Reviewed by Bridget
The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy is the first book within Douglas Adam's classic and well loved "trilogy in five parts" Hitchhiker's compendium. I have read these books so many times that I would probably be able to review them from memory without any trouble, but I like them so much that I decided to re-read them all anyway.
When Arthur Dent wakes up hung over one Thursday morning, he hasn't the faintest idea that within a couple of hours, the world as he knows it will be destroyed to make way for a hyperspatial express route through our star system, and he will be plunged into the strange and worrisome world on intergalactic space travel. He also doesn't realise that his friend, Ford Prefect, is actually not an out of work actor at all, but a stranded alien from the planet Betelgeuse who was hitchhiking around the galaxy collecting data for the indispensable guide for savvy space travellers everywhere; the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.
While Arthur thought he was having a bad time of it on earth, he didn't realise that confronting the vast regions of space and time dressed in his dressing gown, desperate for a cup of tea, and realising that his planet no longer existed would put a whole new dimension on the idea of having a bad time of it. Arthur and Ford get swept up by a wholly remarkable space ship, the Heart of Gold, which is powered by an improbability drive and has been stolen by Zaphod Beeblebrox, president of the galaxy. The ship also contains the other surviving member of the human race, Trillian, who Arthur had once failed to get off with. And of course, her two white mice.
The quartet, accompanied by Marvin the Paranoid Android, progress into the depths of space, accompanying Zaphod on a mission that he doesn't actually know about. And when they reach Magrathea, a planet now shrouded to myth and superstition, Arthur learns that all on earth wasn't quite as it seemed…
Douglas Adams is indisputably hilarious. I don't know how he did it, frankly, but even after having read this book at least once a year for over ten years, I still snicker at the funny bits every time. And The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy is packed with funny bits. Adams has a talent for taking jokes and comedic elements just far enough - not too far, but not too staid and traditional either. His dry wit is evident in every line, and he knows exactly where to twist the plot back and pull all the apparently unrelated bits together. All in all, it is the only science fiction I've every had any time for aside from Red Dwarf, and that's saying something.
The plot goes all over the place, but as I mentioned above comes together cleverly at the end of the story. One of the elements of the writing and plot that I think helps to make the book are Adams's character's theories about time, and space, and inventions like the improbability drive. He is so convincing in his explanations, but also ridiculous enough that it's funny instead of boring. Usually, sci-fi books have me crying with boredom when they start explaining why the starship works, or what the aliens look like. Douglas Adams knows how to do it, combining mathematical knowledge and wit to make something interesting. He does somewhat date himself by emphasising digital watches so much (excitement about them is SO 1980's!) but it's not a big deal.
Adams's characters are great fun also. Arthur is beautifully quintessentially English, right down to his reserve, his longing for tea, and his ways of dealing with crises. Marvin is utterly hilarious also; and the way the other characters interact with him is so realistic it's ridiculous. Look, the whole thing is just whacky and funfilled and excellent reading, so if you've managed to live this long without reading it you should really do something to rectify the situation.
Who is this book for?
Anyone with a decent sense of humour, particularly for people who think they will never like science fiction. If you don't get that dry British wit though, this book may not be for you.