Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams


Arthur Dent is having a very bad day.  City employees want to raze his house, and now his friend Ford Prefect is telling him the world's about to end.  Before he knows it, Arthur is off on a wild adventure through the galaxy, where he encounters a two-headed egomaniac, a pathologically depressed robot, an old man with an unusual (and unimportant) name, a terrible poet, a cheerful computer, and a couple of very irritable white mice.  Fortunately, he also has The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

This book is genius.  Clever, hilarious genius.  Adams' style can be overwhelming for some, but I find this particular book utterly enchanting.  There are tangents galore, but there's also, you know, a plot (sort of).  Still, it can be an acquired taste.  The whole thing reads like a dialogue between Eric Idle and John Cleese.  So if you like Monty Python, or if the news that the audiobook is narrated by Stephen Fry excites you, then there's a good chance you'll enjoy this delightful little book.

Also, there's a fair amount going on, philosophically speaking.  Adams is a radical atheist, and it shows.  This book is full of the pointlessness of existence.  Everything in random, nothing makes sense, so you might as well have a good time while you're at it.  Which is by no means an admirable position, and it's not one I'd advocate, but by the end of the book, I found myself extraordinarily grateful to live in a world where I can place my feet on solid philosophical ground--a world where things do make sense, and do happen for a reason, where right and wrong matter, and other people matter, too.  Perhaps some readers would be tempted to embrace Adams' worldview wholeheartedly, but I certainly was not.  I was more than happy to inhabit his nutty world for a while, and equally happy to set it down again and return to real life.  And in the meantime, I had a jolly good time and laughed a great deal.

If you're still not sure if this is the book for you, here's a sampling of quotes to help you out:
'The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don't.' 
The eponymous Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy on space:  'Space is big.  Really big.  You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mindbogglingly big it is.  I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist's, but that's just peanuts to space, listen...' 
The Hitchhiker's Guide on alcoholic beverages:  '[T]he best drink in existence is the Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster. [...T]he effect of a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster is like having your brains smashed out by a slice of lemon wrapped 'round a large gold brick.' 
An on-board beverage dispenser that produces 'a plastic cup filled with a liquid that was almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea.' 
'[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--while all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time.  But conversely, the dolphins had always believe that they were far more intelligent than man--for precisely the same reasons.'
There you have it.  If those quotes amuse you, you'll probably find the rest of the book at least moderately entertaining (though some prefer to take it in small doses).  If they just sound kind of dumb, well, you're not wrong, but your sense of humor differs rather a lot from my own.

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