Today I’m not picky about the format of the book I’m discussing because I have enjoyed them all. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams is one of my most read books to date and I own it in print, as an ebook and as an audiobook. In fact, this once, when I talk about “the book” I talk about all five books of the trilogy – yes you read that correctly, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (HGG) calls itself a trilogy in five parts. Which tells you everything about its brand of humor.
Douglas Adams was one of the first great science fiction writers and having been in written in 1979, HGG is generally considered one of the classics in space science fiction. I can’t remember how I stumbled upon it because I can’t recall being much into science fiction of the space-y kind like ten years ago. Before I’ll get into the it, let me preface this by saying that there is a movie version of HGG with Martin Freeman in the lead role but it is truly one of the worst movie adaptions ever and it’s only halfway the movie’s fault. Really, there is just so much detailed, mindbogglingly weird stuff going during that movie that there is absolutely no hope of understanding any of it without the narration of the book.
Obviously, I can’t make a book review like this reasonably short, so if you are in a hurry, please enjoy these bullet points instead:
- Classic scifi – will give you major nerd points
- Hilarious, extremely witty and not even trying the slightest to believable
- Full of highly improbable but very relatable concepts
- Main character Arthur Dent is just like any of us would be: very normal, extremely confused and just wanting to go home
So, the Hitchhiker’s trilogy – all five volumes of it – follow a very normal, extremely unsuspecting and in no way extraordinary English guy named Arthur Dent who, like you and me, did not think that there was anything going on at all outside of planet Earth. He is protesting the demolition of his house by lying in the mud in front of it in his bathrobe. Thus, he starts his space travelling days wearing a muddy bathrobe when his old friend Ford Prefect picks him up and whisks him away, because a) Ford Prefect might be an inconspicuous Earth name but he is in fact, not actually human and b) Earth will momentarily undergo much the same fate as Arthur Dents house and be demolished for construction.
This is the level of confusion and the hilarious approximations of human life projected into the laws of physics in space and the cultures of alien races make this book utterly unpredictable and strangely relatable to anyone who has lived a normal life on Earth.
Arthur is gifted Ford’s copy of an intergalactic guidebook called The Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy, which is an encyclopedic volume of information on most known planets for the budget conscious traveler and incidentally the employer of Ford Prefect who came to Earth for research and got stuck for a decade. The guide book itself is an electronic volume that has the knowledge of thousands of pages in on slim package so it can be carried around and accessed with the push of a button. Yes, you are thinking Kindle, I am thinking Kindle but this was written in 1979! Anyways, so a lot of the book is the running commentary of the guide in which Arthur looks up things. Which is very helpful as the reader knows just as little as Arthur does about space travel.
The adventures of Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect lead them through space and even time, mostly involuntarily, but always light and breezy from Ford’s point of view or incredibly terrifying and confusing from Arthur’s perspective.
It is very hard indeed to describe what the hell the plot even is or all the random things they come in contact with, so I just thought I’d make a quick list of some of my favorite concepts used in the books to illustrate the brand of humor that makes these books so special.
Don’t Panic – The inscription every Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy electronic guidebook is embellished with as it is the most universal point of guidance to any traveler in any kind of situation. I love the simplicity of this so much and I can’t believe I still haven’t found a pretty Kindle case of it.
Always know where your towel is: A travelers most important item is his towel – according to Ford Prefect. That is, because a towel can be anything from a blanket to a bullfighting tool and also because people will believe you to be a very sensible and put together person if they know that you are organized enough to keep a towel with you.
The Someone-Else’s-Problem-Field: This is a technological way to mathematically producing what is effectively an invisibility shield by suggesting to the minds of those that might otherwise be able to see your ship that whatever is going on this particular direction is definitely not their problem but instead someone else’s problem entirely and does not need to be considered further. I also believe that this sentence would hopefully make Douglas Adams proud in itself.
Bistromathics – A computing force driving some of the most powerful spaceship engines in the galaxy by way of calculating the nonabsolut numbers – numbers that change in regards to time and space – that can be observed in a restaurant dining atmosphere in the number of people a table is reserved for, how many actually show up and when, who orders what when and who consequently pays for what – and if so at all. To use this computing force, a ship using the Bistromathics Drive will have a roboter scene of a quaint little Italian bistro set up in order to make the necessary calculations.
I could go on for day and days about the delightfully strange concepts – and underlying understandings of human behavior and society that they are approximating satirically – but that might take away from the joy of reading.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is scifi humor at it’s finest – not trying to be realistic or dark or particularly believable but a laugh-out-loud kind story of incredible wit. I have read and listened to these books at least ten times each and I still find myself grinning to myself – the only reason I don’t actually laugh out loud while reading is that I don’t want to look like a lunatic. If you only ever read one volume of scifi, let it be this.
Also, the towels thing is just solid travel advice and I do find myself drawn to this one main concept quite a lot, so I will leave you with this: