Saturday, December 31, 2016

Completed: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Dear Jenny,

Gonna try the template here...

Why did you pick this book?
This was a re-read. I chose it this year because the number 42 features in the book and I was 42 for the majority of this year.

It's also required reading for nerds. I cannot tell you the number of times this book (and others in the series) are referenced when you work at a super-nerdy software company. Endlessly. For more examples of how stupid-nerdy these books are, check out this wikipedia entry (especially the epic examination of 42!) Even though I don't work in software anymore, I'm still a part of the Nerd World.

Give a quick overview of the characters and plot. 
As the book opens, Arthur Dent's house is about to be demolished to build a bypass. While he's protesting the demolition, his buddy Ford Prefect comes by and tells him that the world is about to end, so they go to the pub. [Kind of love that response, BTW!]

At the pub, Ford reveals that he's an alien, he's been living on earth for 15 years, and he's planning to hitchhike off before the planet gets demolished (to build a bypass, of course). He is a writer for the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (more on that "book" in a moment).

So they hop onto a passing ship and then get ejected from it, once identified as hitchhikers. Fortunately for them, another ship is in the area and picks them up [Yes, yes, the plot of this book is ridiculous. It's supposed to be. Stick with me here]. On board is Ford's distant semi-cousin, Zaphod Beeblebrox (who also happens to be the president of the universe), a hilariously depressed robot named Marvin, and a human woman named Trillian.

The five decide to go find the legendary planet, Magrathea, known for selling luxury planets. Once there, they meet Slartibartfast [this name makes me laugh very hard] who tells them about a supercomputer named Deep Thought that took 7.5 million years to determine that the ultimate answer to life, the universe, and everything is... "42." So then... what was the question? Another supercomputer was created to determine what the question was and that supercomputer was... Earth! Which, after 10 million years of calculating, was destroyed 5 minutes before it was about to deliver the question. Of course!

It turns out the beings that were behind all of this supercomputer building were mice. Coincidentally, Trillian's pet mice (who engineered her departure from Earth, knowing that it was going to be destroyed and that she would take them with her). They don't want to build another supercomputer/Earth and wait 10 million more years for the answer, so they decide they can just dissect Arthur's brain and find the pertinent information, since he was a part of Earth, so it's going to be in there. Which, of course, means killing Arthur.

So our little gang skedaddles on out of there and decides to head towards the Restaurant at the End of the Universe (which is also the name of the next book in the "trilogy") (which actually consists of five books... well, six now.) (Sort of.) (Which is the whole way these books go, ad infinitum!)

I'm not sure that was a "quick" overview. But that's the story!

What it is like to be in the “world” of this book?
Um... kooky? It's just so ridiculous. The mice created Earth. The fact that a ship just happens to come by at the right moment? The name Slartibarfast. Everything.

How did you feel while reading this book?
I said, "Oh, come ON!" a lot. I know why this book appeals to young nerds because a complete suspension of disbelief is required during every "But wait! This happens!" moment and I think younger people are, in general, more likely to accept ridiculousness.  But it's also pretty funny. I think it knows that it's ridiculous (check out those names) so it's also mocking itself.

I was also fucking AMAZED at Douglas Adams's prescience -- the "book" that is the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Universe is, basically, an iPad with Internet access. And this was published in 1979. It's defined as: "the standard repository of all knowledge and wisdom" [2]. Physically, it is described as:
a device which looked rather like a largish electronic calculator. This had about a hundred tiny flat press buttons and a screen about four inches square on which any one of a million ”pages” could be summoned at a moment’s notice. It looked insanely complicated, and this was one of the reasons why the snug plastic cover it fitted into had the words Don’t Panic printed on it in large friendly letters. The other reason was that this device was in fact that most remarkable of all books ever to come out of the great publishing corporations of Ursa Minor – The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. The reason why it was published in the form of a micro sub meson electronic component is that if it were printed in normal book form, an interstellar hitchhiker would require several inconveniently large buildings to carry it around in. [17]
What the.....?! Seriously. 1979. Kinda nuts, right? I do remember being a kid and reading this book and thinking "That would be so GREAT to have!" I wonder if kids today enjoy this book as much as our generation did because now it's just "Sure -- of course you have an intergalactic iPad." But then?!

BTW: The entry for Earth is "Mostly harmless." This is an edit from its original entry of... "Harmless" [41]. Hilarious, right?

What’s something you thought the book did really well? How was it accomplished?
As much as I just complained about the unbelievable situations, it really is done well. One thing that helps with that is that Arthur Dent is basically saying, "WTF?" the entire time. He's a great straight man/foil to the craziness. He's sort of the voice of the reader. As the reader says, "Whaaaat?!" so does Arthur. So that really makes the ridiculousness more palatable. It knows it's crazy.

Hrm. Now I'm supposed to answer some of the "deeper" questions, buuuut... I'm pretty much done. This was a fun read. The plot is pretty basic -- when I thought back on it, I thought, "Oh, maybe I don't remember it all because I don't remember much" and then when I re-read it, I said, "Nope. Got all this." but the writing is humorous and the ridiculous situations are done very well.

Also, there are many MANY cultural references that were established in this book that live on today... for instance, the popular online translation service called Babelfish got its name from this book --  a Babel fish is a little creature that you put in your ear that can translate any language for you as soon as you hear it [39]. Nerd-ay!

All right! Six posts to go!



  1. How'd the template work for you? I really like the idea of moving the "Why did you pick this book" question to be first! (I'll just answer your question here from the Transatlantic post: I didn't look at the template first, I just skimmed through the questions after and decided which ones I wanted to answer, or seemed to capture my thoughts as I was reading. It worked for me---I definitely think we could do some tweaking as we work with it. It certainly felt way more freeing to just answer some questions about the book rather than doing it free-form, especially for books I don't really have strong feelings about. Can see myself going off template if I strongly love or hate a book.)

    As for Hitchhiker's Guide---this is one of those books I'm sure I've read, but have zero memory of! Even reading your summary, it sparked nothing. However, I will say Zaphod Beeblebrox is just about the best name I have ever heard! That's fun!

    I must say, the intergalactic iPad description is fucking wild. It just always makes me wonder if anything will ever be invented that sci-fi writers didn't imagine first?

    You go girl!

    1. OMG. It was taking forever for this page to load and I copied and pasted my comment just before the page crashed and reloaded. THANKS, OBAMA. (trying to say that as many times as humanly possible for this new horrible thing happens to us.)