Galapagos - Kurt Vonnegut

This is the first Vonnegut novel I've read—somehow I never got around to it, and it was the pick for a book club which I won't actually be able to attend. (All I get out of book clubs, it seems, is titles to read; I keep missing the actual meetings. I suppose that's preferable to going to the meetings without reading the books, which is what some prefer to do.) At any rate, I did enjoy Vonnegut's writing, though it's the sort of writing that makes you aware of the writing itself as much as of the story; he never lets you forget the narrator of the story, a character himself, with a rather contrived means of omniscience.

It's hard to describe the book without at least giving away some of the plot, though it's not really a plot so much as an elaborate premise. It has to do with the Law of Natural Selection, and it's a commentary about modern society in 1986. (It was published in 1985, but many of his comments still seemed relevant, some even prescient.) More specifically, it's aobut the Law of Natural Selection as it applies to humans, a species which has mostly escaped from its effects at this point.

I remember reading an article some time back that said science fiction, though often set in the future, is really not about the future. It's not about the technology, or space travel, or aliens. When you really get right down to it, science fiction is about the present, and the problems and questions facing society today. So it is with Galapagos. Just to give you one example (which doesn't give away too much):

   What Mandarax didn't tell her, and what her big brain certainly wasn't going to tell her, was that, if she came up with an idea for a novel experiment which had a chance of working, her big brain would make her life a hell until she had actually performed that experiment.
   That, in my opinion, was the most diabolical aspect of those old-time big brains: They would tell their owners, in effect, "Here is a crazy thing we could actually do, probably, but we would never do it, of course. It's just fun to think about."
   And then, as though in trances, the people would really do it...
There's a quote that describes the root of a host of scenarios today, from the prospect of human cloning to most of reality television.

All told, the book is a little contrived, but I enjoyed it and found it fairly thought-provoking, and I'm planning to read some more Vonnegut in the near future.

Fed to jonathan's brain | May 10, 2004