beware, there be spoilers: Galapagos

As the end of the year approaches, I’m also getting close to the end of the novels of Vonnegut.  But there is still the non-fiction and the short stories, and so I’m fairly sure that I won’t finish all of Vonnegut in 2018.  We’ll see though how far I can get.

Galapagos has some interesting features.  It purportedly takes place (exactly) a million years in the future, though most of the story is told as a flashback by the narrator.  The narrator is Leon Trotsky Trout, the son of an oft-appearing character in Vonnegut’s novels, the science fiction writer Kilgore Trout.  Actually, the narrator is Leon Trout’s ghost, who was bound to the Bahia de Darwin, the ship that shipwrecked on the (fictional) island of Santa Rosalia in the Galapagos archipelago, and a ship on which he had died during its construction.

It’s a good read, and one of the main directions of speculation undertaken by our narrator is the extent to which humanity’s big brains are the cause of all of our ills.

This comes through clearly in quotes such as ‘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.’ ‘  This quote is taken from Chapter 9 of Book 2, wherein Leon is musing about his observation that once we had a crazy idea that was possible, that idea would then drive us mad until we undertook it.

I have to admit that this particular line of reasoning does strike a chord at the moment, given the politics in play in the UK regarding Brexit, which seems to fall into this category of ideas that are simply mad, given the harm and damage that will result even in the most optimistic of scenarios, but are nonetheless idea that has come to transfix a nation.

But enough of politics.  One thing I did note in my reading is that Leon Trout is remarkably sane for a narrator that has been watching the last vestige of humanity live out their lives on one small island.

Ah yes, I forgot to mention to apocalyptic nature of this particular novel.  Human civilization collapses under the stress caused by two separate and as far as I can tell, unconnected events.  One is the realization that money in its current incarnation, as a fiat currency unsupported by a physical underpinning such as gold (my reading, not something explicitly mentioned in the novel), is just an illusion and the world then suffers an economic meltdown the likes of which we have never seen.

The other is a fertility crisis, namely a bacterium that devours human eggs and thereby renders reproduction impossible, except for the isolated inhabitants of Santa Rosalia.  Neither of these apocalypses are explored in any significant detail, though the latter apocalypse of a (generalized) fertility crisis, has shown up in other setting such as Children of Men (though I don’t see an explicit connection between this and Vonnegut).  And economic dystopia are becoming a standard setting for fascinating reads.

So yes, I suppose I want more apocalypse, but that was not to be.  That wasn’t the book I was reading.  I have a chance of finishing the last 3 novels this year and then the rest during January, at which point I can properly begin the reading project for 2019.  But more on that later.

~ by Jim Anderson on 21 December 2018.

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