Book review: “Galápagos”, Kurt Vonnegut

I hate to give a Kurt Vonnegut novel two stars, but I seriously considered giving up on this one.

Douglas Adams was a big fan of Vonnegut, and here the favor is returned as Vonnegut attempts to write an entire novel in the style of Douglas Adams — or at least, a mutant crossbreed of Vonnegut and Adams. The Hitchhiker’s Guide is replaced by the Mandarax pocket computer; the omniscient narrator point of view is provided by a ghost; and characters’ deaths are signaled in advance in the manner of the Magrathea attacks.

However, Adams was infamous for rewriting and condensing his plots. Hitchhiker’s Guide radio series producer Geoffrey Perkins said that Douglas would often take away ten pages of script on the day of recording, and come back an hour later with four pages. Vonnegut, sadly, failed to boil down “Galápagos” sufficiently, and so as it darts between the multiple plot threads it quickly becomes tiresomely repetitive and slow to develop.

The novel also lacks Big Ideas™. The one big idea Vonnegut seeks to get across is that man really has far more brainpower than is healthy, and that massive intelligence really doesn’t have survival value or lead to happiness. He hammers on this point repeatedly until I started to get tired of hearing about it. Philip K. Dick made the same point much more effectively in the short story “The Golden Man”, which I recommend instead.

On the plus side, I was inspired to seek out video of the mating dance of the blue-footed booby, so there was that.