Off the Shelf

"The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy"

By Marcus Pan

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the GalaxyThe Hitchhiker's series from Douglas Adams has been read and re-read by millions since its introduction in 1979. The first book, the aptly named "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," starts off this weird romp through space, time and imagination. His style of writing is extremely zany, a mixture of Doctor Who and Monty Python poured in equal amounts, baked thoroughly until browned and then served in the form of a four-book trilogy. But if you look closely, you'll see some interesting bits of wisdom within the crazed travels of Arthur Dent.

Arthur begins his spacewide walkabout by lying in front of a bulldozer in order to keep his house from being knocked down to make room for a bypass that the city planning board has seen fit to build right through his living room. Not long into the story the irony sets in with the destruction of the earth, also for a hyperspatial bypass through earth's orbit. But it turns out Arthur's friend, a strange man by the name of Ford Prefect who is supposedly a barely-employed actor from Guildford, is actually an alien writer researching the new edition of the Hitchhiker's Guide (made popular by its slightly cheaper price and the words "Don't Panic" emblazoned brightly on its cover) from a "small planet in the vicinity of Betelgeuse 5." With Ford's help, Arthur becomes one of only two human life forms left in the Universe (the other being Tricia McMillan, a.k.a. Trillian) through the use of the electronic thumb which allowed the two to stow away on one of the Vogon Constructor Ships that had come to destroy the earth for the aforementioned bypass.

From this point on the story gets even stranger with Ford and Arthur popping in and out of other ships driven by such ludicrous powers such as the Improbability Drive. They meet up with Zaphod Beeblebrox, the two-headed & three-armed President of the Galaxy now gone outlaw for stealing a ship that utilizes the breakthrough Improbability Drive, and his cohort Trillian, the second surviving Earth creature. With them for the ride comes Marvin the maniacally depressed robot ("Sounds ghastly…life, don't talk to me about life…" Robo-goth?).

Throughout the book, the Hitchhiker's Guide itself plays a huge role by providing background information and historical bits about Adams' version of the universe that are so zany and strange that you'll either go into hysterics over them, go insane over them or simply Not Get It. I surely hope you do, though. Some of the facts that Arthur learns about his own planet, such as the idea that it was actually built by Magrathea, a huge planetary building company that provides custom made planets to those with the cash and the chutzpah to order them, under the orders of super-intelligent beings from another plane that to us are nothing more than mice. As it turns out, the Earth is actually a super computer built to compute the "Ultimate Question" of "life, the universe and everything." The destruction of the planet a mere five minutes before it was to deliver the answer of this ten million year program is considered one of the universe's greatest "cock ups."

The question, of course, already has an answer. Another computer prior to the creation of the Earth super-computer known as "Deep Thought" has already given the answer after computing for seven and a half million years and reported it as being "forty two." But the answer turned out to be utterly unusable without the proper question, and so the Earth was created to compute this question. After an offer to purchase Arthur's brain made by the mice was refused (Arthur being an integral part of the final processing records of the computer known as Earth, you see), the four-person group and one depressed robot head off for a bite to eat.

One of my favorite tidbits of wisdom in the book is this. It turns out the humans are only the third intelligent life form on Earth. The second most intelligent are the dolphins. We believe our intelligence is tops because of all we've accomplished; the cities we've built, the awesome destruction we wield with all our weapons and that sort of thing and the dolphins just frolic about in the ocean doing nothing of importance. Meanwhile, the dolphins think they are more intelligent for exactly the same reasons. Think about that a bit.

If this short run through Adams Universe that I've given you just now seems a little strange to you, yet maybe a bit interesting, I suggest you give the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy a go. It's a fast read, a hilarious read and I went through the book in under a day.

"The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" by Douglas Adams
Originally published by Crown Publishers, Inc. © 1979 by Douglas Adams
ISBN# 0-671-52721-5

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