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Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy #1) by Douglas Adams

Seconds before the Earth is demolished to make way for a galactic freeway, Arthur Dent is plucked off the planet by his friend Ford Prefect, a researcher for the revised edition of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy who, for the last fifteen years, has been posing as an out-of-work actor.

Together this dynamic pair begin a journey through space aided by quotes from The Hitchhiker's Guide ("A towel is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have") and a galaxy-full of fellow travelers: Zaphod Beeblebrox--the two-headed, three-armed ex-hippie and totally out-to-lunch president of the galaxy; Trillian, Zaphod's girlfriend (formally Tricia McMillan), whom Arthur tried to pick up at a cocktail party once upon a time zone; Marvin, a paranoid, brilliant, and chronically depressed robot; Veet Voojagig, a former graduate student who is obsessed with the disappearance of all the ballpoint pens he bought over the years.

Released: September 27th 1995    Pages: 216
Publisher: Del Rey Books            Source: Library
First Look: ****Pretty much all of my friends wanted me to read this.  They're nerdy and like science fiction.  I'm nerdy and like science fiction.  It was going to happen sooner or later. 

Setting: ****
This setting makes no sense.  I know, I know, it's high time people got after me about the fact that I've said the same thing about so many other settings lately.  The difference is that Douglas Adams' galaxy (which, incidentally, is our own galaxy) isn't supposed to make sense.  It's a chaotic mess of impossible corporations, designer planets, spaceships, bureaucracy, and who knows what else.  It's meant to pull you along for the ride, as it did with Arthur Dent.  And maybe, just maybe, there's a hidden message here about our own experience of the galaxy.  Does it make any sense whatsoever?  Not really.  

Characters: *****
Arthur Dent is the epitome of "slightly annoyed guy who gets dragged on an adventure."  All he wants is to keep his house--and then his planet gets blown to pieces.  He spends the rest of the book in a slightly dazed state of "just go with it" as he travels the galaxy and finds his way into other people's (and aliens' and androids') mischief.  Also along for the ride are the president of the galaxy, a robot, an alien travel guide researcher, and other assorted oddities.  And that's what pretty much every side character is: an oddity.  Fortunately, that's what makes things interesting. 

Plot: ***** 
The plot is where this book didn't quite meet the high expectations all the hype has set.  Yes, it has the same quirky humor as everything else, but I couldn't shake the feeling that it doesn't go anywhere.  It begins with a focus--Arthur Dent's home, and the planet with it, is about to be demolished, and only sheer dumb luck brings him on this adventure.  After that, it's a romp through a seemingly random assortment of space settings.  Maybe this is a result of my fragmented reading of this book, but my interest started to wane once the romp began.  Don't get me wrong: it's a fun (and funny) plot.  It just isn't as clear as I usually like.

Uniqueness: ****
I haven't read about paranoid androids in a while.  Or about intergalactic travel writing.  Or about why towels are an essential space travel tool.  (And by "a while," I mean "never.")

Writing: ****
Douglas Adams combines weird analogies, straightforward narration, and a healthy dose of social commentary subtext.  We have this:

“The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don't.” 

And then there's this:

“For a moment, nothing happened. Then, after a second or so, nothing continued to happen.” 

And this:

“For instance, 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.” 

I'll let these quotes speak for themselves.

Likes: N/A.

Not-so-great: N/A.

Overall: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is a strange little book.  It's part straight-up adventure story and part space romp, but you can't ignore the underlying sarcastic commentary.  Douglas Adams is a genius with odd analogies, and Arthur Dent is exactly the type of suitably ordinary annoyed-guy-dragged-on-an-adventure to drop into the mix.  The plot feels meandering at times, but overall, it's an enjoyable, offbeat ride through space.  We all need that sometimes.

Similar Books: I have nothing to adequately compare this to, but here's what I can come up with: It's a sci-fi classic like Ender's Game, quirky like Ready Player One, and its sense of humor would likely appeal to fans of Artemis Fowl (after all, Eoin Colfer did write a follow-up to Hitchhiker's Guide).

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