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Cannonball Read #22: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

02/03/2010

I wonder if I’ve read the The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy forty two times yet… This was a quick grab from the library shelves, a “just-in-case” book. Of course the next two were as well, because God forbid I be caught without the sequel if I wanted to read it!

I did wind up returning the next two in the series, unread. I expect I’ll get back to them at some point. My daughterly reading partner tried to read this one, but as she put it, “she’s going to wait until she gets old enough to get all of the jokes.”

And I’m not sure she ever will get all the jokes ever, though. Some of the book is really dated at this point. Written in 1980, the futuristic inventions now seem somewhat quaint. Even the Guide itself has been surpassed, (though only earth-bound), with the Kindle, iPhone and now iPad gaining popularity.

But the story itself, and the beginning in particular, does still catch your attention as you meet these fun characters on this fantastic voyage. The thread the other day on Pajiba about the most memorable characters in the past 100 years had several mentions of characters from Hitchhikers: everyman, Arthur Dent; galactic researcher, Ford Prefect; President of the Galaxy, Zaphod Beeblebrox; and interplanetary wit and cutie, Trillian. Oh did I forget Marvin, the paranoid android? Poor Marvin, that always happens.

We start off the novel with Arthur Dent waking up to find that his home is slated for demolition. In fact, the bulldozers are right outside his door. Little does he know that the entire planet is also slated for destruction by the Vogons. Thankfully his friend, Ford Prefect, is not really an out-of-work actor, but an interplanetary traveller who manages to save Arthur’s life by hitching a ride with the Vogons themselves.

“This must be Thursday,” said Arthur to himself, sinking low over his beer, “I never could get the hang of Thursdays.”

Ford and Arthur then wind up being rescued by the aforementioned Zaphod and Trillian by being brought on board the stolen ship, Heart of Gold. We also find out that Trillian is the only other human survivor of earth, having been known there as Tricia McMillan, a woman Arthur once met at a party.

They all head to the ancient planet of Magrathea, where we find out that the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything is 42. What is the question? Aye, there’s the rub. It’s revealed that Earth had really been a large computer, dedicated to finding out that question. The computer had been commissioned by a race of intergalactic beings, that we see as mice. Yes, mice. Two mice came along with Trillian from Earth, and they were the ones running the computer. Due to its premature demolition, the question is thought to be lost until the mice realize that the answer is in Arthur’s brain. And how do they want to get that question? By removing his brain and dissecting it, of course!

The group does escape the mice, and then they head off to the Restaurant at the End of the Universe – the next book in the series, and “one of the most extraordinary ventures in the entire history of catering.”

I highly recommend this book, though I am not sure I’ll be rereading the series for the umpteenth time just yet. Maybe after Lolita.

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