Sunday, July 5, 2015


The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, #1)The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams (henceforth fondly referred to as HG2G) has been on my High-School-Texts-I-Never-Read-But-Must list for the longest time - until this morning, that is. The book is an absolute, intergalactic, devour-in-one-sitting gem.

Our protagonist is Arthur Dent, a humble earthling whose longtime friend, Ford Prefect, turns out to be an alien from another planet entire. Yet there are perks to such a friendship, for Arthur is the only human who is whisked away to 'safety' when the hulking and poetry-loving Vogons implode his little green and blue home. The rest of the characters are a fascinating bunch - there is Zaphod Beeblebrox, the brilliant and bizarre Galactic present, Trillian, a human who was fleetingly Arthur's potential love-interest on Earth before being "picked up" (quite literally) by Zaphod, Marvin, a comically depressed robot ("paranoid android"), an enigmatic old man on a legendary planet, a chatty computer... the list goes on.

The norm is twisted, warped and contorted in HG2G. Poetry - an elegant, melodic art form - is a torture mechanism; the possibility of being "late" is interpreted as the threat of being "late, as in the late < insert your name here >;" and most memorably of all, "what's so unpleasant about being drunk" is something only "a glass of water would know."

We, like Arthur, keep HG2G's top-notch life advice in our minds as we read on: Don't Panic.

On the one hand, HG2G delivers the joyously imaginative: we meet the mind-bogglingly useful Babel Fish, are inside the head of a confused/existentialist spermwhale for a brief moment, and learn that Norway's fjords are design-award-worthy.

At the same time, the novel also invites us to question the profound, which is often masked in the simplest of terms:
“Isn't it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?”
“On the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much—the wheel, New York, wars and so on—whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man—for precisely the same reasons.”
“He felt that his whole life was some kind of dream and he sometimes wondered whose it was and whether they were enjoying it.”
“All through my life I've had this strange unaccountable feeling that something was going on in the world, something big, even sinister, and no one would tell me what it was." "No," said the old man, "that's just perfectly normal paranoia. Everyone in the Universe has that.”
Throughout the story, there are times when the characters jump into hyperspace - similarly, we also make leaps from our mundane lives into absolute absurdity. We go from Arthur's house being demolished, for instance, to a whole planet being pulverized, just as we go from having a pint on earth to having tea on a spaceship (or at least "something that is almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea"). All of a sudden, telephone numbers seem to have an otherworldly purpose that is on par with the most unlikely of possibilities (infinity minus one?)

There is so much about HG2G that is unforgettable, such as the hilarious "proof" of God's non-existence via the Babel fish, the utterly quotable “So long, and thanks for all the fish,” and the sheer wackiness of suddenly becoming prey to two white mice (who are the guinea pigs, now?)

Yet the the one thing readers will never forget about this book - the two-digit number we all know by heart - is the bafflingly simple and incomprehensible answer to the "life the universe and everything": 42. It is ironic how a book involving concepts of astronomical scale boils down the solution to The Ultimate Question to 6*7... but is that truly all that it is?

As we age, it seems that we “demand rigidly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty" by default; however, Adams expands these areas to wild and thrilling proportions in the novel. We read on, believing nothing (debatable) but loving everything. I shall be reading the sequels. It is little wonder HG2G has achieved the status of legend.

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