Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Lev Butts Reviews The Six-Volume Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Trilogy by Douglas Adams

Possibly the most famous trilogy of the modern age
and the reason I can't do math.
Arthur Dent wakes up with an earsplitting hangover one Thursday morning to find a large yellow bulldozer preparing to knock his house down to make way for a new expressway. Before he can do anything about it, however, the rest of the world wakes up to find large yellow demolition ships in orbit preparing to destroy the earth to make way for a new hyperspace bypass.

This is pretty much as good as his day gets.

spoiler alert
What follows is an adventure so large that three books can't contain the trilogy and so long that the author's death couldn't stop it. Over the course of six books, Arthur travels the length and breadth of space and time, witnessing the destruction of the universe over cocktails as well as the construction of earth, a supercomputer designed so that mice could understand why 42 is the ultimate answer to life, the universe, and everything. He saves the galaxy from the most dangerous game of cricket ever played, finds love on earth a few years after its destruction, becomes the most powerful man in an alien tribe because of his mad skills as a sandwich-maker, and after his own death, he helps survivors of earth's many many destructions find a new home.

Along the way, he is insulted by every single life form he encounters, completely fails to sleep with the girl of his dreams yet still manages to father a child with her, totally succeeds in sleeping with the other girl of his dreams before she is lost forever in a sea of plot-contrivance, and learns to fly. Sadly, however, he never manages to find a decent cup of tea.

I was first introduced to Douglas Adams' in seventh grade, when my best friend, Jack Mayfield, loaned the books to me, and I fell in love with them completely. Back then there were only four books in the trilogy, but I read the series twice before I returned them. I then borrowed Jack's LP records of the original radio show, and watched his VHS copy of the television series he had taped off of PBS.

It was my first experience with social satire, and I knew I was missing most of the jokes. However, this only meant I got more from the series as I grew older and re-read it. It was also the first time I came across science fiction that was both funny and serious. There are passages toward the end of the third book, Life the Universe and Everything, that are hauntingly bittersweet, even borderline depressing. The fourth volume, So Long and Thanks for All the Fish, is one of the sweetest love stories put to paper (seriously, screw Nicholas Sparks), and Mostly Harmless, the fifth volume and Adams' last book, has one of the most haunting final images I've ever read. Even the sixth book, Eoin Colfer's ...And Another Thing, as flawed as it is in places, perfectly captures Adams' voice and provides a satisfactory coda to the series as a whole.

I owe my sense of humor to Adams as well as my appreciation for all the absurd quirks of modern life. I also learned the valuable ability to turn a phrase on its head first from Adams and later from the next writer in this countdown. Indeed, if any one writer has influenced me most, I'd have to credit Adams because, even more than Vonnegut, he showed me that a novel need not be either serious or humorous; it can be equally both.