26 October 2009
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. New York, Del Rey, 2002. 832 p., $20.00.
I actually read this book during the summer and just never got around to writing a review. Perhaps I was inspired in my laziness by the book itself. Adams' zany, incoherent, pseudo-sci fi novel seems to instill the reader with a sense of listlessness and lack of purpose. In following the main characters Arthur and Ford through the Galaxy, I get the feeling that the universe is an incoherent, noisy, and bizarre place. In fact, that seems to be the real thesis of all of Adams' work. Nothing makes sense, so just laugh it off.
The novel, developed from a radio series, begins with Arthur fleeing the planet Earth just prior to its destruction to make way for an intergalactic highway. Along with his friend Ford Prefect and their trusty guide of how to get around the universe, they search for meaning and purpose, encountering a very depressing robot, the leader of the universe, and other assorted creatures and things. Mice, dolphins, and very smart robots all seem to have a better grip on things than we humans though they are equally incapable of using their wisdom to find peace and happiness. Despite the character's best efforts, the only meaning they succeed in finding is an apology from the management.
The book is fun in a meaningless kind of way. For those who read and enjoyed Asimov's Foundation series, the puns and satire in the Hitchhiker's Guide are subtle and accurate. The plot is incoherent, but the language is witty. The author uses every trick in the sci-fi playbook, which helps shed some light on the genre. I think Adams really understood that many people love fantasy because it allows us to escape from this incoherent reality. His gift was making that fantasy as bizarre as the world we live in.