The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (book) Review

Happy Monday everyone.

dont panic

The best advice ever given.

I’ve decide to set up a system for the reviews for The Hitchhiker’s books which looks something like this:

A) 3 sentence summary

  • self explanatory, I figure I can get away with it because of how canonized these books are

B)  cast

-character bios

C)  Free ball thinking, maybe there’ll be a point

-Not really sure what this is all for yet, the series is pretty light hearted but there are somethings that Adams seems concerned with and things I’m concerned with Adams portrayal of some human characters.  Mostly Trillian…but we’ll get there.

D)  Footnotes

-read everything before forming an opinion

Summary: The book opens with an earthman…er English man more specifically but in the cannon that becomes pretty irrelevant, Arthur Dent, who has been in a legal battle with his home city.  Dent’s best friend, Ford Prefect, Arthur learns on a fatal Thursday morning over 6 pints of beer at lunch is an alien from a planet called Betelgeuse Seven and that the world is just about to end and the beers should work as a good muscle relaxant for the earthman’s first interstellar teleportation or “hitchhiking a ride off the planet”.  Arthur and Ford hook up with Ford’s cousin Zaphod Beeblebrox, who happens to be the president of the Galaxy and now a felon on the run after stealing the most improbable ship in existence due to it’s ability to move through space and time to do very improbable things using a deus ex machina(1) drive.

Cast:

Arthur Dent –  the main narrative follows the last earthman in existence.  He’s a pretty simple guy, mostly just really wants a proper cup of tea. After loosing everything you know, from family and friends to gravity and atmosphere, finding the things you remember enjoying becomes a challenging task and a task that seems to define Arthur as a character through the series.

Ford Prefect – a travel writer for the publication “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” which covers everything in space and to an extent time, one of the main attractions in the food section is The Restaurant at the End of The Universe (“end” as in time) which we see in the second book, who got stranded “Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the Galaxy”(page 5) on the planet we call home, Earth, for 15 years.  Ford, like Arthur, is beverage driven however instead of tea Ford prefers alcohol(2) and is always in search of his next drink.

Zaphod Beeblebrox – Ford’s semi-cousin who is elected President of the Galaxy and later the same day becomes a felon by stealing a experimental ship from some shadowy quasi-governmental three-letter department and going on the run because “FOR THE STORY!”.  Zaphod is…kind of an ass hat and not usually funny enough to pull it off.  He is also kind of given this enigmatic back story where he has a part of one of his two heads’ brains(3), oh by the way he has two heads and it is kind of weird but really cool,  partitioned off to protect him self from his memories or something.  His story gets kind of lost later in the series.

Trillian Astra aka Tricia Marie McMillan – The last earthwoman in existence and Zaphod’s girlfriend, secretary, plaything, borderline throwaway character. Just speaking for the books portrayal of her but its kind of sad because she has no positive remember-able moments in the entire series for me, though she does have a few flagship memories for me and spoiler alert: they’re not good,  which is sad because I really tried to like her character but despite her back story of being a “brilliant mathematician and astrophysicist” she still fails to be anything more than a background character of little consequence.

Marvin the Paranoid/Depressed Robot – I had a creative non-fiction professor mention once, I’ll never forget, “If you title an essay ‘Meloncholy Memories’ why should I read it? What about that title entices the reader to think ‘Oh boy, this sounds really stimulating’?”.  This is what I kept thinking about every time Marvin was around after his initial appearance.  He is a joke. Literally his character is the joke that if robots have emotions, someone will experiment with depression software and sadistically tweak the superuser overrides to prevent the robot changing it’s software to something more dynamic and to keep self preservation as a priority ergo his existence is a goof and he is aware of that fact.  That’s Marvin.  Exciting right? His character gets pretty dark too, he manages to talk several machines into suicide/self-destruction just by talking to them through the series.

Thoughts on the Story at Large:

 

The story arc of the first book depicts interests in exploring ideas like the absurdity of life and relative perceived importance, criticism of bureaucratic systems, experimental view of gods and creation of Earth.

The whole reason the planet is destroyed is because the primary bureaucratic force in the galaxy, the Volgons, want to construct an intergalactic hyper way and Earth is in the way.  In criticism of the human race, which becomes a running theme through the series, we as a planet and race missed the memo posted at the closest inter galactic way station because we hadn’t developed “basic” space travel networks in time.  This is pretty cold however it seems that if the rest of the galaxy is well governed enough to have a commutation system (the sub-etha aka the internet) and GPS (galactic positioning system) sophisticated enough to operate through space and time at least semi-reliably, then the system is succeeding. Running the system are these intensely ugly, less than intelligent in creativity, however through their perseverance, evolution had given up on them, they managed to rise to the top of the galactic governmental structure.  These guys don’t have much depth of character however they do provide for an interesting commentary on the galactic political system.

The characters of the story eventually learn that Earth was created by a computer called “Deep Thought“.  The reason Deep Thought created earth was in response to a request by it’s creating race.  Deep Thought was constructed to divine the answer to life, the universe, and everything and after generations of processing the computer produces a less than satisfactory answer(4) and after being asked about the answer the computer says the request was for the answer, not the answer and the question.  In order to discover the question to life, the universe, and everything a much grander computer must be built which is what ultimately became Earth: the most complicated sophisticated computer ever created, every single life form, ecosystem, species was apart of the grander machine processing it’s singular purpose of discovering what the question to life the universe and everything is.  However approximately five minutes before the question is formulated and the greatest computer ever created fulfills it’s sole purpose the Volgons destroy it.

As we peel back the layers of creation and destruction of the Earth we get this increasing feeling of insignificance: humans a produced piece of a machine that was created with a sole purpose by another machine which was created by a race of highly evolved beings whom devoted their collective existence to the question and answer ultimately to be crushed in a bigger machine of bureaucracy.  Cogs inside machines; machines as cogs in living systems; entire species organizing them self into a living system striving for generational existential projects rendered purposeless when crushed in an existential misunderstanding.

We further learn that entire planet creation is not only a godless business, it’s a business that thrives on the super rich mortal beings rather than magical cosmic entities(5), but an artistically fashionable industry to be a participant in(6) similar to the Hollywood Movie industry, designers could win awards on their designs such as Slartibartfast who spent his entire career designing fjords and won an award for Norway.

In the end the final project runners of the quest for the ultimate question, who are in the form of two small white mice Trillian was keeping as pets and took with her when she left the planet with Zaphod, discover that Arthur Dent is the last piece left of existence from the Earth and want to, literally, pick his brain (to pieces) in a final blind hope of discovering the ultimate question and giving their race purpose however the police track Zaphod, still a wanted criminal, and bust up the party allowing for our main character’s to escape the mice, get in hopeless shoot out with the authorities, and then decide they’re hungry and venture to The Restaurant at the End of the Universe.

The final product is a wild ride through strange worlds, a wide eye examination of existence, that keeps you laughing and intrigued the entire way despite some of it’s short comings of characterization.  Frankly the story is more plot driven rather than character driven but when the plot is as complexly clever as The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, its a feature that is normally a point of criticism but in this case it’s a point of praise as it fits the overall theme of the story being told: a mostly meaningless story following the last earthman in existence.

 

Footnotes:

  1. Despite the flack that this gets, it’s etymology is pretty sweet coming from ancient Greek Theater meaning “god from the machine” referring to a literal machine, a crane to lower a god from the heavens or a riser to bring a god up from the underworld (trap door stuff) which is kind of funny to me in a way because its like this god has a power it answers to or that controls it.
  2. This is believable, there have been giant clouds of consumable alcohol discovered floating in space.
  3. Not sure on the proper syntax here.
  4. It’s 42.  Don’t think about it too much.
  5. It is confirmed gods exist in the cannon however they mostly seem to be concerned with more antics rather than creationism.
  6. In reference to something Ross from Accursed Farms mentioned in his September video chat which this reminded me of is I can actually see something like this happening in a video game if No Man’s Sky was to open up their game to the modding community as Ross mentioned in response to a viewer question. I’m really not much of a gamer but I really do hope they do open this game to the modding community because I can see people creating really intricate and interest and strange and amazing and horrifying and inspiring and beautiful and depraved planets not to mention the idea of maybe creating space stations inside the game and maybe interplanetary species…this game paired up with a strong modding community and virtual reality that actually works and works well would turn everything upside down. Nothing in the gaming industry, digital exploration, and possibly even philosophy would be the same again.
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