordinary in its portrayal of Vonnegut's view of mankind (however flawed that view may be). In addition, the narrator in this book unveils the new state of humanity in a very well-paced manner, adding just a little new information at a time.
Galapagos was the first Vonnegut book I read, at the age of 8. Many years later, it still strikes me as one of his best, and I am quite glad that I did not begin reading Vonnegut with, say, Breakfast of Champions (which relies in three places on crudely drawn human genitalia for its humor) or Slaughterhouse-5 (which is incoherent at best). Had I begun with another book, I would likely have never discovered the several excellent Vonnegut books, filled with plot and humor (among them Slapstick and Mother Night). This is an excellent starting point for anyone wishing to read Vonnegut.
on February 10, 2000
Having read Slaughterhouse 5, Slapstick, Breakfast of Champions, Player Piano, Mother Night and "Wampeters, Foma and Granfalloons" (hope I got the last title right), I was itching to get stuck into this one. Unfortunately, I found it repetitive, slow and lacking the depth of character, plot and imagination demonstrated in many of his other works. I'm not saying it wasn't a good(ish) book, but I found it far from being his best. I'm surprised to see the variance in ratings given by other KV fans - I simply can't imagine giving this book five stars, let alone suggesting it's the best book I've ever read.
on March 16, 2016
The book is written from the perspective of a ghost who witnessed events in 1986, but is writing from one million years in the future. Hints are frequently dropped about upcoming events (like so-and-so will be dead in an hour), and the book jumps back and forth in time (even ignoring the million years in the future). Some hints are never explained because the hinted event doesn't impact the main characters in 1986 (although it does impact what happens to the world and the descendants of the main characters). I love most of Vonnegut's works (particularly Welcome to the Monkey House, Cat's Cradle, and Slaughter House Five), but Galapagos left me cold.
on January 3, 2014
What drives history? What events determine how the world will unfold? As in some of his other books, Vonnegut thinks big events hinge on small happenings, and he illustrates the potential for this theory in "Galapgaos", where a sudden change in the value system of mankind (a slow down in the global economy that results in mankind deciding that money is simply paper) causes a huge change in the values of people across the world. This in turn produces an overnight shift in values related to luxury items, culture, papparazi and, in this particular story, exotic travel.
Vonnegut then combines the idea of the precarious nature of values with unforeseeable events (e.g., a ship's captain getting too drunk to navigate his boat) that whittle mankind down to a small population on the Galapagos Islands, once considered an intellectual resource for the world, but now valued because it has iguanas that produce seaweed sputum that's edible by humans. Over the course of the following million years, these humans come to populate the planet...as marine mammals with vestigial fingers and brains that are better suited for long term survival than what we have today. The later point is central to "Galapagos" in which Vonnegut argues that many of the problems of mankind are a result of our having brains that are too big to be truly functional. That is, we're smart enough to make very complicated problems but not smart enough to fix them or even, often times, to recognize them.
You'll either love this piece of fiction or hate it. I'm a Vonnegut fan from long ago so loved it. I found the philosophical and sociological issues fascinating. But if you're looking for a straight piece of fiction to talk about the future of mankind, turn elsewhere. If you want a funny, iconoclastic approach to the future of mankind, then this book is for you.
For many reasons this is not one of the more popular works of Vonnegut. I cannot say I disagree with many of the negative reviews in every respect but still favor this as one of my personal favorites from this incredibly prolific writer. The new characters have a depth and natural/evolutionary humor to them that makes you consider the human condition. The satire is not so harsh as in many of Vonnegut's other works and that makes it for more pleasant reading if nothign else. Not to say I dislike his biting satire at times, it is just that this lighter version of that cutting wit makes for a more enjoyable read. Perhaps that is why the hardcore Vonnegut fans have not liked this book. But, the hardcore fans will enjoy the surprise appearances of favorite Vonnegut characters of the past in this novel.
on October 20, 2015
The only reason for the 3 stars is the fact that this work was written a long time ago-but it is incredibly prescient. The images of being trapped on an out-of-control ship with an incompetent NOT at the helm, a total global economic collapse, primitive natives being best-adapted to survive, and one determined woman dedicated to preserving the human species are truly chilling. It's written in the terse, somewhat surreal style of 1950's minimalism...and it's a testament to Vonnegut's amazing ability to get a lot of things right about the future. In this work, the elite do NOT make it through the collapse they engineered, so that's refreshing, but it IS depressing because so much of what's happening in the book is happening right here, right now on the world stage.
on August 29, 2000
Galapagos is an interesting book delving into the genre of utopia prediction as only the cynical Kurt Vonegut can. His view of the future of the world is bleak and poignant, but this book, written in 1985, is no where near as funny as some of his previous works. Galapagos seems a bit drawn out and laborious, rehashing old themes that even in the 80's were probably not as pertinent as they could have been. It kept my interest because of the frequent references to the wildlife of the Galapagos islands, and not becuase of the supberb writing I have come to expect from Vonegut. If this is your first Vonegut book to read, then I pity you. Perhaps you would do better to read Slaughter House Five or Breakfast of Champions.
on March 17, 2006
Having a biology background and an innate admiration for the blue-footed booby, Galapagos seemed like the perfect choice for my first Vonnegut novel. I've come off of some very different reading experiences, and Vonnegut threw me for a bit of a loop for several reasons. He's incredibly fast-paced compared to my recent reads. His habit of using frequent paragraph breaks gives his writing style a lilting, punctuated quality that was a bit awkward at first (after the prosaic Irving, for example), but I quickly adjusted. His story-telling style is quite circular, with key events being revealed before they occur, and most of the action being referenced rather than experienced by the reader. There is no central character (or characters) to carry the narrative, but rather a somewhat vague narrator whose purpose in the tale initially seems a bit gratuitous.
So, literary conventions aside, what is the strength and appeal of this unusual narrative? Galapagos is a tale about evolution in the truest sense; not the struggle for survival of the fittest, but rather the random events that shape our world as life is either able to adapt or not based on more chance than true cleverness or ability. It is about how small actions may have large consequences, and even the most isolated incident has some measurable impact on the world. It's about how even in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles, the simplest of life's needs (shelter, nourishment and reproduction) are met. Vonnegut has much to say on the peculiarities of the human race, which he contextualizes with the seemingly strange mating rituals of the blue-footed booby and the other ecological peculiarities of the Galapagos islands. The excesses of our own elaborate culture, as the unfortunate result of our "big brains" as the narrator aptly puts it, seem even more absurd and contrived in contrast.
The omniscient narrator speaks from 'a million years in the future,' where humanity has survived in a barely recognizable form and lost most of the advanced abilities of its more complicated heyday, reverting to a more primitive state. There is a certain amount of preachiness at work here, as it seems that the author has quite a bit to say about humanity's state of affairs. There is, however, a certain wistful sadness in the narrator's reminisces, as though this return to simplicity isn't a prescription for mankind's woes but rather an inevitable ends to the course of ecological destruction and cultural hubris Vonnegut saw us set upon in the 20th century.
As such, I perhaps would have enjoyed this novel more in my high school days, whereas at a jaded twenty-five I feel like he's preaching to the choir to an extent (granted, the novel was written during the Reagan era and certainly the audience would have been more in need of its message then). As an ecologist, I didn't feel as though the biological metaphors made as strong an impression on me as they would on someone who didn't already think in those terms on a regular basis. I felt the book to be a bit underdeveloped for my taste, and found myself wishing the author's ideas were more fully flushed out. With that in mind, I still found Galapagos to be an enjoyable and though-provoking read, even if it did reach me about eight years too late.