Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Book Review: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy [1979]

I'm not sure exactly how I managed to avoid reading The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams for so long, especially with various friends quite firmly suggesting over the years that I read it. Sheer perversity? At any rate, reading it was remarkably similar to the time I watched The Sound of Music with one of my friends who had never seen it before. She kept saying things like "HOLY SHIT, that's where that song is from?" and expressing other sentiments of shock and familiarity. If nothing else, after having listened to Stephen Fry's excellent audio rendition of the book, I will be able to correctly source a much greater proportion of the quotes I hear and see every day in my online geek-populated world.

When the planet Earth is destroyed to make way for a hyperspatial express route, Arthur Dent finds himself unexpectedly rescued from obliteration by his friend Ford Prefect--an alien who had spent the past many years stranded on our planet in the course of his research for that legendary tome, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Once in space, Ford and Arthur fall into a series of random(?) adventures that unite them with another Earth survivor, Trillian, and Galactic President Zaphod Beeblebrox, who seems by turns to be unimaginably clever and stupid. Rounding out their party on the pirated (by Beeblebrox) ship Heart of Gold is an incredibly depressed (and depressing) robot and an incredibly chirpy ship's computer.

I would describe the plot but I don't think that it actually makes that much logical sense or would truly be necessary for the purposes of this review. Arthur and his friends go from point A to point B and encounter a variety of digressions, in which they learn that the planet Earth was custom-ordered and run by mice and that careless talk actually does cost lives. The presentation and dialogue reminded me strongly of Monty Python or similar zany British humor, which I enjoy greatly. A great deal of the mystique that surrounds the book is still opaque to me, but, just doing a quick check of my library's shelves, I found not only the novel but:

Don't Panic: The Official Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Companion
Wish You Were Here: The Official Biography of Douglas Adams
Hitchhiker: A Biography of Douglas Adams
The Original Hitchhiker Radio Scripts
The Science of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Obviously the book in particular and the series in general are a cultural phenomenon which I cannot hope to comprehend unless I KEEP READING. Sign me up!

Grade: B

Random Thoughts:

I enjoyed the underlying satire of human behavior and the science underlying the story's goofy twists and turns. Even though the book was written thirty years ago, nothing feels out-of-date in terms of the technology.

I don't believe I'll watch the movie, as I fail to see how the novel can be properly translated into film. It would be interesting to listen to the radio plays, however.

Dead Mother: Most likely, considering the destruction of Earth.
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