Book 6: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams

‘Space […] is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mindbogglingly big it is.’

It’s not often that a book begins with the end of the world. But the destruction of the Earth is the very premise that kicks off Douglas Adams’ series of five books about rescued Earthling Arthur Dent and his exciting, dangerous and sometimes downright bizarre adventures around the Galaxy.

Poor Arthur Dent is not having a great day. After waking to discover a bulldozer about to demolish his house to make room for a new bypass, he is soon faced with the rather more catastrophic prospect of the entire Earth being obliterated in favour of a hyperspatial express route. If this were not enough, he also discovers that his eccentric friend Ford Prefect is in fact not a human at all but an alien from somewhere called Betelgeuse. A lot to take in before lunchtime.

Douglas Adams’ collection of science-fiction books started life as a radio series and these origins can still be detected in the novel. Filled with countless sparklingly witty lines, the focus of Adams’ fiction is surface dazzle, cleverly playing around with language and constantly cracking jokes – all aspects that would have jumped out of the radio – rather than delving into character progression. Arthur Dent, for instance, ends the book in much the same way as he began it: weary, confused and in search of a cup of tea (and who blames him?). Granted, he knows a bit more about space, but this doesn’t essentially alter his personality.

Not that this is a criticism. Despite having barely any character progression, each of Adams’ vivid cast of players leaps from the page fully formed and they all feel surprisingly real – if a little alien in some cases. Where else would you find a depressed robot, a man with two heads and speaking mice all in one book? Furthermore, this is far from being a character driven narrative and it is the dazzling cleverness and imagination of it all that makes an impression. Often not only laugh out loud but side-splitting, belly laugh, tears streaming down the face funny, it is a delight of a read that indulged both my funny bone and my inner geek. Taking on a whole genre and successfully, gently spoofing it while simultaneously maintaining a geeky sort of respect for it is no mean feat.

There is the feeling, however, that this is only a fragment of the whole, one jigsaw piece of a bigger picture. While it is packaged as a complete novel, I cannot help but feel that The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is only really setting up the later episodes, and while it is very entertaining in its own right I do now think that I need to go away and read the subsequent four books. This, I suppose, is the intended effect, but it would have been a little more satisfying for the novel to be more of a complete entity in itself.

Funny as it is, I would hesitate in recommending this to any readers who do not have at least a small measure of appreciation for sci-fi, as the jokes may fall slightly flat for those who do not enjoy the genre. But for a closet sci-fi fan like me, Adams’ book is a hilarious trip around the stars that is very British, very clever and very very funny.

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2 Comments

Filed under 100 Book Challenge

2 responses to “Book 6: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams

  1. I stumbled across your blog while looking for Hitchhikers Guide images to use in a personal collage project. Hello! When I read:

    “While it is packaged as a complete novel, I cannot help but feel that The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is only really setting up the later episodes, and while it is very entertaining in its own right I do now think that I need to go away and read the subsequent four books. This, I suppose, is the intended effect, but it would have been a little more satisfying for the novel to be more of a complete entity in itself.”

    I wanted to comment because this is my favorite book ever and I have read the whole series at least ten times. It may interest you to know that DNA *did* know how the radio play ended when he was asked to write a novelization of it, BUT he really never intended to write novels in the first place.

    He writes in a forward: “After a lot of procrastination and hiding and inventing excuses and having baths, I managed to get about two-thirds of it done. At this point they said, very pleasantly and politely, that I had already passed ten deadlines, so would I please just finish the page I was on and let them have the damn thing.”

    And he was writing another series and writing for Doctor Who at the same time as the first Hitchhikers Guide novel. So you see, it really was NOT a finished book and you DO have to read the others for any sense of closure. 🙂

    My favorite in the series is actually the third book, Life, the Universe, and Everything, because it has the most tangents and the most insane plot. But just finishing The Restaurant at the End of the Universe would leave you in a much more satisfying place than the end of the first book. Actually, Restaurant ends with exactly as much of the story as the British TV series covered.

    If you’re only a closet science fiction fan, you might like Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency and its sequel, Long Dark Teatime of the Soul, even better.

  2. Also, yay on your book challenge! I set a similar one for myself and am reading the complete works of Shakespeare in slightly more than a year. I discuss them with friends on Twitter every other week to stay motivated, and we’re presently up to Midsummer Night’s Dream after way too many history plays.

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