ElCicco #CBR5 review #23: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams


I started out reading One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest for review #23, but as wonderful as Kesey’s writing is, and as important as the topic is, I found it too depressing to continue. Some day I might go back to read more about the mental institution where patients are abused, but not now. I’ve read a lot of “serious” stuff so far this year and it was time for something fun. And so this week’s review is Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, a great start to summer reading.

I suppose I should be a little embarrassed not to have read it before. It’s one of those novels that a certain group of people — nerds, my tribe — read back in high. school. I enjoyed it immensely, which I think says something about the topic and quality of the writing. It doesn’t matter if you’re 13 or well into your forties, it’s fun to read. It’s a quirky blend of sci-fi, humor and social/political commentary. But mostly it’s just funny and full of quotes your nerdy friends have used before. Some of my personal favorites:

Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so.

The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don’t.

“Life,” said Marvin dolefully, “loathe it or ignore it, you can’t like it.”

The story starts with Arthur Dent trying to save his home from demolition. The local council has decided it needs to be removed in order to make room for a throughway. Before this can happen, however, a Vogon fleet destroys earth in order to make room for a galactic throughway. Arthur is rescued by his friend Ford Prefect, who is a traveling journalist for the The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and not an unemployed actor as Arthur had thought. After bumming a ride off the Vogon ship, through a series of improbabilities, Arthur and Ford meet up with Galactic President Zaphod Beeblebrox, his consort Trillian and the depressed robot Marvin, and they set off on an adventure to do something for some reason, although just what and why is a little sketchy. But the answer is 42. And the tale is fantastic fun. I look forward to reading the rest of the series.

narfna’s #CBR5 Review #46: Don’t Panic: The Official Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Companion by Neil Gaiman

hhgFull disclosure on this one: my library system did not have this book so I had to inter-library loan it, and the copy they came up with for me is a first edition. They’ve since published an updated version of the book, re-titled Don’t Panic: Douglas Adams & The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which was published about four years after Adams’s death in 2001. It probably has all sorts of extra chapters about the seventeen years of Adams’ writing and fan activity since 1988, and of course, his death and legacy, that the first edition did not have. I would really like to track down a copy of the updated version, is what I’m saying.

This book was an obvious stop on my quest to read the complete Neil Gaiman bibliography, not least of which because it’s one of the first things he ever published, and also because it’s really interesting as a Gaiman fan (and an Adams fan) to see Gaiman freaking out hardcore about Douglas Adams and his work. His love for The Hitchhiker’s Guide and its ilk is painfully obvious in every word (many of which have turns of phrase that foreshadow Gaiman’s own career), which elevates the book from one of those commercial fan-guides it might have been, to something genuinely insightful. It also helps that Gaiman seems to have had access to the man himself, along with the key players involved in getting Adams’s stories out to the world.

According to the picture that Gaiman paints, Adams was a brilliant man who stepped into fame reluctantly, and almost by accident. He was notoriously obscenely late on delivering manuscripts (putting new context to his famous quote, “I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by”), and he described the process of writing more akin to torture than creating art (or humor, as he liked to think of it). It was also interesting to see the differences he had with the various mediums and stories he created. He described writing Hitchhiker’s Guide to be all about the jokes, but his other series, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency was in many ways easier for him to write because the story didn’t constantly have to bend around itself to land jokes. He was also rather obsessed with computers and translating his stories to games. (This is the part I’d be really interested in reading in the updated version . . . 1988 was around that time when obsession with computers and technology was starting to go from something fantastical to more of an everyday experience).

I’ve read Hitchhiker’s Guide several times, although I haven’t picked it up in almost ten years now, so I think I’m due for a re-read. It will be interesting to read it with all this background knowledge for context (also, it will be interesting to read it now that I’ve got a functioning brain, as opposed to whatever it is I had back in high school).

Must read for Douglas Adams fans and Neil Gaiman completionists, but it might also be interesting reading for someone new to Gaiman or Adams, depending on how interested you are in behind-the-scenes-making-of stories. Anyway I liked it.