I hadn’t read this book in years and only remembered the “punch line.” Having now been to the Galapagos and Guayaquil, I could picture much of the book in a new way. The narrator is the ghost of a young welder, decapitated while building a small Galapagos cruise ship in Malmo, Sweden. The ghost is narrating the story from a million years in the future and flashing back to the fateful voyage of a Galapagos cruise ship. Vonnegut uses the interesting device of putting an asterisk before certain characters names, denoting that they will be dead soon. Seven passengers arrive in Guayaquil for the “Nature Cruise of the Century” just as the world experiences a huge economic crash and rioting erupts in Guayaquil as Peru prepares to attack Ecuador.
Our main characters are a charismatic businessman, his blind daughter, and her service dog. A Japanese inventor and his pregnant wife have arrived as his guests, travelling under assumed names. Then there is a small town biology teacher, recently relieved of her position, and her husband. The last character is a con man who has bilked at least 17 women of their money. The biology teacher looks to be the next on his list. This small group of people hold the future of the human race in their genes, along with the captain of the ship, a former rear-admiral.