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thoughts without borders

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

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The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy first aired on the BBC in 1978 as a 12-episode radio series. A year later it was published in book form and fleshed out into a 6-part “trilogy”. Since its inception it’s been billed as a comedic space novel, often featured on lists of “top sci-fi books”, and found in bookstores on the science fiction shelves. With all of this in mind, it might come as a surprise that British author Douglas Adams never set out to write within the genre but claimed he had little choice after blowing up Earth in the first episode.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy begins with Arthur Dent, a 30-year-old human, waking at 8am to find bulldozers outside his house. The city council had sent a demolition crew to make way for a bypass road right where his house stands. The back-and-forth banter between Dent and the foreman, satirizing government bureaucracy, reads like a British comedy, which makes sense once you learn that Adams wrote for the cult TV show Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

After lying down in front of the bulldozer, Dent’s best friend, Ford Perfect, who, other than his choice of name, is an inconspicuous visitor from Betelgeuse, shows up urging Arthur to join him at the bar for a few pints. His big news can’t wait—after all, they only have 12 minutes until the Earth explodes.

Lucky for Arthur, Ford is a roving researcher for The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, an immense travel guide to the universe. At the last moment he sticks out his thumb and gets them both a ride aboard the Vogon ship hovering overhead. The Vogons are a disagreeable alien race whose purpose for their visit, in a twisted coincidence, is to destroy Earth to make way for a hyperspace bypass.

Aside from the pleasure of reading a novel that makes you laugh in that snorty sort of way, I found a heady appeal to The Hitchhiker’s Guide in its technological prescience. In interviews as early as 1987 Adams showed himself to be a heavy computer user, stating a preference for Macs over PCs. At one point he mentioned owning five, going on six, simultaneously and that he’d taught himself enough BASIC to create a 3D crossword puzzle.

Still, even with this information it was stunning to witness the foreshadowing of what could be imagined as today’s e-book or tablet. Adams writes:

The contents of Ford Prefect’s satchel were quite interesting in fact and would have made any Earth physicist’s eyes pop out of his head, which is why he always concealed them by keeping a couple of dogeared scripts for plays he pretended he was auditioning for stuffed in the top. Beside the Sub-Etha Sens-O-Matic and the scripts he had on Electronic Thumb—a short squat black rod, smooth and matt with a couple of flat switches and dials at one end; he also had a device that looked rather like a largish electronic calculator. This had about a hundred tiny flat press buttons and a screen about four inches square on which any one of a million “pages” could be summoned at a moment’s notice. It looked insanely complicated, and this was one of the reasons why the snug plastic cover it fitted into had the words DON’T PANIC printed on it in large friendly letters. The other reason was that this device was in fact that most remarkable of all books ever to come out of the great publishing corporations of Ursa Minor—The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. The reason why it was published in the form of a micro sub meson electronic component is that if it were printed in normal book form, an interstellar hitchhiker would require several inconveniently large buildings to carry it around in.

Improbable encounters, close calls, and colorful characters—such as Marvin the depressed robot—make up the bulk of this thoroughly amusing book. While I can’t speak to the rest of the series, if you’re looking for pure entertainment The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy will do the trick.

Buy The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy at IndieBound


Written by Gabrielle

October 4, 2011 at 5:42 am

Posted in books, reviews

Tagged with , , , ,

3 Responses

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