The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
It all began one night; the late Douglas Adams, drunk out of his wits, fell on his back onto a grassy field. His sight met with outer space, all dark and starry-eyed as it stared back at him. Pondering on how vast the universe must be, Adams raised up the idea of a group of hitchhikers travelling through it, whilst causing mischief and damage along the way. All around him, his friends were too busy drinking the night away to care.
The appropriately titled book, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy, was his input to the field of science-fiction. Broadcast first as a radio program in 1978, the novel was first published in 1979 and became a series of four books. The series went on to spawn a film adaptation, short-lived TV series, video games, and comics.
Arthur Dent is a boring man, living in a boring town in the UK, with a boring job, and a life going nowhere. As providence would have it, today is Arthur’s unlucky day. A race of aliens, the Vogons, destroy the Earth to make way for a hyperspatial express route, five minutes before the conclusion of their 10-million-year program. Arthur escapes with a friend, Ford Prefect, who turns out to be a Betelgeusian. They hitch a ride on the Vogon ship, are punished via the horrors of Vogon poetry, and jettisoned into space.
Fortunately, the two are rescued by Zaphod Beeblebrox, President of the Galaxy (and Ford’s cousin). The three chart course for Magrathea, to find the legendary computer, Deep Thought, and discover the ultimate answer to life, the universe and everything.
Along for the ride is Trillian (Zaphod’s associate) and Marvin the Paranoid Android – quite literally, the most depressed robot to have ever existed in fiction.
Themes and Concepts
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy is a literal plot device within the series. Through it, Adams parodies many conventions of the science-fiction genre including hyperspace, alien culture, and human history in relation to the universe.
Other unusual elements gain prominence, from towels to the number 42. Adams plays around with the language and descriptions to give a renewed sense of complexity to these topics i.e. a man who knows where he placed his towel is not the kind of man to be reckoned with.
Pros and Cons
Pros: From the get-go, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy does not take itself seriously. Its characters are funny and distinctive, the twists and turns are written with the expertise of an atheistic comedian (Adams did not believe in God), and the surreal design of the book’s universe is outstanding.
Cons: As explicitly stated, Adams was an atheist and hated religion. The humour present is designed to offend anyone with religious beliefs. As such, the books are to be avoided by anyone who will not tolerate blasphemous attacks on their faith.