Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams

This week I've decided to re-read the five books in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy trilogy in one froody volume. Yes, you read that right. I will admit that it's been about seven or eight years since I last read any of the Hitchhiker's Guide books so a few things did slip my mind and it proved to be a much-needed refresher. Furthermore, by Douglas Adams's own admission between the novels, movie, radio broadcasts, and BBC television series there are something like five or six conflicting different storylines. Plus there is the wham of the last novel which, again, Adams admitted to being influenced by him having a rather bad year. Adams was working on another novel, The Salmon of Doubt, which might have expanded the series but he tragically passed away in 2001.

This particular anthology contains the five core novels: 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, and Mostly Harmless, as well as a short story Young Zaphod Plays it Safe. I will admit that on re-reading the series, I actually found it kind of disjointed as there seem to be different plots that go off in different directions before they fizzle out more or less unresolved. I get the feeling that a lot of this is because Adams is adapting his radio serials into book format and things got shifted around. (I have also had the fortune to listen to some of the radio serials and bits of the BBC series so I am aware of some slight changes between mediums.) Tone wise the whole series starts out rather humorous with quite a lot of jokes but it takes a more serious tone towards the end. There are of course still some funny bits in Mostly Harmless, but it feels almost like a different universe than the original few books.

The plot is initially kicked off when the earth is destroyed by galactic bureaucrats for the creation of a hyperspace bypass. Arthur Dent, an otherwise normal Englishman living in the West Country, is saved from his planet's demolition by the help of his friend Ford Prefect, who turns out to be an alien from a planet in the vicinity of Betelgeuse. Ford and Arthur soon team up with Zaphod Beeblebrox and Trillian on a series of increasingly improbably adventures throughout the galaxy, attempting to find the meaning to life, the universe, and everything. The first two books are by far the most connected, with the second one merging practically seamlessly plot-wise with the first, although the third is also strongly connected. There is a definite break in the third novel, however, and the fourth and fifth definitely go off in their own directions. I am loathe to admit that on re-reading the novel I found myself liking considerably fewer of the characters this time around, although that again may be because of a difference in my own personality rather than anything else. It's definitely an odd collection of books but well worth the time to read.

Personally my favorite out of the five novels is So Long and Thanks For All the Fish. It is a book that focuses almost exclusively on our everyman character Arthur Dent and we finally get to see him experience some good things in his life. Maybe I'm a romantic but after all of the madness and tromping around the universe that Arthur Dent had to put up with in the first three novels, I felt he had earned some well-deserved happiness.

As a series, Hitchhiker's Guide has become part of the sci-fi canon for very good reason. Its humor, its complicated yet nonsensical plots, and its satire of society make it extremely enjoyable, and references to it are common throughout nerd culture. If you haven't read it yet, all I can really say is that you should and I think you'll be highly satisfied. Just remember, Don't Panic, and always bring a towel.

- Kalpar

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