Galápagos (Magill's Literary Annual 1986)
Galápagos, Kurt Vonnegut’s eleventh novel, is dedicated to Hillis L. Howie, an “amateur naturalist,” who took the future author and several of his friends “to the American Wild West/ from Indianapolis, Indiana,/ in the summer of 1938.” On one particular night, “Mr. Howie scared us half to death/ on purpose,/ screaming like a wildcat near our camp./ A real wildcat screamed back.” With its suggestion of man’s uneasy kinship with nature, a kinship that our unnatural ways can never wholly obscure, this scream sets the tone for the strange ecological tale that follows. Galápagos is an ironic story of Apocalypse and millennium, of the removal from the Earth of a big-brained, pathological evolutionary mistake, and of the inheritance of the Earth by a meek, small-brained creature who will never again “write Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony” but who will also never repeat the atrocities of the human past.
The apocalyptic disasters that precede mankind’s strange renewal include the collapse of the world monetary system, the outbreak of rioting and warfare in the Third World, and the spread of a plague that destroys the ova of human females. This latter catastrophe, which begins—appropriately enough—at a book fair, brings big-brained man to extinction everywhere but in the Galápagos Islands. There, where Charles Darwin...
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Galapagos (Magill Book Reviews)
This evolutionary reversal is to occur, during the next million years or so, on and about Santa Rosalia in the Galapagos Islands, where Charles Darwin made so many of the observations that led him to the theory of evolution. The genetic materials which will work this ambiguous miracle of salutary regression are to be provided by the inept captain and several bizarre passengers of the BAHIA DE DARWIN at the conclusion of the “Nature Cruise of the Century.” Departing from Guayaquil, Ecuador, just as the world’s economy collapses and just before a plague destroys mankind’s capacity to reproduce, the BAHIA DE DARWIN becomes a latter-day Noah’s Ark, but a Noah’s Ark without a supernatural sponsor.
As in other of Vonnegut’s novels, the absurdities of chance rather than the interventions of Providence are the determinants of human destiny, and the closest thing to the voice of God is the mechanical babbling of the portable super-computer Mandarax. Narrated by the ghost of Kilgore Trout’s son Leon, a disillusioned Vietnam veteran whose life would make appropriate material for a future Vonnegut novel, GALAPAGOS is a flawed but fascinating book whose plot often moves forward too slowly, whose characters are sometimes less vivid than Vonnegut has shown himself capable of creating, but whose dark satiric vision is multifaceted and memorable.
Those who read GALAPAGOS for its story may be disappointed; those who read it for its ideas should...
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Bibliography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Sources for Further Study
Kirkus Reviews. LIII, August 1, 1985, p. 751.
Library Journal. CX, October 15, 1985, p. 104.
Los Angeles Times Book Review. September 29, 1985, p. 1.
The New York Times Book Review. XC, October 6, 1985, p. 7.
Newsweek. CVI, October 21, 1985, p. 80.
Publishers Weekly. CCXXVIII, August 30, 1985, p. 413.
Time. CXXVI, October 21, 1985, p. 90.
Times Literary Supplement. November 8, 1985, p. 1267.
The Wall Street Journal. CCVI, November 6, 1985, p. 30.
Washington Post Book World. XV, September 22, 1985, p. 1.
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