November 21st, 2011


Book Review: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams

The zany, nerdy sci-fi classic about the meaning of life.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Pan, 1979, 216 pages

Seconds before the Earth is demolished to make way for a galactic freeway, Arthur Dent is plucked off the planet by his friend Ford Prefect, a researcher for the revised edition of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy who, for the last fifteen years, has been posing as an out-of-work actor.

Together this dynamic pair begin a journey through space aided by quotes from The Hitchhiker's Guide ("A towel is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have") and a galaxy-full of fellow travelers: Zaphod Beeblebrox--the two-headed, three-armed ex-hippie and totally out-to-lunch president of the galaxy; Trillian, Zaphod's girlfriend (formally Tricia McMillan), whom Arthur tried to pick up at a cocktail party once upon a time zone; Marvin, a paranoid, brilliant, and chronically depressed robot; Veet Voojagig, a former graduate student who is obsessed with the disappearance of all the ballpoint pens he bought over the years.

Where are these pens? Why are we born? Why do we die? Why do we spend so much time between wearing digital watches? For all the answers stick your thumb to the stars. And don't forget to bring a towel!

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Verdict: Does The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy deserve to be on the list of 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die? It probably earned its place mostly for its prominent place in popular culture. It's been responsible for the naming of everything from IBM supercomputers to online translation engines, so its influence has certainly broken into the mainstream. But it's also a witty, clever, funny book that probably fills other people who are not me with happiness and joy; if you like this kind of humor, then Douglas Adams is at the top of his class. He packed a hell of a lot of funny and a pretty decent story into a very short book. So in that respect, HHG is an achievement that probably deserves its place on the books1001 list. Great literature, no, but a science fiction novel that remains popular and in print for over 30 years has proven staying power, and I think it has a reasonable chance of being remembered and read a hundred years from now.

This was my eleventh assignment for the books1001 challenge.