Galápagos by Kurt Vonnegut (1985)

L: 5.5/10

M: 3.5/10

J: 4/10

Analysis from bleak numbness, hinting that the end is nigh:

There are plenty of genres of books that I have yet to venture into, science fiction being one of them. I tend to lean more towards general fiction, and the majority of our picks so far have stayed in that zone. With Galápagos being the second Kurt Vonnegut choice so far, I would have to explain his style as alternative history/science fiction. Slaughter House Five, while sharing little resemblance to this book, both are very similar in the world in which they craft. The stories take place in a very real place, but a handful of elements are dashed in, making the story bizarrely fantastic and sometimes otherworldly. Time travel in Slaughterhouse-Five brought a World War II story to another level. In Galápagos, a story of evolution takes place when an alternate history spawns from a third world war. Also, it’s narrated by a ghost, so there’s that.

When it comes to ghost narrators, this one is pretty solid. I may have messed up by choosing Slaughterhouse-Five so early on in my Vonnequest, as this particular ghost, or spirit as they prefer to be called, is the son of a fictional character who Vonnegut has weaved into all his stories. The character Kilgore Trout is a science fiction writer who is notorious for having fantastic ideas, but being a terrible writer. Jumping to the end of Galápagos, there is a strange passage that if you didn’t know this connection, you might wonder why so much attention is being shown to a random character. 

Jumping back to the actual story, Galápagos tells the tale of a doomed cruise ship headed to the titular Galápagos Islands. A strange mix of people end up making it to the island, but not before the world strikes out in war, destroying itself during a crippling financial crisis. A disease leaves the survivors infertile, making the group of tourists the remaining souls able to carry out evolution. It just so happens that they are stuck on an island that refuses to listen to evolutionary science. 

The bulk of the story jumps around time, as the spirit of Leon Trotsky Trout, who was killed during the cruise ship’s construction, decides to stick around and see how things pan out. The passenger list dwindles down gradually, and only a handful of the ship’s original manifest safely makes it to the destination. While unbeknownst to them at the time, the following acts lead to the human race evolving into a humanoid-seal creature. 

The story is crazy, and the narration style sets up the first half of the story as a break-neck murder mystery, where the ending is almost pieced together before you even know what the pieces consist of. This build-up doesn’t’ quite live up to all the buzz created, and the ending felt a little bit of a letdown. All the answers were provided, but the magnitude of the events seemed a little slapped together.

I will continue to throw Vonnegut picks into the fire, and even have few locked and loaded. He has a fun writing style that is very unique. He has sayings that he slams into page after page until they just evolve into the lexicon. It’s probably just my big dumb brain, but his writing inspires me to be a notoriously terrible science fiction writer myself.

Analysis from the founder and only member of the Plex addiction support group:

What a bummer! I was excited to tear into another book by the great Kurt Vonnegut. Sadly, this book was a disappointment. I kept waiting for something to grab me and suck me in, and it never happened. I enjoy Kurt’s writing style, and his talent was consistent with what I expected, so I think the real issue was with the story itself.

Let’s start with the characters. Each character had a well-built background story, which is typically enough for me to feel invested in them, but that never happened. If you were to choose just one of the characters and stay with them from beginning to end and truly get into their headspace, this would have worked better for me. The constant back and forth and switching from person to person did this book no favors. You were never truly given the opportunity to connect with anyone person. When you found a juicy bit to sink your teeth into the story, it would change the rhythm and move on to the next person. I wanted to care about anyone of these people. I wanted to have some emotion when they died or when the world fell apart around them, but frankly, I spent most of my time just waiting for it to end.

The story itself wasn’t uninteresting, but there was just too much information. When you have so much going on and no real-time to digest a scenario before you’ve changed courses again, there is a kind of whiplash in my imagination, and it just feels like I’m working too hard to stay invested. I would have loved a book entirely on their lives acclimating to the island or how humans went from beings as we know them to basically seals. For sure, I would read a book about a virus that destroys women’s ability to reproduce and how it ends the human race entirely. Instead, it felt like several great ideas smushed together, and it did the book no favors.

I like the author, so I will revisit his work again and again. Every litter has a runt, and I hope this is the runt of his work and the rest are show quality!

Analysis from Grouplove’s 2008 hit “Shark Attack”:

When I first started reading Galapagos, I was confused. Character names were getting tossed around like I should have a recollection of who they were while I wasn’t putting together who the narrator was. I had strong vibes of Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief meets Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. The biggest difference is that I ended up really, really enjoying my time in both of those books while I just sort of was glad that Galapagos was over. 

There were so many things that should have sold this book for me. It is written by Kurt Vonnegut, an author I had been meaning to pick up. It was a story that was meant to have intrigue developed by a cryptic narrator and asterisks noting impending doom. This story had a freaking quotation (both historical and literary) spewing machine… and I love a good quote! BUT, for me, what hurt my relationship with this book was that I just didn’t care about the characters. There weren’t notable characteristics about them that made me feel anything if/when an * appeared before their names. Without that, I will have nothing but indifference for a book.

Perhaps Galapagos wasn’t the book that I was in the mood for or my big brain couldn’t appreciate its quirkiness? I’m sure another Vonnegut will cross my path in the near future (looking at you L), and I will welcome it to, hopefully, see more thoroughly what all the fuss is about.

Kurt Vonnegut

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