Author: Douglas Adams
Publisher: Del Rey
Publishing Date: 2005
Number of Pages: 216
Genre: Scientific Fiction, Adventure Novel
Seconds before Earth is demolished to make way for a galactic freeway, Arthur Dent is plucked off the planet by his friend Ford Perfect, a researcher for the revised edition of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy who, for the last fifteen years, has been posing as an out-of-work actor.
Together, this dynamic pair begin a journey through space aided by a galaxyful of fellow travelers: Zaphod Beeblebrox, the two-headed, three-armed ex-hippie and totally out-to-lunch president of the galaxy; Trillian (formerly Tricia McMillan), Zaphod’s girlfriend, whom Arthur tried to pick up at a cocktail party once upon a time zone; Marvin, a paranoid, brilliant, and chronically depressed robot; and Veet Voojagig, a former graduate student obsessed with the disappearance of all the ballpoint pens he’s bought over the years.
Where are these pens? Why are we born? Why do we die? For all the answers, stick your thumb to the stars.
If there is a genre that I try to avoid, other than young adult fiction and horror, it would have to be scientific fiction (sci-fi). I simply find all those thingamajigs and jargons very overwhelming; they simply don’t interest me. I also belong to the very rare species who have never watched a single Star Wars or Star Trek movie. But what made me change me decide to read this sci-fi classic? Simple – the numerous paeans it has received from different literary pundits and readers over the years.
I have purchased the 3rd and 5th books of the series though through online resellers but it took me some time before I was able to avail a copy of the first book in the series. I encountered a copy of the book on one of my numerous excursions to the book store; it didn’t take much to convince me to purchase it. My anticipation of the book (and the series) grew over the succeeding months, hence, in included it in my 2018 Top 20 Reading List, ahead of books I have purchased from way back.
“In the beginning the Universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad movie.” ~ Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
The novel is about the adventures, rather misadventures, of Arthur Dent. Everything was normal until his alien friend, Ford Prefect arrived out of the blue, warning him of the end of the world. They were able to escape the destruction but they were thrown into one misadventure after another. After being tortured by a Vogon’s poetry, they were thrown into space where they were rescued by Zaphod Beeblebrox’s ship, the Heart of Gold. Zaphod is Ford’s half-cousin and is the President of the Galaxy and is assisted by his motley crew. After Zaphod saves Arthur at the end of the story, they all decided to leave for The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, the title of the second book of the series.
The novel’s title, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, is derived from a fictional guide book for which Ford Prefect is researching for. In the form of an encyclopedia, it contained information from all galaxies. As expected of an encyclopedia, its scope is general and contains numerous allusions to quantum physics and of the other sciences. This could be off-putting to some readers, especially to those who are not well-versed in science. I find it, however, on the contrary, amusing even though my knowledge of the sciences is shallow. This is also to Adams’ credit because the language he used was appropriate.
The literally out-of-this world adventures of the characters is what sets this book apart from the usual literary pieces. The plot itself is very interesting. In spite of the seemingly serious subject, the book is brimming with humor, filled with witty one liners and comebacks. Moreover, the absurdity of some of the conditions and adventures added a very fun and light atmosphere to the narrative. As a result, even though it was short and used numerous scientific jargons, the story didn’t drag. It was, for the most part, a pleasurable read.
“The Guide says there is an art to flying, or rather a knack. The knack lies in learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss.” ~ Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
Aside from creating an interesting storyline, Douglas Adams created a vivid imagery to assist his readers. Our concept of the outer space is something bleak and dark but Adams filled with vast possibilities, with colors, as though it was some other place within Earth. The novel’s language is catchy and fun. It was mostly straightforward even though at times it was technical. Nevertheless, the narrative was flowing and the subplots complimented the story.
The book’s most interesting facet, however, is the set of characters that Adams has conjured for the book. The story is a collaboration of interesting and quirky characters – aliens, normal human beings, and even artificial intelligence. Each character, from Arthur Dent to Ford Prefect to Zaphod Beeblebrox, have been carefully developed, with each one giving the story a different texture. At times, the alien characters are unimaginable but it is something that added a exciting flair to the narrative.
Another interesting aspect of the narrative is the interjection in between the main story line of excerpts from the guide book, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. They take in the form of breathers from the main narrative but also give an overall perspective of the world beyond. Perhaps, through these “innocent” passages, Adams is giving a glimpse into what the story is about to revolve into; I am yet to read the rest of the books in the series. Although there are some allusions to darker subjects and themes, the narrative was pretty much lighter than I expected.
“A common mistake that people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools.” ~ Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
Overall, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy lived up to my expectations. Although it was primarily a scientific fiction, it reminded me again why I am riveted with adventure novels. Douglas Adams gave me more than enough fuel to keep up with the rest of the series. The interesting storyline, the colorful and peculiar characters, and the witty one-liners all added up to a compelling, humorous, and riveting narrative that is simply out-of-this-world. As I have completed all the five books, I am now longing to finish all of it. I guess I have found my cup of scientific fiction.
Recommended for avid fans of scientific fiction, those who like reading out-of-this-world and quirky narratives, who like reading about aliens and conspiracy theories, those who like quick, light and pleasurable reads, readers who love the different sciences, and readers who like grotesque but interesting characters.
Not recommended for readers who prefer straight narratives, readers who are not fans of Star Trek or Star Wars, and readers who are not into scientific fiction in general.
About the Author
(Photo by Wikipedia) Douglas Noel Adams was born on March 11, 1952 in Cambridge, England.
While studying, his writing skills made him popular and some of his earleiest writing was published at his school, Brentwood School. He graduated with a B.A. in English Literature from St. John’s College, Cambridge. After graduating, Adams moved to London where he first wrote for television shows. He was given writing credit a sketch called “Patient Abuse” in Episode 45 of Monty Python.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was once a concept for a scientific-fiction comedy radio series. The series was broadcasted weekly by BBC Radio in March and April 1978. A year later, in 1979, the book version was published. His success with the first book was shortly followed by the publication of the rest of the series: The Restaurant at the End of the Universe (1980), Life, the Universe and Everything (1982), So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish (1984) and Mostly Harmless (1992). He has also written for the Doctor Who series and has published the Dirk Gently series.
Adams married Jane Belson on November 25, 1991. They had a daughter, Polly Jane Rocket Adams. Adams died of a heart attack on May 11, 2001.