Thursday, December 5, 2013

Book Review - Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Powell's Books · Barnes & Noble
Douglas Adams ©1979

I read this book because it's one of those novels that is woven into our culture, and it bothers me when I catch myself nodding along with references, parallels, or jokes that I don't get. Or worse, when I have to ask for clarification and the words “Oh, you've never read it?” float over, complete with sympathetic head tilt.

Grrr, gimme that thing.

With my usual dubious feeling towards all things revered I cracked the cover. After reading the opening page, all my doubts vaporized, and soon afterwards so did our planet—in the story...

Arthur Dent is a normal English Joe, who fancies a cup of tea in the morning and a pint in the afternoon. He is dragged away from his house, which is about to be bulldozed to make room for a highway interchange, by his friend, Ford Prefect.

Ford is a galactic hitchhiking alien who's been stranded on Earth for the last fifteen years, while doing research for the title book, “A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Ford could care less about Arthur's house, as he's just intercepted a signal from a Vogon Constructor Ship, which he knows are tasked with destroying planets to clear a routes for new hyper-spatial expressways. Progress, you know. He's brought Arthur to the pub in attempt to tank him up to ease the inherent discomfort of riding in a matter transference beam.

Ford and Arthur stowaway on the Vogon ship, and therein begins the adventure in which they learn the origins of our planet, for whom it was created, and why. Along the way we meet the two headed, AWOL, galactic president/hippie, Zaphod Beeblebrox, Trillium, who is the other remaining earthling, and a manically depressed robot named Marvin.

And then there's The Guide, with a cover stating, "DON'T PANIC", and subjects illuminating readers on nearly infinite topics, including the necessity for hitchhikers to possess a clean towel at all times.

The author, Douglas Adams, takes gorgeous colors from physics, math, social parallels, humor, and pure originality, and swirls them in a bucket of flippant genius; then he crunches up a spaceship and dips it in. Shaking it out, and hung on the line to dry is this book.

The product is slightly psychedelic, loaded with wildly imaginative ideas that swirled before my mind's eyes before shifting into something else fascinating and original.  For example, the guide informs us that the “..beautiful planet Bethselamin is now so worried about cumulative erosion by ten billion visiting tourists a year that any net imbalance between the amount you eat and the amount you excrete while on the planet is surgically removed from your body weight when you leave: so every time you go to the lavatory it is vitally important to get a receipt.” Or there's the improbable inventor of the golden Infinite Improbability generator, “which could generate the infinite improbability field needed to flip a spaceship across the mind-paralyzing distances between the farthest stars” without all that “tedious mucking about in hyperspace”, who was a student rather than a self-exalted physicist.  He ended up being lynched by an angry mob of physicists who just can't stand a smart ass.

With all these potential story threads flying around, there's me wondering what to make of it, and hoping he'll go in deep with one or two of my favorites. Then the book ends when the characters decide it's time for lunch.

Just like that.

Huh? Wha? You mean this isn't going to go on until every original idea is put in a mortar and ground into dust by a pestle wielding author? You want me to think about these things, and make what I will of them? How weird. How lovely. How trippy. Wheee!

I’m in! Just let me go pack my towel.

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