The story begins in the small seaport town of Guayaquil, Ecuador. The year is 1986, but the narrator is telling the story from one million years in the future. The narrator begins by explaining what the Galapagos Islands are and that, back in 1986 when humans had silly, big brains, there was speculation and various theories as to how the diversity of life got to the islands. In chapter 2, the narrator introduces James Wait- a man who has cleaned out each of his seventeen wives' bank accounts and left them. Wait is in the Hotel El Dorado in downtown Guayaquil, and has just purchased a ticket for the "Nature Cruise of the Century" to the Galapagos Islands. Wait checked into the Hotel El Dorado under the name Willard Flemming and claimed to be a Canadian engineer who recently lost his wife to cancer. In reality, Wait is a high school dropout and result of an incestuous father and daughter couple from Ohio. James Wait ran away and met a pimp who taught him to be a homosexual prostitute, then later became a dance instructor and criminal womanizer. There are only five other passengers to be on the Bahia de Darwin nature cruise, all of which we are warned will soon be faced with the Darwinian test of survival.
The narrator goes on to tell that the world, in 1986, was enduring a financial crisis that was a part of a series of catastrophes which had, "...originated in...human brains." (pg. 25) The world was going bankrupt, and it wasn't because of a lack of money or resources, but because of humanity's opinion of money and resources. People were starving even though plenty of food was available- a problem among many that oversized brains caused. Humanity's opinion of currency was plummeting at a rate that made many forms of money completely worthless. Vonnegut persistently reminds the reader that the evil in the world in 1986 was purely created by the human brain.
Chapter 6 introduces another one of the six passengers of the Bahia de Darwin, named Mary Hepburn, a middle aged widow and retired biology teacher. We learn that Mary's oversized brain is her own worst enemy and is pushing her towards suicide, as well as producing many insecurities. Mary is concerned that she may have a brain tumor, like what her husband died from that very same year. It was her husband, after all, who signed the pair up for the "Nature Cruise of the Century," a decision that Mary is blaming her oversized brain for convincing her to follow through with.
The section closes with informing the reader that in the present, one million years after 1986, that Darwin's Law of Natural Selection has applied to human's brain sizes by making them smaller.
Side note: Vonnegut was also from the midwest and studied mechanical engineering for some time at the University of Tennessee. I am curious to see if there will be any other parallels between James Wait and the author.