Kurt Vonnegut’s Galápagos

GALAPAGOS STAMP

The overwhelming complexity, originality, and overall mind-bogglingly outstanding writing of Kurt Vonnegut is something that can change your life. Where most writers only have questions, Vonnegut provides answers. Whether those answers are likely to come to pass is another matter entirely. He has mastered the art of placation through absurdity, and has given many of his readers inner peace in the revelation that nothing matters, nobody matters, and yet everything and everyone is vitally important.

Galápagos is one of Vonnegut’s lesser-mentioned works, and among his most outstanding. Stepping alongside his undeniably real-world Science Fiction works such as Sirens of Titan and Slaughterhouse-five, Galápagos directs the reader into war-torn and famished 1980s pre-Americanized Ecuador; an alternate history SciFi-esque piece with radically subtle differences. A group of well-to-do travelling types have purchased tickets for the “Nature Cruise of the Century” on the ship aptly named the Bahia de Darwin. Rumors have been circulating worldwide regarding the influential people reported to be joining the maiden voyage of this luxury liner—they say even Jacqueline Onassis will be there! “[The] ship, the Bahia de Darwin, was scheduled to sail at high noon on the very next day, which was Friday, November 28, 1986—a million years ago.”

This tale is told from the perspective of a soon-to-be-long-dead ghost objectively (or not so objectively) observing the misfortune of this group of people, who happen to be humanity’s only hope of survival. He accompanies them on their journey—which turns out to be a million years long—for the sole purpose of seeing what happens. The narrator recalls the plot of one of his father’s books: “The Era of Hopeful Monsters. It was about a planet where humanoids ignored their most serious survival problems until the last possible moment. And then, with all the forests being killed and all the lakes being poisoned by acid rain, and all the groundwater made unpotable by industrial wastes and so on, the humanoids found themselves the parents of children with wings or antlers or fins, with a hundred eyes, with no eyes, with huge brains, with no brains, and on and on. These were Nature’s experiments with creatures which might, as a matter of luck, be better planetary citizens than the humanoids. Most died, or had to be shot, or whatever, but a few were really quite promising, and they intermarried and had young like themselves.”

In the light of the end of the world, there is no choice but to reveal your true self. The self that you keep hidden in the deepest, darkest corners of your mind and hope never decides to make an appearance. The self that is capable of allowing children to starve to death so you don’t have to, or who will murder someone without a second thought to gain some imagined advantage over other people. The Law of Natural Selection as explored in this novel is propelled both by human choice and sheer coincidence. That is to say, if you find yourself trapped on an island with only the survivors of a national (or global) catastrophe, you got there by no choice of your own, and the choices you make from there out will determine the course of history.

If you’ve ever pondered on the future of humanity, if you’ve ever wondered if humans would be better off as fishermen than conversationalists, if you want answers to The Big Questions, Kurt Vonnegut is your man. Tackling what-ifs and the future of the human race, Vonnegut delivers a powerful narrative that explores the potential of random happenstance on an irreverently resilient species.

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