The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

One Thursday lunchtime the Earth gets unexpectedly demolished to make way for a new hyperspace bypass. Seconds before the demolition, Arthur Dent is plucked off the planet by his friend Ford Prefect, who turns out to be a humanoid alien from a planet called Beetlejuice who ended up on Earth for fifteen years while researching for the revised edition of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

For Arthur Dent, having lost his entire home planet feel overwhelming enough. However, he has to brace himself for more to come as he and Ford begin a journey through space aided by quotes from The Hitchhiker’s Guide and fellow travellers: Zaphod Beeblebrox—the two-headed, three-armed ex-hippie and totally eccentric President of the Galaxy; Trillian, formally Tricia McMillan, whom Arthur once tried to pick up at a cocktail party; and Marvin, a paranoid, brilliant, and chronically depressed robot.

Five out of six people in my book group enjoyed this book, and I think most of us appreciated the quirky humour and original descriptions of people and places.

Despite everything sounding ludicrous, there was always enough information presented in each scenario that made me think about real life. For example, the fact that a perfectly fine planet like Earth gets demolished for a bypass/freeway seems absurd enough, but there are parallels with the sort of things that happen around us. The aliens who have the contract for Earth’s demolition sound like human bureaucrats:  

“There’s no point in acting surprised about it. All the planning charts and demolition orders have been on display at your local planning department in Alpha Centauri for fifty of your Earth years, so you’ve had plenty of time to lodge any formal complaint, and it’s far too late to start making a fuss about it now.”

The story pokes fun at most things, and the storyline reveals the Galaxy to be a strange and startling place. A scene with some irate philosophers put me in mind of some of the characters I love in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series at the Unseen University. A search for a link between the two authors led me to a few comparisons in their style, but my favourite article is actually where Neil Gaiman credited Douglas Adams for inspiring him to become a writer:

I enjoyed the book as a bit of light reading, it’s not very long, and my only criticism would be that it ends abruptly – which ultimately comes down to this having been initially for radio. There are several book editions which have the follow on books all included in one volume, and I wish I’d gotten one of those versions. The books which follow this one are: The Restaurant at the End of the Universe; Life the Universe and Everything; So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish and Mostly Harmless.

I’ll definitely read the other stories or perhaps listen to them as radio episodes. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was first broadcast on radio in 1978, and this year, 2020, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the universe turns 42, which this story reveals to be a very significant number 🙂

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