Book Review: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

‘I’d far rather be happy than right any day…’

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy 25th Anniversary Edition ...

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is one of those novels that I’ve always wanted to read. I’ve seen the BBC adaptation and the 2005 film, and while I didn’t love either, there was something in them that spoke to me. The terms geek and nerd are thrown around a lot these days, to the extent that they have lost all meaning. They are more of a term of endearment than an insult. A badge of honour even. Reading Hitchhiker’s Guide reminded me of the classic definition of what a geek is. Low brow humour about high brow topics. Hard science fiction. An almost total disregard over five books for any female characters whatsoever. The Guide series is not for people who might casually sport Star Wars pyjamas, this is Warhammer territory. It’s stamp collecting. Heck, it might even be trainspotting. And I loved it…

I should begin by saying that The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy is only the first in a series of five books that follow the adventures of the reluctant space traveller Arthur Dent as he is ripped from his life on Earth and hurled through time and space with only a two-headed alien and an absolute madman named Ford Prefect for company. Other characters come and go, most famously Marvin, the clinically depressed paranoid android, and Trillian, Arthur’s occasional love interest, but it is Arthur, Prefect and Zaphod Beeblebrox who make up the core of the story.

The first book is remarkably concise and straightforward and while the premise is ingenious and the jokes hilarious, there isn’t much to it. The franchise doesn’t really take off until The Restaurant at the End of the Universe (my personal favourite) and Life, the Universe and Everything (perhaps the most ambitious of Adams’ works). So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish, the penultimate novel, has its moments, but the introduction of Fenchurch – another potential love interest for Arthur – doesn’t sit well with the characters bewildered isolation, and it is only the startlingly dark tone of the final book, Mostly Harmless, that enables the series to end with a bang rather than a whimper. There is a sixth book, …And Another Thing, but it was written by Eoin Colfer rather than Douglas Adams, so I don’t think I will bother with that. It would be a bit like reading the, ultimately world destroying, second edition of the actual Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy found in Mostly Harmless. A bit wrong.

While 700 pages of Arthur Dent being bewildered was hard going at times, I grew to love these characters, and by the end I was invested, not just in Arthur, but also in Zaphod and Prefect and Trillion, and I am grateful for the fortnight or in which I found myself in their world. I hope someone comes up with a decent TV adaptation of it one day, so I can return to that world again.

Don’t.

Panic.

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