The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
by Douglas Adams
” “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is a wholly remarkable book. It has been complied and recompiled many times over many years and under many different editorships. It contains contributions from countless numbers of travelers and researchers.
The introduction begins like this:
‘Space,’ it says, ‘is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly hugely mindboggingly big it is. I mean you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist, but that’s just peanuts in space. Listen. . . and so on” “
I’ve never been one to pick up a fantasy novel on my own. I have always much preferred fairytale fiction and the popular “chic-lit” style of writing. I’ve noticed lately how much I’ve become attached to historical fiction and how much I naturally move towards series as a preferred way of reading. Nothing intrigues me more than a good set of books. Characters I can sink my teeth into through book after book and the slow unraveling of their layers. . . getting to know them on deep levels and forming attachments. I strongly feel that it is incredibly difficult for an author to truly know the in’s and out’s of their main character(s) through the writing of just one novel.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is a book that my husband (shall we call him, The Beast?) brought to me last week on our date night at the bookstore. It’s something we have done literally since our first date – combing the aisles independently for something that catches our eye, scoping out the hardcovers to see if they have come down in price yet, perusing the clearance section to see what treasures have been added. We come together every so often and reveal our finds and sometimes we have something for the other. The Beast already owns a well-worn copy of Hitchhiker’s at home, but because he once loaned it to a previous girlfriend (let’s call her Fat Anaka, shall we? A totally random name, I promise) I consider it tainted and refused to read it when he offered it a few years ago. He decided I should give it another try and bought me my own crisp copy (brand new for $4 at the Half-Price Book store).
So, I’d heard of it. But again, picking up a fantasy book is not my first choice. It’s not even my second. I’ve devoured all of the Game of Thrones books and have spent many a time in lands of witches and warlocks, vampires and immersed in other dimensions, but it’s only after I’ve dragged myself away from the sordid and melancholy lives of all of Henry’s eight wives that I will willingly choose a book of fantasy.
I’ll say, while it took me a little while to understand what was going on in Hitchhiker’s, but it did have me giggling just a few pages in. We are introduced to the unassuming Arthur Dent, who is somewhat in denial of the fact that a highway is about to be built right through his house – until the bulldozer shows up quite literally at his door. He is automatically affronted and of course the only way to deal with this problem is simply to refuse to take it lying down. . . except that’s what he um, does, kind of. . .when he lies down in front of the bulldozer so they can’t demolish his home. Not that he particularly likes his home, but it’s the principle, you see.
His friend, the ambiguous and cleverly disguised Ford Prefect decides that he must rid Arthur of this situation and take him out for a drink – or two, or three. The end of the world is happening in oh, say 4 and a half minutes or so, and the best way to be blown up is while mightily intoxicated. Ford is an alien of sorts, if you can call him that. It’s all a bit ironic to call anyone alien in this book, especially once the truth about Earth is revealed, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Ford is an avid reader of and researcher for The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, an enormous collection of snippets and articles about every planet and system in the….galaxy. Where to get the best cocktail, how to play a certain drinking game, and what to do if you’re trapped on a Vogon spaceship is all right there in the electronic book. Ford has been stuck on Earth for a lot longer than he’d anticipated and he’s gathered so much research that he’s now completely agreeable with expanding upon the entry for the planet in the Guide.
” ‘If you’re a researcher on this book thing and you were on Earth, you must have been gathering material on it.”
“Well, I was able to extend the original entry, a bit, yes.”
“Let me see what it says in this edition, then. I’ve got to see it.”
“Yeah. OK.” He passed it over again.
Arthur grabbed hold of it and tried to stop his hands shaking. He pressed the entry for the relevant page. The screen flashed and swirled and resolved into a page of print. Arthur stared at it.
“It doesn’t have an entry!” he burst out.
Ford looked over his shoulder.
“Yes it does,” he said, “down there, see at the bottom of the screen, just under Eccentricia Gallumbits, the triple-breasted whore of Eroticon Six.”
Arthur followed Ford’s finger, and saw where it was pointing. For a moment it still didn’t register, then his mind nearly blew up.
“What? Harmless! Is that all it’s got to say? Harmless! One word!”
“Well, there are a hundred billion stars in the Galaxy, and only a limited amount of space in the book’s microprocessors,” he said, “and no one knew much about the Earth, of course.”
“Well, for God’s sake I hope you managed to rectify that a bit.”
“Oh yes, well I managed to transmit a new entry off to the editor. He had to trim it a bit, but it’s still an improvement.”
“And what does it say now?” asked Arthur.
“Mostly harmless,” admitted Ford with a slightly embarrassed cough. “
Ford is by chance able to save Arthur from being included in Earth’s complete destruction by way of becoming stowaways on a Vogon spaceship – the very people who have just blown up the planet to make way for a galactic speedway. Their adventures continue as they are caught upon the ship by it’s grumbling yet poetic Captain and ultimately and ceremoniously tossed out, presumably to their untimely death in the deep, dark depths of space itself.
” “Oh, er, well the hatchway in front of us will open automatically in a few moments and we will shoot out into deep space I expect and asphyxiate. If you take a lungful of air with you, you can last up to thirty seconds, of course. . .”said Ford. He stuck his hands behind his back, raised his eyebrows, and started to hum an old Betelgeusian battle hymn. To Arthur’s eyes he suddenly looked very alien.
“So this is it,” said Arthur, we are going to die.”
“Yes,” said Ford, “except . . . no! Wait a minute!” He suddenly lunged across the chamber at something behind Arthur’s line of vision. “What’s this switch?” he cried.
“What? Where?” cried Arthur, twisting round.
“No, I was only fooling,” said Ford, “we are going to die after all.” “
To their complete and utter amazement, they are saved by a passing spacecraft. This particular ship is full of surprises, one being it’s pseudo captain and President of the Galaxy, Zaphod Beeblebrox, who happens to be Ford’s “kind of cousin.” In any event, they know one another and there is immediately an undercurrent of trust on board. Arthur is both horrified and exalted to find that the other passenger in attendance is a woman with whom he previously tried to hook up with a party (and was subsequently rejected by) – a fellow dark-haired Earthen named Trillian.
As they travel through space together a few revelations come to light and it culminates with the “discovery” of a legendary planet – Magrathea. This planet’s sole purpose was to design and build luxury planets for the rich and famous. Anything you could desire in a planet can be made here, for a price of course. The planet was thought to have been destroyed or lost but in fact, has only gone into a sort of hibernation since the economy began to falter some years ago.
The foursome lands on the planet and split up to explore. Arthur ends up on his own and meets up with a native of the planet, who begins to tell him the real reason that Earth was. . . built — to discover the true meaning of life. A machine named Deep Thought previously handed the answer over but the consensus was that the answer simply wasn’t good enough. In actuality, Deep Thought believed that “mankind” actually did not know the real question they were trying to ask.
The path by which this question shall be answered is a tenuous one and is riddled with intrigue and humor. Not everyone agrees that we should know the meaning to life, or rather, not everyone agrees as to who should be the one to unveil the true answer.
” “We demand,” yelled Vroomfondel, “that demarcation may or may not be the problem!”
“You just let the machines get on with the adding up,” warned Majikthise, “and we’ll take care of the eternal verities, thank you very much. you want to check your legal position you do, mate. Under law the Quest for Ultimate Truth is quite clearly the inalienable prerogative of your working thinkers. Any bloody machine goes and actually finds it and we’re straight out of a job, aren’t we? I mean what’s the use of our sitting up half the night arguing that there may or may not be a God if this machine only goes and gives you his bleeding phone number the next morning?”
“That’s right,” shouted Vroomfondel, “we demand rigidly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty!” “
The foursome eventually meets back up and has to flee the planet unexpectedly – for reasons that I won’t spoil, but I promise they were entertaining and quite unexpected.
This book is very short, clocking in at 180 pages. It’s a quick, fun story that has a lot of clever humor. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy originally began as a talk radio show and is a widely popular and beloved British written work. The series has a cult following and I am anxious to read the remaining books to carry on with Arthur’s travels. I found him to be the most interesting character in the bunch. A feature film was made in 2005 and Arthur’s character was played by the brilliant Martin Freeman. I could *hear* him speaking as I read Arthur’s dialogue and it fit so perfectly, it makes me very excited to see how things pan out for him and the group of misfits he has gotten himself caught up with.
The books are available in a collective format, meaning all books in one *or* you can buy them individually. They are as follows:
- The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
- The Restaurant at the End of the Universe
- Life, the Universe and Everything
- So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish
- Mostly Harmless
- And Another Thing. . .
There are also several companion books and short stories and published radio scripts that relate to the omnibus.
I give The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy 4 out of 5 stars. I would have rated it higher had the author explained just a tad bit more about the fantasy world we were so violently thrown in to very early on. I spent a few chapters confused and I personally need more of an explanation. But that’s just me. Pick it up if you’re looking for a quick, charming, funny read.