This, critics say, is Vonnegut's "come-back". After writing excellent SF (Player Piano, The Sirens of Titan), "straight" novels (Mother Night), and a harrowing mixture of the two (Slaughterhouse-5), he spent too long in the doldrums of self-indulgence. Now he's sweating over his work again. Or is he?
Galápagos describes the night which decides human evolution for the next million years. The horsemen of the new Apocalypse are breathing down our necks: war, famine, inflation and a plague of sterility. Through a series of daft coincidences, ten people survive to evolve in the protective isolation of the Galápagos islands (like the iguanas and finches which inspired Darwin), ultimately becoming cheery seal-like creatures with flippers and small brains.
Big brains, Vonnegut says too often, aren't a survival trait. They lead to lies, emotional hang-ups, lethal weaponry. (Typical oversimplification: many animals practise deceit and can suffer psychoses.) The Law of Natural Selection stands poised to correct this evolutionary mistake. When some mystic attempts to convince me by logic that one should abandon logical thought and just feel, I usually reach for my revolver ... but Vonnegut's satirical treatment makes the argument double-edged. Life a million years hence is happy, brutish and short, with such "advantages" as the fact that you don't live long enough to suffer from the lack of dentists.
The narration (by the ghost of Kilgore Trout's son: oh dear ...) is convoluted and often twee, full of false naiveté, repetition, flashbacks, and irritating forebodings of which characters will die – their names are even marked with *asterisks to indicate this, and after all the build-up their deaths are invariably a soggy anticlimax.
Though there's strong stuff here, and telling strokes of satire, this box of narrative tricks is looking shopworn. Galápagos is indeed a come-back, but Vonnegut has further to come....