Saturday, August 8, 2009

170. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams

History: The novel was first published in London on 12 October 1979.
Plot: The book begins with contractors arriving at Arthur Dent's house, in order to demolish it to make way for a bypass. His friend, Ford Prefect, arrives while Arthur is lying in front of the bulldozers, to stop them from demolishing it. He tries to explain to Arthur that he is actually from a planet somewhere in the vicinity of Betelgeuse and that the Earth is about to be demolished. The Vogons, an alien race, intend to destroy Earth to make way for a hyperspace bypass.
The two escape by hitching a lift on one of the Vogons' ships; this is, however, against Vogon regulations and when the pair are discovered, they are tortured with a rendition of Vogon poetry, the third worst in the known Universe, and then thrown into space. They are, very improbably, picked up by the Heart of Gold, a ship powered by an infinite improbability drive, and has been stolen by Ford's semi-cousin and President of the Galaxy, Zaphod Beeblebrox. Zaphod, accompanied by Trillian and the clinically depressed robot Marvin, is searching for the legendary planet of Magrathea, which had manufactured luxury planets. Ford is initially skeptical, but they do, in fact, find Magrathea.
There, Arthur, after being separated from the rest of the group, is taken to the interior of the planet by Slartibartfast, a native of the planet. The others are kidnapped. Slartibartfast explains to Arthur that the Earth is actually a supercomputer commissioned and paid for by a race of hyper-intelligent pan-dimensional beings. These creatures had earlier built a supercomputer named Deep Thought, to calculate the Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything. This computer, after seven and a half million years of calculating, had announced that the Answer is in fact 42. Being unsatisfied with the Answer, they set about finding the Question. Deep Thought designs a computer, the Earth, to calculate the Question. However, ten million years later, and just five minutes before the completion of the program, the Earth is demolished by the Vogons. The manifestations of two of these beings, Frankie and Benjy Mouse, had arrived on Magrathea on the Heart of Gold, disguised as Trillian's pet mice.
The mice realize that Arthur, as a last-generation organic byproduct of the computer's matrix, has the Question imprinted into his brain and offer to buy his brain from him. Arthur disagrees, and a fight ensues. The mice are about to cut Arthur's head open, when klaxons all over the planet create a diversion, in which they escape. The galactic police had arrived on the planet to arrest Zaphod. The group is attacked by 2 members of the police, who abruptly die when their life support systems fail: Marvin had explained his view of the universe to the mother ship's computer and it committed suicide, taking their life support systems with it.
The group decides to go to The Restaurant at the End of the Universe for lunch.
Review: Adams’ fiction seems to have no interest in logical, plot-driven narratives. One thing to keep in mind while reading this book is that it's not supposed to be a great literary masterpiece--it's supposed to be fun. The lack of plot, the non sequiturs, the deus ex machina, and all the other elements that go against what they told you to do in your novel writing class--in Adams' capable hands, they serve to make the book interesting and enjoyable.
Opening Line: “Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun.”
Closing Line: “Okay, baby, hold tight,” said Zaphod. “We’ll take in a quick bite at the Restaurant at the end of the Universe.”
Quotes: "Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so."
"What's up?"
"I don't know," said Marvin, "I've never been there."
Rating: Poor

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