The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is another one of those books that doesn’t need a little introductory paragraph to explain its origins or its author or even how I managed to come across it. This isn’t the first time I’ve read the series, but even I was taken aback at how many lines from the book have become part of my cultural consciousness since I read it last. Every chapter, it seemed, I would think, “That joke came from this book?” Everything from Radiohead to instant messaging software to the name of this blog’s current theme; it all comes from Adams’ writing.
What, then, to say about such an illustrious book? Well, it has a lot of faults you could point out, if you wanted to. Rather weak characterization, arbitrary plot (perhaps that’s the point), unfulfilled digressions, etc. Adams’ satire is so madhouse—so very quickly jumping from spoof to spoof, and from joke to joke—that one almost doesn’t have time to appreciate the jokes.
Notice I use the word “almost.” The Hitchhiker’s Guide still manages to be an uproariously funny book, squaring the very staid and British Arthur Dent (whom you could, if this was a normal book, call the protagonist) against a universe that he very suddenly finds out is larger significantly less predictable than he may have once thought.
Add to this the two-headed Zaphod Beeblebrox, President of the Galaxy, and the beautiful astrophysicist Trillian; we all want Arthur to make it with her, but Adams largely ignores the potential romantic subplot1. Perhaps most famously is Marvin the “Paranoid Android,” a clinically depressed robot. Put them all on a ship powered by an improbability engine—exploiting quantum mechanics to make the ship everywhere in the universe at once.
The book is driven by the notion that the universe is infinitely large, and must be infinitely absurd, too: it’s perhaps less a narrative and more a list of silly things in the universe (which are themselves thinly disguised metaphors for some clearly human absurdity).
There’s enough glorious little tidbits about which to talk at length, but I’ll spare you that kind of tedium. Instead, I’ll simply recommend the book and warn you to keep an eye out for my reviews of the rest, coming soon.
- Notably, the recent movie didn’t, partly because it’s written in stone somewhere in Hollywood that summer blockbusters must prominently feature a romantic subplot, and partly because there’s no way you can cast Zooey Deschanel in a role and not have a character fall in love with her[↩]