I had heard a lot about The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (all of it good) without actually hearing much of what it was actually about. Now, I understand why. Douglas Adams’ classic science-fiction novel is a quick and entertaining read that leaves the reader speechless for two reasons: its imagination and tone inspire pleasant surprise and it is almost impossible to summarize without being drawn into too many of the specifics (though I will do my best).
Arthur Dent is an ordinary human being who, understandably, thinks his biggest problem is that developers are trying to knock his house down to make way for a bypass. Then his friend, Ford Prefect, drags him down to the pub and forces him to drink three beers while he informs Dent that the planet is about to be destroyed to make way for an even bigger bypass, and that, by the way, he (Prefect) is actually an alien who has been stranded on Earth for the last fifteen years.
Prefect drags Dent along for the ride as he catches a ride with the planet’s destroyers and the two make their way on the most improbable journey from one side of the galaxy to the other, with the help or at least the insight of the bestselling, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (though as, Prefect explains, that edition is in the process of being revised and he was traveling for the purpose of rewriting some of the entries when he became stranded). Along the way they fall in with the on-the-run president of the galaxy, Zaphod Beeblebrox, his current companion, Trillian, and the ultimate in depressed and depressing technology, Marvin “the Paranoid Android.”
It is difficult for me to pin-point which aspect of the book was my favorite, the characters or the tone of the writing. In some ways, the two go hand-in-hand. And both are right in line with my sarcastic, dry, and often dark, sense of humor (books might make me smile or chuckle from time to time, but this one had me laughing loud enough to catch the attention of anyone sitting near me).
The writing style often reminded me of Kurt Vonnegut (not a bad thing since he is one of my favorite writers). Adams’ combination of satire and science fiction is refreshing. It doesn’t take itself or its subject matter too seriously, which so many books tend towards, regardless of genre. The technology mentioned is less technical and more whimsical in both imagery and explication.
The characters carry on the tone with their own selfish and morbid observations. Dent can be both practical and ridiculous as everything he has ever known is turned on its head. Prefect and Zaphod vie for consideration as the most optimistic, or perhaps the most oblivious.
My only wish is that the novel had been longer. The abruptness of the ending fits with the established feel of the novel, but it is still upsetting that it has to end, the consolation being that there are more books to follow. Trillian and Marvin were underused and hopefully there are more of them in the rest of the series as well as answers to those questions raised in this first installment, or questions to the answers given, as the case may be.