This is part of Shorts Series of book reviews (skimping on all aspects except Use for Writers)
By Douglas Adams Pan Books 1992 Adult Fiction
Score: 9.5/10 Genre: Science Fiction comedy
Arthur Dent lies in front of a bulldozer. He’s not happy. His house is about to be demolished to make way for a bypass. But his day is set to get a whole lot worse. Vogon ships gather around the earth to supervise the demolition of the ‘insignificant blue-green planet’ to make way for an hyperspatial express route. Arthur’s Dent’s friend Ford Prefect (from the Beetlguese star system) saves Arthur from obliteration by hitching a ride on a Vogon cruiser.
I could go on, but you really don’t read Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy for the plot you read it for the wacky characters, such as the boorish, disgusting Vogons or Zaphod Beeblebrox, the reckless, egotistical, multi-armed and three-headed ex-president of the galaxy. You read it for the clever concepts such as the babblefish, which, once inserted in your ear, interpret foreign languages; or the super computer designed to find the answer to ‘Life the Universe and Everything’, and of course the wonderful ‘Guide’ with, DON’T PANIC, emblazoned on its cover and entries that are entertaining and often totally useless.
I frequently chuckled to myself as I lay in bed reading Hitchhiker’s Guide. My husband, who has also read it more than once, finally put down his own book and said, ‘Just read it to me.’ And so I did. In our 28 years of marriage this is the first time he’s ever asked me to read out loud to him. That is the power of Hitchhiker’s Guide you’ll want to share it, to quote it and revel in its escapist wackiness with other fans.
There are very few books that have worked their way into the everyday vernacular and psyche to the extent of Hitchhiker’s Guide. As if to illustrate this, I turned on the radio the morning after reading aloud and the announcer said ‘I’ll be talking about, life the Universe and everything.’ In our family it is one of the only books/movies we can all agree upon as being fabulous. We once even named an anemone in our marine tank, Zaphod (It was also reckless – kept climbing into the filter).
I only reread the first book of the series this time but have the other three – The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, Life the Universe and Everything and So Long and Thanks for all the Fish. I will save these, like a bottle of happy pills, for when I’m in real need of escapism.
Use to Writers
Humour is (I believe) the hardest thing to write and hardest thing to analyse. Even those who write comedy for a living don’t always know where the laughs are going to come.
I guess I can only say we should give ourselves permission to be wacky, play with words, be observant, notice character quirks (Douglas Adams based many of his characters on real life people), see life’s ironic situations and odd societal trends. Keep a diary (or your phone) close to note situations that tickle your funny bone or make you scratch your head. There aren’t many genres (if any) that don’t benefit from an injection of humour.
The chances of another Douglas Adams arising in the universe is infinitesimally small (unless you happen to have an improbability drive) but maybe your own brand of wackiness will strike a chord with readers. I can’t end this review without sharing one of the many passages that made me giggle. Here, Ford is talking to Arthur:
… you’d better be prepared for the jump into hyperspace. It’s unpleasantly like being drunk.’
‘What’s so unpleasant about being drunk?’
‘You ask a glass of water.’
Arthur thought about this.
‘Ford,’ he said.
‘What’s this fish doing in my ear?’